“PROM / KING” lands on Saba’s sophomore album, Care For Me, the post-jazz-rap LP “equivalent to a Netflix original series,” according to Bob Wilson of Rate Your Music. I back that comparison wholeheartedly. Care For Me is meticulous, bittersweet, moving, and vivid. On this project, Saba takes strong influence from Kendrick Lamar, and while having obvious traces to contemporaries is usually a shameful shortcoming, it’s okay in this case. In fact, I find it impressive. Kendrick is so unprecedentedly talented that resembling him is a feat in itself. Saba harnesses the cinematic feel of Good Kid m.A.A.d City, the varied personalities on To Pimp A Butterfly, the detuned flows on Untitled Unmastered, and the stickiness of DAMN. While “PROM / KING” is undoubtedly the “Sing About Me” of Saba’s album, there exists no song truly akin.
“PROM / KING” is essentially Saba’s rap eulogy for his cousin Walter, who was murdered on Feb. 8, 2017. Usually, when someone writes an obituary or a eulogy, one chooses landmark moments in the loved one’s life to summarize their spirit and legacy as much as possible. Saba scrapped this rubric and made his own.
In the first half of the song, Saba tells the story of his prom night. He intertwines seemingly tangential stories about playing basketball with Walter, lending him money, and a violent altercation that had happened at after-prom. These stories do not deliberately glorify nor vilify Walter, which is unorthodox for something commemorative. Saba remains technically subversive by crossing the bar line, oscillating flows, and utilizing internal rhymes and non-rhymes to keep listeners on their toes. The most seemingly meaningless details within these anecdotes become rich emotional cruxes in the latter half of the track, where he ties it all together.
Walter’s entitled teenage behavior on the basketball court slyly illustrates the shaky trust between the two cousins. This comes to light when Walt claims his combative tendencies on the court were extraneous to a drive-by shooting after a game, but Saba doesn’t believe him. Tales of lending Walter money for his prom suit, Walt hooking Saba up with a date, and their respective college experiences all tie to in to their brotherly bond and deep respect for each other, despite their differences. Saba crafts this tale so that Walt’s every-day decisions prove his deep-set morals, while keeping the narrative humble and tempered.
The main tactic that makes this story so compelling is Saba’s deliberate disregard for anecdotal taboos, such as including trivialities like irrelevant names and times. While that’s usually the first fat to be trimmed from a story, Saba wisely exalts them, and it makes this song that much more personal. It really feels like you’re sitting face-to-face with him as he tells this heart-wrenching story. You can’t ask for much more.