Thato Saul. A well-received and absurdly talented wordsmith. Bar for bar, there’s only a handful of MCs capable of sparring with him. He’s capable of rhyming at a high level but there hasn’t been enough output consistently. Consequently, there’s a sense of tension within this debut release. For God’s Sake. It honestly feels like I’ve waited for five years. That’s how highly anticipated this project is. I just hope it lives up to my high expectations for him.
Raised in Pheli, Atteridgeville (the West of Pretoria), Thato’s allure lies in his authenticity. He’s unapologetically himself. And it rubs off in the music.
The opening song is “Fighting 4 Life”. Alluding to the project’s religious theme, the song begins with a soft prayer. Zarro produced this and you can hear it – its soulful as fuck. Simultaneously, an eerie sound is looped continuously until the prayer ends. With every second passing, the eeriness builds and creates tension. He begins his verse emphatically, “YOU WANT SMOKE AND I WANT SMOKE, POPPIN’ IN THIS BITCH!”. The tension is resolved through the introduction of some sinister 808s and drums. Yeah, I just made THAT stank face. This shit is absolutely cold. The song structure is reminiscent of ScHoolboy Q’s “Numb Numb Juice”. Quite frankly, this introduction is just as hard. Similar to Q, Saul’s energy is high and as the hook implies, he’s fit for smoke.
A common theme in the Hip-Hop industry is the idea that lyrically inclined rappers can’t seem create seem to make enjoyable and listenable music. It clearly doesn’t apply to Saul. His hook is masterful. An assertive cadence and a confident delivery make his aggressive hook easy to remember and believable in every sense. To top it all off, his verses match the hooks. Storytelling, high rhyme density, flow switches, language infusions, plenty of wordplay and humor – this is the full package.
“Promising”. The mood’s changes. In contrast to the fast pace introduction, this feels much slower. Zarro’s production is muddy and dark. However, the with integration of a light-hearted guitar melody – this is heat. Saul uses his voice like a tool. To such an extent that he sounds like a completely different person. A clean hook which showcases his vocal inflections and ability to sing. On the verse, he enters with clear confidence. A commanding delivery, he raps skillfully and ever-so-poetically. While switching rhyme schemes and flows, he describes his Saulsville neighborhood. He speaks about his mental space, death and violence. He does it with relative ease and the manner, in which he executes this, I can only think of Kendrick Lamar.
Swiftly after, a guitar-based melody is played. It sounds like it was inspired by Chinese melodies. The short and unique motive is looped. The drums come in. Instrumental is cool but I’m not blown away about the production, slightly above mid. “Praises”. This sounds nothing like any of the prior songs. While I’m not blown away by the beat, I’m astonished by Saul’s ability. He manipulates his vocals so well that he sounds like different artists. Combine this with flow changes, punchlines, vast delivery changes and detailed storytelling – I can only think one thing.
Suddenly, plenty of bass. Looped angelic vocals, a clean guitar and bounce. This beat is smooth. “Hold Me Down”.In alignment with the song name, the production is mellow but yet, it’s got a pulse. Again, Zarro’s production is immaculate. This sounds like something Nipsey would’ve hopped on. While the song sees Saul focus on a relationship and the idea of being a ride or die, he adds in personal details and stories with people around him. He even alludes to potential street incidents and his environment. This is hard. From the start to end. The instrumental choice, content, relatability, flow switches, deliveries and storytelling are all exceptional.
Shortly after, simple piano keys are looped. Saul starts early. Layered vocals see Saul again show how his greatest asset is his ability to use his vocals as a tool. And with consideration of his lyrical ability, that’s a big statement. “Scottie Pippen”. On a minimalistic and raw piano melody, some dope drums are added. This is West Coast influenced. On this song, he further explains his environment, who he is and why the way he is. You can hear the confidence and assertion in his cadence and delivery. Saul is gifted. If it’s not great instrumental choices, vocal or lyrical ability – he knows how to exploit pockets. Punchlines, slick wordplay and high rhyme density. He’s got range. On the NBA star inspired song, he expresses the difficulties that he is experiencing. He spends the first half discussing his mental space as he refers to his fear, insecurities, jealousy and doubts. In direct contrast, in the second half – he’s optimistic and speaks in celebration of his family and friends. What’s clear – he refuses to fail, and there’s conviction in his voice. Again, incredible storytelling.
