A Friend And A Cousin

In Saba’s 2018 album, CARE FOR ME, he tackles headfirst into the isolation and trauma he faced growing up in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. His poetic style of Chicago hip-hop and rap is highlighted especially in his 2nd to last track PROM / KING. In this song, he speaks vividly about his early memories of his cousin and fellow Pivot Gang member, John Walt, and the lead-up to his fatal stabbing in early 2017. As Perrine states in his definition of poetry, “Poetry, finally, is a multi-dimensional language,” it uses intelligence, senses, emotions, and imagination to communicate experience. Saba not only fulfills these requirements but goes above and beyond in his storytelling in order to provide an even greater understanding of his perspective to the listener. PROM / KING holds the importance of family up on a pedestal. Through his lyrics, he explains how one’s family is always close by to help through hardships, no matter what. Saba, without a doubt, can place his listener in his shoes. He uses relatable imagery and diction in order to display the character of John Walt and the progression of their relationship through the years.

I think about it for a minute, like, “What’s his intentions?”
I mean, we never really got along or used to kick it
In fact, if I remember—vividly—he picked on me
He used to beat me up and take my sneakers every family visit


Saba is so personable in his writing. Like in reality, people constantly interrupt stories with spontaneous thoughts. This verse above is placed as an intrusion to the prior one and acts as a flashback where Saba recalls his past encounters with Walt. These thoughts that enter sporadically in the song foreshadow Saba’s frustration and distress that are revealed later. In the 3rd line, he emphasizes how clearly he remembers his relationship with his cousin–creating even more tension when Saba finally decides to trust his cousin and call his prom date.

Phrasing and syntax are crucial elements throughout the song. With a simple usage of line breaks, commas, and semi-colons, Saba is able to influence his own perspective and compare and contrast it with others.

Me and Cuz stayed down the street, living different lives
Every day, he on the bus; me, I get a ride
I gave him thirty on the porch, he never went inside
He tells me, “Thank you,” then he walk back home with a smile
He tryna hide it, but I see his dimple


In the first three lines of this verse, Saba perfectly captures the past relationship between him and Walt. He starts the line off with “Me and Cuz stayed down the street,” then finishes it with “living different lives.” Despite their close location, they had no insight into what each other’s lives were like, very much demonstrating that alienation people may feel when living in big cities such as Chicago. There is even social class commentary on the line, “he on the bus; me, I get a ride.” Saba creates this visual image of separation as well as literal separation within the lines. Although this past meeting between the two is merely transactional, to end the verse, Saba pushes forth the idea that he and Walt have a solid connection forming, even though he hides it, Saba “sees his dimple”.

PROM / KING is fluid in its execution. What is so unique about Saba’s music is his ability to shift into different movements inside of the song, sort of like a sonata, in classical terms. The structure of the song is developed in a way where there are two parts, Prom and King. Prom, tells the story of how Saba’s cousin, Walt, helps him get a prom date, establishing a strong relationship between the two. The song then transitions into part two, King, where Walt and Saba become extremely close friends and successfully create music together until the shocking details of Walt’s death are revealed. I find this aspect of PROM / KING poetic because it is a technique of storytelling that undoubtedly enlightens and moves the listener. We go into the song not knowing John Walt, to wishing there was a possibility of saving him before his life was taken away. This is poetry. The listener lives through the experience and learns from it thanks to the brilliance of the writer. We learn to never take anything for granted…

I just hope I make it ’til tomorrow


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