Chicago rapper Saba has had a great year. He's toured the country, he's had high-profile features on projects from fellow Chicagoans Mick Jenkins and Donnie Trumpet, and he's played on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert with Chance the Rapper. He's also barely put out any music of his own: His 2014 release ComfortZone has powered his year, and it still sounds fresh and ahead of the times, even if Saba himself is getting a little sick of it. "That was mostly me writing like two or three years ago," he explained to me over the phone. He's excited to share the new stuff he's been locked up in the studio making. But first, a final statement from ComfortZone: a video for "fan favorite" "TimeZone."
Drawing inspiration from fellow West Side Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco, Saba floats away into space in the video. It might be a good metaphor for ComfortZone, too: He's finally been abducted on to whatever the next phase is. I gave Saba a call to chat about the video, learn more about that Colbert performance, and find out what's next. Check out the video premiere and interview below, and get very excited for the year ahead. Also, luckily for Chicago fans, Saba will be playing a sort of farewell to ComfortZone all-ages show on November 21 at Abbey Pub, the details of which are also below:
Noisey: So this video is the final statement from ComfortZone era Saba. What does that mean?
Saba: I dropped the project and I got pretty much—not everything I can get out of it, but close to that—to where now I feel like it’s the next step. So I feel like now it’s that moment where it’s like go time now to really show what I’m capable of. It’s still very early in that sense. I think people thought ComfortZone was really all I had. Like that was raw, but this is as raw as he’ll be. But I think a lot of that stuff is pretty dated, to me at least, because ComfortZone took like two years to make. So that was mostly me writing like two or three years ago. Now I’ve just been honing in and trying to get better.
Were there any things that have happened since ComfortZone came out that have blown your mind, or things that you didn’t even know were goals that came to fruition?
I don’t think anything has happened that really surprised me because I feel like everything—I don’t want to sound cocky and say it was expected, but that’s what we work for. So it’s kind of like I do expect it. You get back in return what you put in.
What do we have to look forward to next? What’s your next pivot or new sound that people can expect?
I’m working on a project now, but I want it to be everything that I imagined the last one to be. Now I have access to a lot of people that I didn’t have access to working on the last project. So I think I can really expand upon the sound that I kind of brought.
I think a lot of the musicality of ComfortZone, it touches on a lot of the sound that I wish to bring to music. It touches the neo-soul, it touches the soul, the musical instruments, the piano element, there’s some trap elements. I like to touch on a lot of different sounds, but I feel like now it’s in an even better position to where I can really bring on the sound that I want just because I’ve met people who have mastered the shit that I’m looking for. ComfortZone for me was like a real learning experience. Going into ComfortZone, being 17 working on this project, I knew what I wanted it to sound like, but the problem with me was that I didn’t know anybody. So I had to do pretty much of all of that in my basement by myself.
Now you have the tools to make it sound like what you imagined in your head.
Tell me a little about the concept behind this video.
The video was inspired by the Lupe Fiasco Food and Liquor cover. I went to the director and told him that I wanted to shoot this concept where I wanted the video to look like the cover of ComfortZone, the space and the hole in my face and all of that shit. Which it began with that face shot that kind of looks similar to the cover. The floating objects and stuff like that, we wanted the video to look like space in real time kind of. Just a gravity-less kind of room. We brainstormed for hella long and tried to think of examples, and the first thing that came to my head was Lupe Fiasco’s Food and Liquor. That was one of the first rap albums that I was super connected to and super in love with the sound of it. So that was like a no-brainer to be like ‘let’s try to visualize this and make it a motion picture kind of deal where we take a picture and add some life to it.’
That was actually the first thing I thought of when I saw it. Have you ever met Lupe, or do you know if he’s heard your music?
I have not. Lupe followed me on Twitter like a day ago. Moving on up in the world! Lupe was definitely one of my first favorite rappers. I think a lot of people assume a lot about Chicago rappers, and for me Lupe Fiasco was a different type of hometown hero than the Kanyes and stuff like that because Lupe was from the West Side of Chicago, and I’m from the West Side of Chicago, and there’s not many West Side superstars like that. So for me seeing this kid who kind of looks like me and is kind of from where I’m from, it was a different type of inspiration watching him come up.
What was it like doing “Angels” on Colbert and putting that together with Chance?
It was a really good experience for me, just being in the green room and looking around and seeing we’re about to go on national television. And we were just back there with all of our friends, like Noname, Chance, everybody. A lot of people were like ‘were you nervous?’ But it was more relieving to me, like we must be doing something right. And, bro, we rehearsed so much before we did that show. It was like at a point where I didn’t have any nervousness. We had been rehearsing all that day, all the day before, and all the day before that. So it was definitely just a good feeling. Just being in that green room and seeing that you know like everybody back there.
And then the performance was just so Chicago, like to the bopping, to the shoes, to the outfits, everything about it. To be a part of that was just a good feeling. I think that definitely as far as being in the city it made the city appreciate what we’re doing more. Just because a lot of people get to a certain level and they kind of abandon this idea of their home town, and for Chance specifically he got to that level and started representing the home town even more. So it’s just real dope to watch and to be a part of it.
Yeah, what’s it feel like to be part of that, to be on the album with artists like J. Cole and everything?
Earlier when you asked what did the success of ComfortZone feel like? It’s a similar feeling. I feel like any minor milestone or accolade that comes via rap or via music it’s dope, it’s a really good feeling, but it’s never a surprising thing to me because it’s like this is what we’ve been working for, so it’s like you should be in this position, you should be on this song, you should be in this room with these people. It’s dope and it’s cool, but I think people should expect more of that. That’s why we’re doing this.
Saba plays at Chicago's Abbey Pub November 21 with Noname Gypsy, Ravyn Lenae, and Monte Booker and Smino:
Kyle Kramer is an editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.