Show & Prove
Words: Kathy Iandoli
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

Hailing from the West Side of Chicago, Saba didn’t exactly have the same come up tale as his peers from the Windy City. The 22-year-old rapper is the product of an R&B/neo-soul artist father who dropped gems on Saba long-distance. “I had a really interesting relationship with my dad,” Saba says. “He moved to New York when I was 4, so it was a lot of phone calls, maybe weekend visits. But, he was always really involved and always inspired me and fed me knowledge—the manuals to certain equipment, you know, encouraging me.”

Saba, whose real name is Tahj Malik Chandler, cut his teeth in the Chicago streets with his 2012 debut mixtape, GETCOMFORTable. The following year he flanked Chance The Rapper on Acid Rap, but the real feather in his cap came in 2015, when Chance featured Saba on “Angels,” the lead track off Chance’s critically acclaimed Coloring Book. “You never really know what’s gonna be as big as it is,” Saba says of the fateful song. “I was in my backyard playing basketball, then Chance texted me like, ‘Hey, can you come to the studio?’ I’m like, ‘Shit, I’m not really doing shit, why not?’ It turned into that.”

Since then, Saba dropped his breakout Bucket List Project featuring Chicago legend Twista and co-executive produced by Pivot Gang affiliate Phoelix. “His flows are very melodic and he does cadences no one else does,” Twista says about the budding MC. “He talks about the city and life in general from an angle like nobody else.”

Saba’s stardom as a producer is rising as well, having produced the majority of fellow Chicagoan Noname’s Telefone project. For Saba, though, it all comes down to what he plans to deliver with his crew Pivot Gang, as the team’s co-founder Frsh Waters will be released from prison this year, following a five-year bid. “Frsh is the one who introduced me to Noname, introduced me to Chance, introduced me to all of these people,” Saba says. “It’s gonna be real dope to have him see the effects of simple introductions.”

Check out more from XXL’s Winter 2016 issue including our Travis Scott cover story interview, Lin-Manuel Miranda's success with the hip-hop musical Hamilton, Eye Candy The Real Chela's Way, Wyclef Jean's letter to President Obama, Show & Prove with Rob $tone, Playboi Carti and more.

See Exclusive Photos From Travis Scott's XXL Winter 2016 Cover Shoot

More From XXL