11/4/16 – The Middle East – Upstairs

If you know Saba, you probably know him because of ties to Chance the Rapper. Saba, a 22-year-old rapper from the west side of Chicago, grew up trading bars with Chance at open mics in the city and is most notably featured on Chance’s song “Angels” from his 2016 album Coloring Book. You might also know him from the track “Everybody’s Something” off of Chance’s second official mixtape, Acid Rap (2013). But with Saba’s latest full-length release, Bucket List Project, which dropped in late October, he has split from Chance’s hip, emerging as one of Chicago’s best young talents. On Friday night he performed to a sold-out Middle East Upstairs crowd, his first show since releasing the album.

To his surprise, the crowd knew exactly who he was, chanting his name before he jumped on the small stage. “We came all the way from Chicago, but we sold this bitch out,” Saba said with a big smile as his DJ dropped the beat to “Stoney,” the second song from Bucket List Project. But midway through the song, Saba called to his DJ to stop the beat. He turned back to the packed room that had been rapping along with him. “I never performed this song before and you were singing the words,” Saba said. “Damn, it’s lit.”

Saba paused to educate the crowd about where he was from, including his allegiance to Chicago rap collective, Pivot Gang, instructing the audience to yell the word back to him anytime he called out “Pivot!” After a few call-and-response test trials in which the crowd was happy to oblige, Saba finished the song, holding the mic like a seasoned MC, four fingers grasping the base of the microphone, his index finger running up the side of his nose.

Although he’s so young, Saba commands the stage. Since he’s been performing for years, he’s not afraid to tell the crowd what to do. “Let me see your hands,” was a common refrain throughout the set, which Saba relied on a little too frequently, since the mostly college-aged crowd was clearly into the performance already, hands raised, jumping, the floorboards shaking.

Saba clearly relished the recognition the Cambridge crowd gave him. So much so that after performing about half of Bucket List Project, the rapper forgot that he hadn’t yet introduced himself. “I’m Saba,” he said. “I’ve never sold out a show that wasn’t in Chicago. And I’m not trying to gas you—this will go down in history as one of my favorite shows.”

Along with tracks from his latest release, Saba performed songs from his 2014 mixtape, ComfortZone, as well as his verse from Chance the Rapper’s “Angels.” On “Symmetry,” a song from Bucket List Project, Saba asked the crowd for help. “Here’s the thing. I can’t sing. I’m going to need everybody to help out.” Not many people knew the words to the chorus, so Saba was stuck half lip-syncing his own hook. If the young rapper learns to carry a tune, he’ll be one step closer to sounding like his idol: Chance.

After just an hour with no encore, Saba thanked the crowd and the show was over.

For more Boston area concert and album reviews, click here.

Damn, It's Lit: Saba
  • Confident young rapper
  • Performed his verse from "Angels"
  • Asked the crowd for their energy a few too many times
  • Sang on top of recorded vocals

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