Aggressively, “Gotta Eat”, begins. The BPM is much higher than the prior. This is upbeat, it’s got that bounce and the production is fire. Produced by Beatshoven, this is one of the many highlights of For God’s Sake. A murky melody and some crazy drums. Clearly inspired by the production, Saul goes insane. He switches flows with ease, the rhyme density is high and cold wordplay. And I think if you’re from Pitori, you’re appreciating how he’s talking his shit.
“Back to back, German suplex,
Pray the lord on my knees.
No caps, Dices,
No craps, I gotta eat.
Facts. I gotta eat,
I can’t relax.
Take me to the stacks, I gotta eat.
I go back to back like German suplex, I gotta eat.
Don’t need to flex, I come for my tax. I gotta eat.”
“Stay Sliding”. While this project is my introduction to Beatshoven, he’s proven to be someone to look out for. The production is impeccable, he knows how to use murky melodies to make beats soulful. Don’t even get me started about how smooth the 808s are. Saul showcases his vocal ability again but this time, he’s singing. His vocal register is vast, and he knows how to make the most of it. With a mellow cadence and street-related content, Saul’s hook introduces the song. His verse sees him use a commanding delivery as he tells a story of his drug-dealing friend, who faced repercussions of community violence and being arrested. The storytelling is elite. In fact, there is no other way to describe this song. This is ELITE.
The penultimate song is “Ridin’”. Beatshoven wasn’t fucking around. It’s got that upbeat bounce but like the prior, its murky and low register. On the instrumental, Saul floats. This sounds easy for him. Way too many quotable lines. Wicked flows, language changes, punchlines and a dope delivery? What more could I ask for?
“You rappers wishing for Gusheshe keys,
For music video scenes,
My nigga please.”
“You niggas only rep the hood when it’s convenient,
I push the city in.
I need a million, blues on my wings,
I’m feeling like Willian,
My hood when you see me in, walk with the heat like,
I’m sneaking the semi in.”
The project closer and by far, the best song on the project – the self-titled, “For God’s Sake”. On this song, Saul lays everything out there. He bares his soul. Firstly, the production is unsullied. As soul as a song can be. The piano keys, outrageous saxophone melodies and alluring drums. Everything comes together perfectly. This is poetry in motion. The song begins with Saul praying. Off top, Saul enters with clear direction. He speaks about his relationship with God, his neighbourhood, the ongoing violence and deaths. It’s introspective and there isn’t a single line that isn’t meaningful. No bar is wasted. Only the elite can paint a story with detail while still combining it with assertive deliveries, incredible punchlines and crazy flows. This is just flawless raps. Indicative of his ability, his ear and artistry.
“I’m feeling real trauma,
Let me tell you bout some lil drama.
I remember riding the hood when I was robbed by DK,
Then a couple of years later, some niggas shot him dead,
That’s just some lil karma.
No stop, just a lil karma.
Just taking precaution, I keep my guard up.”
“How you rapping like you from my kind of places but the Louis bag is the only time your homies catching cases.”
“Niggas say some shit like my city got a face.
If any rapper thinks he’s the poster boy, you got the wrong picture.
For up-and-comers and biggest names,
Know you got major targets,
I got the biggest aims, I Flame with ya,
Flow toe-to-toe through the vains with ya,
I pose a threat through the frame, with ya.
I do no litigations, Niggas sold my songs on Apple,
I know Thato Saul imitations.”
Conclusively, For God’s Sake is one of 2019’s finest projects. In a packed industry, Thato Saul has differentiated himself and proven that he’s incredibly skilled. He’s the Russell Westbrook type. He’s skilled as an artist but he’s equally gifted as lyricist. He’s able to maneuver on various sounds with ease and he sounds comfortable on every single instrumental. The production on the project is compelling, his ear is elite and he’s quite frankly – one of the best MCs in South Africa. While his rollout and promotion could’ve been better, this project is still a clear standout. I look forward to his next release.
Written by: Dithekgo Mogadime | Twitter @DithekgoM