Chicago’s own Saba shares his truth on the smooth and touching debut album Bucket List Project.
Bucket List Project is the long-awaited follow-up to his 2014 mixtape Comfort Zone. Comfort Zone established Saba as a master of combining airy vibes with potent storytelling. Saba is one of the few artists that is capable of making the listener think critically about their life while bobbing their head to a tight trap beat. On this latest LP, Saba evolves his sound into an entirely coherent, catching, and honest voice. The magic of Bucket List Project is that it is a Saba project. The songs are distinctly his. This debut album shows Saba having totally grown into his own voice and style, which is why it’s time to stop sleeping and listen to Bucket List Project.
The album opens with Saba throwing down a few crisp bars over a bubbling synth and brass accents. He exercises an impressive amount of breath control as he declares “this album autobiography.” The verse fades into a sweet hook, which establishes the themes of mortality and fulfilling a bucket list. The bucket list theme is fully realized with the first outro: a three-part bucket list from Will Fountain. Each subsequent cut ends with a bucket list from a host of characters including: Chance The Rapper, Saba’s ex, Saba’s father, and Billy Williams. Having each track end with a voice recording is a risky move, because one second too long and an outro can ruin the replayability of a track. What’s worse, often outros lose their meaning outside the context of the full album, making it difficult to listen to a track on its own. Saba avoids all of these pitfalls by having the voice messages pared down and also ensuring they carry a hint of humor. The outros allow Saba to tiptoe around the heavy nature of death and passing, keeping the tone of the album optimistic.
Saba puts in a lot of work showcasing the beauty of coming to terms with mortality. Second track “Stoney’ features a whirl of optimistic bells. He brings a charming “fuck it” attitude to this track, happy with his life. There’s an infectious joy to hearing Saba “ballin’ on a budget,” dodging the police and hopping on trains. The outro sums the song up perfectly: “There are so many reasons to live,” and on this cut Saba shows us just a handful of them.
Regional pride is a huge theme in hip-hop, and Saba is no exception as the third installment of the “Westside” series appears on this debut. This track takes a more aggressive turn, exchanging the smoothness of the previous four cuts for some harsh hi-hats and a rushing, breathy delivery. Saba is still proud to be from “the part of the city that they don’t be talking about,” and he’s proud of how the Westside has raised and shaped him as a person. Loaded with honest depictions of Saba’s Chicago, this track is only the start of his storytelling ability.
Saba spits a mean and sobering verse on storytelling standout “American Hypnosis.” The melodic and jazzy production takes an appropriate backseat to the traumas Saba details across the song. Saba manages to pack in themes of depression, addiction, isolation, gun violence, and abuse. The pain in his voice doesn’t muddy his effortless flow as he moves from topic to topic. This song will hit you between the eyes.
Saba teams up with Jean Deaux to show off his vocal range on “Photosynthesis.” Deaux sings a haunting and seductive hook, allowing Saba to come in with some deep-voiced and smooth verses. This track features Saba dipping back into that woozy sound of Comfort Zone, but refining it until the verses wash over you like purple waves. Saba puts us underwater with this track, but instead of gasping for air, we’re content sinking into his imagery. An added bonus: the transition into “The Billy Williams Story” is equally as satisfying.
Perhaps Saba extends his voice a little too far on “MOST.” Saba ends up drowning in the depth of his voice on the first half of the hook, and while he resurfaces on the second half, his meaning becomes partly obscured. The song as a whole doesn’t all the way suffer, but the hook remains a stain on an otherwise polished record.
Saba manages to access and develop every point of variety of his signature sound on Bucket List Project. The album is more than its popular singles. He strikes the critical balance between fun and introspection on this album: a song for every occasion and none of them feel out of place. The concept works, the songs bang, and this album is not to be slept on, especially because it’s sure to break into your top ten albums of the year.