Chicago rapper/vocalist/producer Saba's early output on his 2016 debut studio album, Bucket List Project, took a similarly bright tone as his occasional collaborations with Chance the Rapper. Optimistic and lilting instrumentals called on summery R&B tones and the lyrical flows were introspective, biographical, and sometimes feverish -- but always anchored to a positive, almost carefree feeling. This brightness was extinguished with the violent 2017 murder of Saba's cousin, creative partner, and close friend John Walt. Second album Care for Me reflects on this enormous loss, translating the emotional complexity of grief into a masterful artistic statement. The relatively ambitious sound of Bucket List Project sounds inverted here, offering the sound of Saba alone in a room staring out the window onto winter instead of the summery vibes that came before. This isolation comes through loudly on album opener "Busy/Sirens," where the rapper numbly considers his depression, feeling alone even among friends and anger at the senseless loss of his cousin, murdered by someone trying to steal his coat. Beautifully minimal production supports the feeling of emptiness that much of Care for Me is built around. Haunted piano phrases and uncrowded beats create a grey, muted backdrop on standout songs like "Logout," where Chance the Rapper shows up to contrast Saba's mourning with stream-of-consciousness social critique. Similarly, the lengthy suite of songs that ends the album, "Prom/King" and "Heaven All Around Me," finds Saba remembering formative times with his departed cousin, recounting personal moments with an unguarded candor as melancholic piano loops coast along. As musically vibrant as it is emotionally vulnerable, Care for Me is a triumph of expression, as personally and creatively fearless as Frank Ocean's Blond or Björk's Vulnicura. Over the course of these ten soul-baring songs, diving deep into grief becomes a form of necessary catharsis and part of a healing process. The album doesn't seek any big answers to make sense of a pointless death, but profoundly chronicles Saba's jagged path through the heartache as life continues.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas