The sun glares brightly over the roof of Leeds’ Headrow House, as Saba reaches up into the sky and DJ Damnage captures a few silhouette shots as they take in the view. A couple of years ago, Saba was rapping about the possibility of making it overseas – specifically to England – through his music, and way sooner than he expected, here he is. Tonight, he will be performing on the same bill as Toronto’s Jazz Cartier, and given the very contrasting styles of the two artists, it’s difficult to guess the audience for the show. As, DJ Damnageplugs his camera into his iPad and they begin perusing the images – they’re hoping that one of them will work for the cover of his forthcoming single ‘World In My Hands’ – they begin to consider the set list, which changes nightly, depending on how the mood takes them.
They’ve been doing this together for years now back home, and while they’re in a brand new territory, don’t seem to sweat the outcome of the show. Having come up in Chicago’s open mic scene, they’re well practiced at improvisation, and the past six months have given them a wealth of material to choose from to keep the crowd on side. Not only hasSaba been dropping his own singles and making beats for his peers, but he also appeared on Chance The Rapper‘s ‘Angels’, a secret weapon that will always get him out of trouble if worst really did come to worst.
To his surprise though, when stage time does come, the crowd are very attentive – and admittedly to his surprise, a bunch of them know all of the words – as he takes them on a musical journey from the Neo-Soul influenced rap 2014’s ComfortZone right up to the present day, with the rebellious ‘Soap Box’ and up-beat ‘GPS’. In an era where we’ve become used to rappers just shouting over their lyrics with little connection to the audience, Saba delivers a masterclass in performance.
Visibly excited, but highly professional, and with perfect clarity whilst retaining a natural down-to-Earth persona that leaves the crowd feeling connected, when Saba leaves the stage it’s like he’s just made a bunch of new friends. In the street outside the venue, kids quiz him on friends and collaborators, Noname and Supa Bwe, while introducing him to the world of R.S. and Hood Documentary. It’s inspiring to see someone on the brink of a breakthrough and able to keep it from going to his head, as he makes lasting connections with his fans that will undoubtedly contribute to his success. He’s here to tell stories, reflections on his life so far, and there is a lot that we can learn from them…
From ‘GPS’ to ‘World In My Hands’, you’ve dropped a bunch of great singles this year. Is there a project to follow?
Yeah. It’s project time. I’m aiming to drop it later this year. It’s like coming together and seeing what works, what doesn’t work.
Last year I didn’t put out any music. I dropped one song last year. This year I think is basically just re-familiarizing myself with what it’s like releasing music. Getting people used to seeing that I released music again and I’m not in rapper limbo and stuff in my basement.
We’ve just been, I don’t know, having fun. Recording. You want to play it out. Not thinking as much about the kind of role stuff. Liberating the music.
Why did you decide to take a year out from releasing anything?
Comfort Zone was an interesting project. It did pretty good locally. It did good getting my name out and we spent the whole of 2015 pushing that, dropping videos and stuff. But, I wasn’t in the creative place. A lot of 2015, I was working on music but nothing I would release. I think it was just getting back to a good space, mentally getting ready to record and trying to do everything over. Dropping the project and going back to square one. That was the first time I ever really felt that.