I’ve been saying it for a few years: the best and most promising hip-hop music in the country is undoubtedly centered in Chicago. You could remove stars like Chance the Rapper and the scene’s godfather, Kanye, from the equation, and still be amazed by the depth of talent there.
A big part of that is Pivot Gang, a collective of artists including Saba, Joseph Chilliams, DaeDaePIVOT, Daoud and the slain John Walt (who Saba eulogized on last year’s magnificent ‘Care For Me’). Their first joint record, ‘You Can’t Sit With Us’, is witty, casual and sharp-as-a-tack, bringing friends like Mick Jenkins, Smino and Kari Faux along for the joyride.
Still riding the high on a fantastic 2018, Saba’s the star of the show here, and he makes a great case for his role as Chicago’s next breakout star with his lyrical gifts and grace on the mic. On “Mortal Kombat,” he sets the table with a monster opening verse, gliding over daedaePIVOT’s clattering beat. His verse over trudging keys on “Studio Ground Rules” touches on his blackness and his roots, and he drops my favorite bar on the record with this gem: “You smokin’ weed in the studio with n****s who don’t like you, huh? That just sound dumb to me, and I don’t even smoke.”
Of course, it’s not like everyone else isn’t also packing heat. “Jason Statham Pt. 2” is a tour-de-force, with Saba, Joseph Chilliams and MfnMelo all on their A-game. Mick Jenkins commands the rapid-fire hats on “No Vest” with some vicious bars, and verses from Chilliams and Melo keep his intensity. “Colbert” glows in the smooth, colorful SqueakPIVOT beat, and it’s a tender love-song that fits the album’s flow really well. The protest-rap of “Death Row” is solemn, but the fragmented vocals of the Daoud-Daedae beat are marvelous. The album ends on a high note with the thrilling posse cut “Carnival,” where six MCs carve a niche for themselves in Daoud’s lush, regal, orchestral beat.
‘You Can’t Sit With Us’ is wall to wall excellence. As a group and and individuals, the sky’s the limit for Pivot Gang.