In 2013, an emcee from Chicago’s Austin neighborhood named Saba delivered a beyond stellar verse on Chance The Rapper’s “Everybody’s Something,” track six on arguably the mixtape of the year, Acid Rap. From there, Saba was hard at work on his sophomore project, ComfortZone, that dropped in July. Since then, Saba has bounced between venues in Chicago performing his new tape and had his first festival debut at North Coast. Trust me when I tell you that you are going to want to catch him live in concert, as he’s one of the best performers in hip-hop — period — right now.
A month ago, Saba along with Hurt Everybody, Frank Leone, and John Walt came through to The Canopy Club and performed ComfortZone live for Chambana. His stage presence and liveliness made the show one to remember. Before he rocked the stage, UPC got an opportunity to sit down with Saba and talk to him about the the origins of his tightly-knit crew, Pivot Gang (hint: the name came from one of TV’s greatest sitcoms), the making of ComfortZone, inspirations, and upcoming plans.
UPC: Where did the name Pivot Gang come from and how did it all start?
Saba: Pivot Gang started roughly around 2010-2011. My brother, Joseph Chilliams, and basically my other brother, Fresh Waters, both of them had rap groups. And it was two rap groups. One of them was called “The Rally,” which was Joseph, me, and my friend Melo. And the other one was called “Grand Masters of the Hang-Time Dojo,” and that was Fresh’s shit. And it was basically both sides coming together to form Pivot.
UPC: So we got the pieces, now how did you guys come up with Pivot?
Saba: The actual term Pivot came from the show “Friends.” So there’s the episode where Ross moves somebody out and there’s this couch on the staircase and they’re trying to move it and Ross keeps yelling, “PIVOT! PIVOT!” So my brother was watching it, and he had a funny ass bar the next day on this song called “Pop Culture,” and it was “This is that ‘Friends’ movement/moving couches call us the Pivot Gang,” and since then, we’ve been Pivot. Which is a lot better than saying, “Grand Masters of the Hang-Time Dojo.” Haha.
UPC: How was the creative process different for you from your first project, Get Comfortable to ComfortZone?
Saba: Yeah, it was definitely different. Get Comfortable was me in my basement, basically. It was like even when I was working on Get Comfortable, I had this idea of ComfortZone. Get Comfortable was never a project I felt was thought out and I really wanted to drop ComfortZone but I knew I didn’t have the access to the people I needed to make it sound how I wanted. Because I wanted to make this shit hella musical, like pianos, saxophones, but I never knew these people when I was making Get Comfortable. So my goal at the time was to get out of the basement and get on the local Chicago rap scene. And once that happened, everything fell into place. The biggest difference was the song making. Everything we went into on ComfortZone was a real effort. It was just us in the studio instead of the basement.
UPC: Doing shows all around Chicago, to getting your break into the festival scene at North Coast, what was the switch from small venue to the big stage like for you?
Saba: North Coast was hella different. It was hella cool. It was the most stage space I’ve ever had. If you ask around, my shows in Chicago are usually for the most part hella turnt. I’m used to the small stage and still being able to jump around with the little space I get. At North Coast, I was like doing awkward shit, like it was hella weird. I was walking on the stage, and I never have room to walk. So it was a nice experience, and I’m positive that won’t be my last festival performance. It was a nice introduction and it was cool having a new crowd.
UPC: Being from Chicago, we’re obviously blessed to see some of the greatest music come from the city. Who was the one guy you looked up to as you started making music?
Saba: Well what first inspired me to make music was this one Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony song, “Notorious Thugs.” So I think Bone Thugs are the biggest inspiration. Lupe was my favorite rapper at a point. A bunch of East Coast guys, Cam’Ron, Big L. Me and Cold Hard from Crucial Conflict did a song together but it never came out. It’s just cool to see. Like man, I used to listen to your records and now I’m in the studio with you. I don’t think I got a specific person, but like a community of the shit I listen to.
UPC: Has anyone been knocking on your door and trying to get you to sign anywhere or is the independent route something you are interested in taking?
Saba: I’m trying to keep it independent just because, why not? Not even just not wanting people’s hands in my pockets, but more importantly, keeping people’s hands out of my music. The taste of it that I had I didn’t like. And it scared me. And I was just like, ‘Ehh, I want to make my own music.’
UPC: You dropped Comfort Zone and performed at North Coast, which many would consider is a big year. What do you think your next move will be?
Saba: It’s really up to the people what’s next. As of now, I don’t have a tour set up. I don’t have a next project lined up. We went all in with Comfort Zone and we’re going to see what’s next. I do hope to tour off of it and right now we’re doing as many shows as we possible. I do have some shit coming out. No set plan on what’s next just whatever happens, happens.