When SahBabii’s “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick” first went viral, a few tried to write off the Chicago-born rapper as a Young Thug clone. It didn’t help that his strongest tracks at the time - “King Of The Jungle”; “Only Knew 1 Way”; “Purple Ape”  - were often mislabeled as “rare” Thugger leaks on Youtube. It was his flow, more than anything, that had people shook; everyone had believed Thug’s elusive crooning to be irreplicable, yet here was Sah, firmly latched onto a few specific idiosyncrasies that made Slime Season Thugger such a thrill. Sure, he wasn’t operating at the same level as his inspiration, but he was doing something much more important - he was building his own world.

In that sense, it’s hard to knock Sah for the influences he wears so openly (Thug himself flew Sah out to London the minute “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick” got on his radar). Raised by his mother in Chicago before eventually joining his older brother, T3, in Atlanta, Sah arrived to Thug’s kingdom in 2010 as an impressionable 13 year old. His first pair of mixtapes - executive produced by T3 - came out in 2012/2013, right at the offset of Jeffrey’s cosmic rise to superstardom. When they were met with a lukewarm reception, Sah retreated, dejected and defeated, only to stumble upon success with his 2016 breakout tape, S.A.N.D.A.S. Cut to 2018 and, despite being picked up and dropped by Atlantic in the span of a year, Sah’s once-fledgling sense of self has undeniably blossomed.

The best songs on Squidtastic (“Anime World”; “Aunt Pat”; “Tall”)contain all the pieces for effective bottom-up world-building. You can almost visualize Sah processing his influences, deconstructing the most vital moments of his favorite pieces of entertainment (Barter 6 and Naruto, one would have to presume) in order to carefully re-construct these tics into his own universe. The animated ad-libs, the way melodies are picked up and dropped at whim, the hilarious one-liners - it’s all present in the most welcomed way possible. “Geronimo” and “Marsupial Superstars”, the bonus tracks on last year's re-release of S.A.N.D.A.S., gave us a glimpse of Sah’s true potential, and the experimental nature of these songs is carried all throughout the new project.

Squidtastic quickly establishes a mellow, beach BBQ vibe that it confidently carries from start to finish. The early one-two punch of “Boyfriend” and “Sunny Days” is highly effective, with T3 - SahBabii’s older brother, the project’s executive producer and only feature - adding noteworthy verses to both efforts. But from there on, it is entirely SahBabii’s show; a marsupial-obsessed spectacle that drenches us in cheerful nostalgia. There’s an enchanting coyness about Sah’s approach to songwriting. His mystique is essentially an endearing mix of sheepishness and disarmingly sharp wit, and it’s this feigned aloofness that allows him to set up an entire song about how he used to “hate being tall,” just for it to turn into a mantra about self-love and reading The Magic School Bus to his kids. 

Sah’s lyrics are increasingly colorful; he’s not just having sex, he’s, “in her house, like Cory” and he wants her skin, “like thermals.” He’s not just trying to steal your girlfriend, he’s a scientist with a hypothesis and your significant other is his experiment. On, “Squidrific”, Sah rhymes “clitoris” with "gibberish" and “chitterlings” before claiming that he keeps his gun closer than a cousin.  On “Aunt Pat”, he claims his pockets are “cheesy, like my Auntie’s macaroni,” and that he gets to the bread like a “pack of bologna.” As hypnotized as Sah is with the stars in his Rolls Royce, we are with the subtle way he plays with his syllables and freaks regular day items into clever sexual innuendos. Young Thug once said, “sit on this wood, like you just walked inside a gymnasium”; SahBabii once said, “I wanna eat her Garfield.” 

There’s a moment on “Tall” where the Cam Beats instrumental opens up and the strumming guitar clears way for Sah to passionately croon “fa-la-la-la-la”; Squidtastic is teeming with subtle, irresistibly charming instances such as this. BasedTJ, the Dallas producer responsible for the moody “Purple Ape” beat, returns in spectacular fashion for “Anime World”, the ethereal, manga-inspired centerpiece that pays homage to Naruto, eulogizes Japanese producer Nujabe, and sees Sah questioning his own piety. Other standouts, such as “Aunt Pat”, “Sylvan” and “Honey Bees”, are produced by first-time collaborator BELDONDIDTHAT, a rising talent out of Houston. These compositions, overseen by T3 and Sah, are carefully curated and make for a cohesive experience that rewards repeat listens.

Sah’s music is quirky and fun, warm and comforting, essentially fulfilling the same purpose as Saturday-morning cartoons. While some rising artists, such as Lil Keed, Lil Baby or Gunna, are more directly of Thug’s lineage, it’s Sah who most embodies Thug’s penchant for out of the box showmanship. Much like Lil Uzi Vert at the start of his career, Sah has now earned enough good faith to freely play around with Thug’s repertoire, especially since he seems intent on taking Thug’s sound in directions that he himself has yet to explore. Tracks like “Honey Bees” feel like a completely natural extension of Young Thug’s 2015 run.

Compared to S.A.N.D.A.S., Squidtastic shows progress on all fronts. It’s an unassuming, breezy listen that offers a handful of last minute contenders for song of the summer.  “Army” and “Sunny Days” are bops. “Boyfriend” should be a staple at every middle school dance. “Anime World” is an absolute anthem. The beats are vibrant, the hooks are infectious, and the verses are uniformly great; this is feel-good dance music that will surely warm up the desolate winter months to come. And by developing his sound on his own terms, with only his family by his side, utterly unconcerned with a linear career trajectory, Sah is slowly but surely separating himself in a sea of clones.