For a year that was supposed to represent a hiatus, Saba has made quite the splash in 2015. His debut effort ComfortZone continued to circulate, and fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper tapped him for hook duties on his new single “Angels.” Saba then, the self-proclaimed homebody and nerd in school, was with Chance on Oct. 26 when the two performed the song on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert , his first ever appearance on national television.

“I like the fact that we did a very Chicago performance,” Saba told XXL. “So it’s like the whole city kind of embraced and really appreciated it.”

Days of rehearsal kept Saba’s nerves at bay, though the planned choreography was a first for him. He later caught the performance at his dad’s in New York, though he made his grandparents in Chicago stay up to late to catch it (“You know grandparents be going to be sleep at like 7 p.m.").

The performance has been a catalyst for the young rapper, whose father, Chandlar was an R&B singer and helps close out Comfort Zone, not to release more music but to plan, schedule, and get back in touch with his hometown. “They don't really know what to expect but they're excited about whatever it is.”

Name: Tahj Malik

Age: 21

Hometown: Chicago

I grew up listening to: A lot of my dad. Being that he was a musician himself, I heard a lot of his music early. I heard a lot of my grandfather, he was in a band, too. We had a lot of Nina Simone, Michael Jackson, Prince. I think my mom played a lot of R&B like Brian McKnight and stuff like that. [Laughs]

But for me, the first rap song that I heard and was like, “Man that's what I want to do for the rest of my life,” was “Notorious Thugs.” Bone Thugs N Harmony was like my religion until I was in high school. I studied everything Bone Thugs did, then I went and found Crucial Conflict, Twista. Lupe Fiasco, that was like my favorite rapper when I was 13. He was the truth. Especially because he was from where I was from. The lyrics resonated with me differently. And then I went through an east coast phase my sophomore year of high school where I bumped all New York. I had everybody from Harlem; Mase, Cam’ron, Big L.

Then obviously being from Chicago, I went through my Kanye, Lupe, Common stage. Every Chicago rapper that you probably know is from the South Side of Chicago. So Lupe is one of the only West Siders, minus Twista. So being from the West Side, it just touched me way more than the rest of the music coming out from Chicago was. And I wore glasses. This dude kinda looked like me when I was like 13. So it was just showing me it was possible to do what I wanted to do.

Most people don’t know: I don’t smoke. As a rapper, people always expect me, especially because my music is so chill, to be this super duper pothead. They come to my shows with weed for me, I'm like, “I don't smoke but if you want to get my DJ or producer high be my guest.” You can smoke around me, I don’t mind.

And then I don't drink. It's equally as much of a heartbreaker to most that want to come to the shows and get fucked up with the artist. I do have a crazy family history, but the real reason is I’ve just never done it. I feel like if I smoke, I would like it and have to do it everyday. I'm 21, most people who really develop the habit develop it young. I got something going for myself so I might as well keep it up. I’m not going to go on record saying I’ll never do either, it's just at that point where I might as well not even get into it now.

My style has been compared to: I never liked being compared to first, but I realized why it happened and noticed that the people I was compared to are also pretty good artists themselves. Early on I got Lupe a lot. I got compared to Kendrick, Chance, Mick Jenkins. All of them are amazing artists on their own, so I learned to just take one and let it go. The more I establish Saba as a household name, the less comparisons will be so prevalent in my mentions. I think it's generally done from a good place.

Standout records and/or moments to date: I dropped ComfortZone in 2014 and the single “Burn Out” from that had done the most for my career I would say. It's still pretty early, but that made it to MTV and it had like 10,000 plays. It was the first day or the first week. It put me on that Chicago map and then being on MTV, it kinda elevated it to a national map.

And I would have to say standout moment thus far is sharing that Colbert stage the other day. I think that was one of the real ‘this is going well’ moments that I had being on stage. “This is working itself out. Imma be something.”

My goal in hip-hop is: My goal in music in general is to do for someone out there what music has done for me. To put that hope in a young mind, in a young lost mind, in a young wandering mind, that shit is unmatched. Music reaches you in a way that no other thing can. So to be that voice, to be that conscience that leads you to the light. Just as a young person, I feel like that shit is important and that's what I would like to be for a young child out there somewhere. Preferably from the West Side of Chicago so they can know that this shit is possible. And not even this shit like, "Hey go be a rapper," but go take that risk and go be what you want to be.

I’m going to be the next: Hope for our city. I’m going to do everything that I said I would do in the last question. Like I’m going to be the next one to do everything that I just said I would do. [Laughs].

A close second is the next Quincy Jones. I want to be one of those people who you listen to by association to where I’m just secretly the man and you had no idea. I want my projects to be greatness on their own but I also want to have all of these other great projects that are associated with me under my belt.

Follow Saba on Twitter plus check out their SoundCloud.

Standouts: "Timezone/Whip (areyoudown?)"


"Open Apology"


SpareChange! instrumental EP