I Changed My "No New Friends" Policy for Chance the Rapper
'Acid Rap' is pretty much definitive proof that the Rap Internet is winning, at least sometimes.
Download Acid Rap here.
It took Chance the Rapper roughly a year after his first formal release to show up on the Critical Acclaim Rap Internet Twitter Machine Website Music Hype Radar (CARITMWMHR for short). That's a considerably long time given the rapid turnover at websites like Datpiff and Livemixtapes (and the internet in general, I guess), but in that span it shows that he's come a long way and that the praise is deserved. #10Day is only 13 months old, and the improvement between that and his most recent release is some of the most visible progress between mixtapes in recent memory. On Acid Rap, Chance shows all the right signs of a promising career that will make him a permanent fixture on the CARITMWMHR (say it out loud, it sounds funny).
20 year-old Chancelor Bennett has said in interviews that he's not interested in going to college right now. The Chicago southside native spent a week at Harold Washington College downtown before dropping out (I wonder where he got that idea). Despite that, it's obvious that schools and being a student are a vital part of his career and identity. His debut tape #10Day was inspired by the ten days he spent suspended from high school after he was caught smoking weed, and although it took longer than that to finish, that's basically what it sounds like—a kid in high school making a mixtape because he's bored and kind of annoyed. Five of the early songs from that project became 5Day, a demo CD Chance burned thousands of copies of himself. He handed those out, unmarked except for his twitter handle, on the street in front of Columbia College downtown over the course of a summer. When Chance made an appearance at a Chicago-area high school (the one I went to, coincidentally), the police had to get him to leave in order to disperse the crowd of 700 kids that had gathered to see him. For a show at the University of Illinois, he rented out two school buses for the trip downstate and went with his fans from Chicago. His grassroots approach to building a fanbase would feel contrived in a lot of other cases, but this is part of why it feels like Chance works: he's capitalized on what it feels like to be in the audience and made an organic, exciting, and not-corny experience out of it.
Acid Rap is a testament to that method, an attempt to narrate being a relatively normal kid growing up in a slightly less-than-normal universe. Again, Chance is a good student of the form: "Good Ass Intro" is a juke-laced interpolation of a Kanye West mixtape cut and the track name is a nod to the working title of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Good Ass Job). "Lost" uses a Willie Hutch "Brother's Gonna Work It Out" sample popularized by Dr. Dre. The Jack Wilkins bassline in "NaNa" is nod to A Tribe Called Quest's "Sucka N*gga.” It's the kind of beat selection that suggests creative admiration instead of uninventive mimicry. Lyrically, Chance is equally expansive in both content and form. He's managed to convey the threats of his everyday life (violent crime, acceptance from his family and peers) with ways to escape it (girls, drugs), while reflecting on it all in real-time. Acid Rap's storytelling might indebt Chance to Kanye and Kendrick Lamar, but it's distinguished by his scattered, semi-melodic flow—one that hints at repeated listens to Lil Wayne's Da Drought 3. Unpacking this mixtape demands the same kind of effort from the audience that he put into it, especially if you're really going to "get" it all. "Lean all on the square/that's a fucking rhombus" is applied geometry for promethazine and cigarettes; "Acid on her face/ that's a work of art" is a reference to Jerry Hall's character in Tim Burton's Batman, for fuck's sake. Chance's dexterity isn't always striking or even passable, but as he says on "Acid Rain," "Sometimes the truth don't rhyme." What's more important is that he's taken a huge sphere of references from his memory and influences to create a big risky experiment, and it pretty much paid off. I'm glad he...took a chance at rapping (heh heh feel free to kill me at any time).
What must be an irritating when you're a Chicago rapper is the inevitable comparisons that get drawn—when you're not being framed as a Chicago analog to rappers from somewhere else, you're being compared to Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, Common, and more recently against, Chief Keef. Acid Rap benefits from these comparisons because it doesn't have to show allegiance to any one aesthetic touchstone, and because Chance injects all of his songs with his own spirited personality. That style of rap-making is only going to be come increasingly popular among rap-makers in the CARITMWMHR era, in which case Acid Rap is a sign of good times to come.
Gabriel Herrera hates it when his friends call him "Bagriel." Bagriel is on Twitter - @gabrielherrera