Chicago, Illinois: some see it as a war zone, others see it as a culture hub. Tahj Chandler sees it at home. Chances are you don’t know the name Tahj Chandler, but you might know his stage name, Saba, who’s had a pretty incredible couple of years. In 2013, he was featured alongside BJ the Chicago Kid on the song “Everybody’s Something” off of Chance the Rapper’s hit mixtape Acid Rap. The following year, Saba would drop his own highly acclaimed mixtape, ComfortZone. Just when it looked like Saba was starting to slow down, he joined Chance the Rapper on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to debut the first single, “Angels,” off of Chance’s third mixtape.
The negativity around one center place kind of just inspires the people that are in that place. It can inspire some people to go join the negativity or it can inspire you to be the complete opposite and kind of want to inspire the ones around you to do different.
From the outside looking in, Chicago is seen as a city torn by gang violence. Saba describes his home as being a “very interesting place” saying, “It’s very extreme. I think the gang shit going on in Chicago is very extreme. I think the politician shit going on in Chicago is extreme. The poverty is extreme. The opposite of poverty is extreme.” The violence within the city is something that Saba speaks passionately about, explaining how he feels he has been put on the Earth to change his surroundings.
I think that’s just important, and for now at least that is my role here. It feels like that’s what I’m supposed to do.
The medium Saba uses to change his surroundings is music. The approach he uses is similar to Kendrick Lamar’s on the song ‘i’, where the hooks are all self loving and positive. This is drastically different from the ‘drill’ music that artists like Chief Keef and Lil Durk popularized within Chicago.
Something like ‘Butter’….I mean I don’t know. Maybe to somebody else it doesn’t sound like too much, “Wake up everyday feeling good. Wake up everyday feeling good,” but to me it was more so like, instead of getting, “Bitch hoe, kill kill,” stuck in your head that many times, let’s try a different route.
Positivity is something that has been engraved into Saba since he was a child. While his father was not around, he was in New York City being a musician, he would call Saba on the phone every couple of weeks. These conversations were the building blocks to Saba’s outlook and approach to his community. During these conversations, Saba’s father would teach his children about life and how the universe works, and at the end of the conversation he wouldn’t let Saba hang up the phone until he said, “I’m a winner, leader and a strong black man.”
like the influence is what I think my dad did…He made us believe that we could do anything we wanted to, even from so far away as he was.
Saba’s father may have been in New York, but Saba still had a positive role model in close proximity with his uncle. “My dad was always a positive figure in my life, so he wasn’t like ‘gone.’ But you know, having that uncle was real. He was like second in line…” Saba cites his uncle as being one of the few people he knew that was trying to make something better of his life, as his uncle was going to college before he passed away. His death is something that hit him hard saying, “I had prior to that never lost anybody that was that close to me…” Saba raps about his uncles death in the song “SmthnthtIwnt” off of Surf.
Regardless of if the song would have made it, it was an important piece to me, to just write because it made me feel better about the death of my uncle, and yeah, that was a very emotional song.
Chicago is America’s living and breathing Gotham. Political corruption, social corruption, and negligence plague the city’s inhabitants. Chicago is also America’s finest hub of culture. People come here from all around the world to make a better life for themselves and their families. This is why Chicago’s food is so great, and this is also why Saba and others such as himself are trying to do better. Their parent’s generation brought them here from a struggle on a dream to come to America where you can finally reach out and do anything. Now that they’ve settled down and established themselves within the city, they now wish for the younger generation to follow that exact dream to do anything. That “anything” can get lost easy. That “anything” can get you trapped into the wrong places. It’s easy to get lost in Chicago. But once you understand the grid, it’s not about if you can get from Englewood to Michigan Avenue, it’s about how you can, and the way that Saba works is to achieve what he wants is inspirational to say the least.