Saba’s 2018 album CARE FOR ME was all about his process of coping with the deaths of family members and other issues in his life. “LIFE” encapsulates all of these ideas into one song. The standout aspect of “LIFE” and CARE FOR ME is Saba’s ability to paint a vivid and personal account of his state of mind in this time so listeners can empathize with him. The biggest theme on “LIFE” is the unpredictable and transient nature of life and what the people’s lives mean to other people.
Saba opens the song with a commentary on the prison system in America and it’s unfair treatment of black people.
They want a barcode on my wrist (barcode on my wrist)
To auction off the kids
That don’t fit their description of a utopia (black)
Saba uses allusion to fit multiple meanings into these 3 lines. First, the “barcodes on my wrist” most predominantly reminded me of the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi concentration camps but the later inclusion of “to auction of the kids” made me think of slave auctions. The mini theme within these lines is about the prison system and mass incarceration of black people in the US and racial tension in general. While these don’t specifically relate to losing loved ones, it does give some backstory as to why there is so much turmoil in his life as well as others with these same experiences. Giving listeners the ability to experience what Saba goes through and how he views the treatment of black people in America is one example of how “LIFE” is poetic.
The chorus in “LIFE” repeats the names of people Saba has lost that had significant influence on his life,
They killed my cousin with a pocket knife
While my uncle on the phone
He was gone for more than half my life
He got out a year and then he died
I was honor roll, talking to my father on the phone
Left the city when I was just four
These few lines relate to the main theme of loss being unexpected and life being temporary, but in order to really experience his emotions you need to listen to the music. One of the aspects of poetry we talked about in class is how delivery of lines affects the meaning of the words. Whenever the chorus comes up, Saba’s voice becomes very deep, distorted, and sped up with a booming bass line setting the tone for the few seconds of the chorus. I believe he chose to rap the chorus this way because it adds to the impact of his losses and the dark/deep places that he ended up in because of them.
Something a lot of people struggle with is expressing their true feelings. It is common in people who feel depressed or are just struggling to be happy with their lives and Saba illustrates this feeling in these following three lines,
Tell me it’ll be okay, tell me happier days
Tell me that she my bae, that I won’t be alone
Tell ’em I’ll be okay when he ask, “How’s my day?”
Saba uses the repetition of “tell me” to show he’s asking other people for validation in what he’s doing and to give him hope for the future. The last line is the most impactful in showing how people hide their true emotions. Almost everyone can relate to saying “I’m okay” when they’re really not but either don’t want to trouble other people or don’t want to face their feelings. Saba shows how the combination of wanting the help and validation of other people while simultaneously feeling unable to seek help creates a vicious cycle of self-loathing and depression.
While this song focuses on the sad feelings of loss, other songs on CARE FOR ME address how he overcame his sadness by facing his problems head on instead of continuing to run away and stay in denial. It’s only 40 minutes long so I highly recommend listening all the way through if you feel you’re trapped and need some music to relate with and potentially learn from.