Written by Fabian Fernandez
“Even better than I was the last time,” preaches the gospel choir on Chancelor Bennet’s second mixtape – a triumphant reintroduction. This mixtape for me will always be associated with warm summer nights in the midwest riding bikes and stargazing– those hot day with sun-soaked mornings and technicolor dreams. In the ten months since the release of Acid Rap, Chance The Rapper has gone from a local Chicago hero to perhaps the most buzzed rapper in the hip-hop community. His mixtape has been spinning in living rooms and blasting on headphones for months, but with Denzil Bernard’s “Chance for Spring Fling” article and the recent announcement of the Spring Fling 2014 Lineup, Chance is a success story Yalies should be cheering about. This loveable “chain smoking / name dropping / good looking / mu’ fucka” is headlining Spring Fling 2014; and in the wake of this excitement we’re penning a review of ‘Acid Rap’ almost one year after its release.
Chance is first and foremost a performer – he throws himself around on stage with all the energy one might expect from a 20-year old tripping and finally hitting the lime-light. Although his signature ad-lib (spelled “Igh,” according to Chance) may be off putting for many listeners, each listen imbues it with warm familiarity. And although he stumbles and poses goofily on stage, jumping around in an effort to engage with the crowd, Chance isn’t just a cartoonish hypeman. Even his most danceable tracks are deeply and soulfully infused with the rich heritage of Chicago soul, blues-rock, gospel, acid jazz, juke, and drill. Chance is well-versed in his hometown’s music, and deftly straddles the line between hyped-up effervescence and soulful vulnerability. It is this dynamic that makes Acid Rap such a compelling and enjoyable release.
The album begins with “Good Ass Intro,” which features a church choir, pump organs, dreamy bells, and a brass section wailing triumphantly. Acid Rap has a lot of catchy music, most notably the single “Juice,” which was featured on the trailer for Spring Fling 2014. Chance playfully sings ‘thirsty thirst’ like a nursery rhyme punctuated by shouts of “JUICE.” In colloquial terms, “Juice” means respect — respect that Chance has garnered in droves since the release of Acid Rap. “Cocoa-Butter Kisses” is another great single – a wry ode to growing up smoking (cigarettes or weed) and noticing how relationships can change when people don’t necessarily support that part of one’s life. “Cocoa-Butter Kisses” is a crowd favorite and Chance vibes out hard while Chi-town veteran Twister spits what may be one of the most memorable verses of his career. “Everybody’s Something” and “Interlude (That’s Love)” are also great songs with similarly reassuring messages.
Chance’s mid-album collaborations, with artists such as Childish Gambino, Action Bronson, and Ab-Soul, are definitely among the most lackluster songs of the album. He drops a few verses over the bright surfer vibes of “Favorite Song” but acts mostly as a hypeman to Childish Gambino. He spits, coughs, and drones in “Na Na Na” while Action Bronson delivers some rather nauseating lyrics, and he howls alongside Ab-Soul in “Smoke Again.” These may be the weakest tracks on the album in terms of production, but Chance’s playful personality nevertheless imbues them with charm.
Although references to marijuana and various psychedelics permeate the lyrics of Acid Rap, Chance is not merely a strung-out druggie; the album is suffused with moments of insightful brilliance. “Lost,” with its strumming guitar, soft piano riffs, and jazzy flute makes the idea of dropping acid with someone seem romantic. Although Chance sings tenderly about hook-ups and drugs throughout the track, he also recognizes how fleeting these things are. “Damn I’m in so deep girl,” he raps, “Probably ’cause you’re empty.” Portraying the role of his lover, NoName delivers one of the most interesting verses on the tape, quietly rapping, “the only time he loves me is naked in my dreams.” It’s one of the first tracks I fell in love with, and it still feels cool like a summer breeze.
“Pusha Man” is another, more upbeat track that deals heavily with drugs and its effects on the South Side of Chicago. One moment Chance is learning to deal on top of a Curtis Mayfield sample — the next, a chilling void filled with paranoid silence. According to Chance, the 30 seconds of silence in the middle of the song should “take away all feeling” if you’re tripping, so when Nosaj Thing’s lush synths come in it makes for one of the album’s most emotionally resonant moments. Balancing between cockiness and drug-fueled paranoia, “Pusha Man” is one of Chance’s most powerful tracks. “Everybody’s dyin’ in the summer / So pray to God for a little more spring.” Similarly, on “Acid Rain” Chance recalls the night when he saw his friend Rodney Kyles, Jr. get stabbed to death. Over the soft hum of a choir and weeping guitar he intones, “I see it happen / I see it always /I see his demons in empty hallways.”
One thing that separates Chance from artists such as his fellow South-Side rapper Chief Keef is the way that they deal with drugs and violence. Chief Keef feels trapped by the drugs and violence of Chicago, and thus produces aggressive and belligerent drill music. By contrast, Chance recognizes it all, but ultimately transcends the poverty and violence that plague his community. He is at once dreamy and absurd, yet at times he is down to earth and emotional. Drugs are both his weakness and his escape, and it is in these transcendent moments where his goofy attitude seems to promise something greater. His versatility and intense passion for music help to explain his recent collaborations with such artists as Justin Bieber and James Blake, as well as his meteoric rise in fame throughout the past year.
In the album’s final two tracks, “Chain Smoker” and “Everything’s Good (Good Ass Outro),” Chance reaches out to his audience, thanks his supporters, and goes out in style with one final juke jam. He warbles “Thanks for coming guys” with playful humility, and in the midst of touching moments and elated shouts, Chance lays out his musical philosophy. “Lot of niggas wanna go out with a bang, but I ain’t tryna go out at all,” he says, “Got a lot of ideas still to throw out the door.” He ends the mixtape by asking for a chance to prove himself, and although Acid Rap demonstrates room for learning and growth, its sheer ambition and precise execution make it a worthy album in its own right. With Acid Rap, Chance the Rapper has already proven himself — from this point onward, all he can do is improve. In the words of Chance: “everything’s good.”
Download Acid Rap for free via DatPiff.