via Chance the Rapper's Instagram
Surprise shows are fun. If you're lucky enough to get tickets before they sell out, you can throw caution to wind and cop as many as they allow you to; knowing that if you can’t get enough friends to come along with, you can always sell the extras on Craigslist and cover the price of your admission. On Wednesday for The Social Experiment (or, rather, Chance the Rapper’s new band) concert at SOBs, I did just that. This might seem insignificant, but as a semi-recent transplant to the city who’s used to going to shows solo on the regular, being able to squad up for an event like this one felt good. Moreover, it matched the theme present throughout the night’s show: friendship.
This was my first time seeing Chance the Rapper, one of my favorite acts, yet I knew he’d be taking a purposeful backseat in order to showcase the latest project he’s a part of: The Social Experiment. The spotlight on and constant speculation as to what Chance will do next is what has led this new project to obtain buzz, which included landing on the cover of this month’s issue of The Fader. Although Chance may have gone on the Breakfast Club earlier that day and Charlamagne Tha God tweeted that it was Chance’s surprise show, the concert itself, which took place at the highly familiar stomping ground of SOB’s, was distinctly billed as “Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment present Surf.” Chance’s name was nowhere to be found in official association with the show, even on the flyer.
Plenty of artists have used their established or even new found fame and notoriety in order to front a project highlighting some of the friends and fellow acts they came up with. Pretty much from the onset The Social Experiment, or SOX (not only an abbreviation but also an allusion to the Chicago baseball club who’s hat Chance is often seen rocking) has been different. From the varsity jacket aesthetic, to Chance’s constant movement out of the forefront (in this case literally), one thing this show hammered home is that this is not Chance’s band; it’s a band that he is in. The first words spoken once they hit the stage (albeit words that came out of Chance’s mouth) attempted to make this notion clear, “We are The Social Experiment.”
Chance is an incredible artist, nearly as good at dancing, ad-libing, and singing as he is at rapping. But after seeing them put on an over hour long set in which the audience was likely deprived of hearing the 15 or so songs they most wanted (not one Acid Rap or 10 Day track was heard) I can confidently say SOX, currently fronted by Donnie Trumpet, is not just an experiment, but a self sustaining musical unit. And the band is damn good.
The set list began with “Home Studio,” a track released nearly a year ago when the group was still primarily going by “Chance & the.” (It’s worth noting that this moniker is still thrown around when Chance is obligated to play his more known records, like the night prior as part of a concert put on by NYU.) The opening lyrics of “Studio” have never resonated more: “Young black boy, how he got the labels scared?” Think about it: here’s one of the most vaunted, charismatic (read: marketable), and organically popular artists in half a decade that came from seemingly out of nowhere. He not only shuns signing any kind of deal, but also decides to fade into the background of a band. And this band is led by a trumpet player. And this trumpet player is named Donnie.
Chance’s fade to the back would be less shocking if he had first released a true debut album—or really any music for purchase—instead he just rakes in money by continuously touring while keeping an ever growing fan base thirsty for new music.
Friendship, as Nico Segal (Donnie) and Chance talked about throughout the night, is great. It really is. But I couldn’t help but think that, yeah, the little singing/jam session with Elle Varner is dope but, man, come on. Can’t you just play “Pusha Man” so the entire crowd can in unison chant “10, DAMN, DAYS”? Is that really too much to ask for? For awhile, the shit had me feeling a bit like the president of the “Creep” fan club at a Radiohead concert.
But then I realized it didn’t really matter. Since SOX first premiered “Wonderful Everyday” (which is basically a reworking of the theme song to the cartoon Arthur), I’d been pretty confident that even though I didn’t fully get it, I probably would as soon as I saw it performed live. So when the kid next to me—who had minutes early angrily growled at Chance for the lack of familiar material—began swaying side to side singing “everything is wonderful” at the top of his lungs, it made sense. This may seem like an obvious statement, but hip-hop shows are a different breed than most other live performances. Unlike, say, a rock concert where a crowd can be wooed by a sick guitar or drum solo, a rap show can demand more interaction from the crowd—and if they’re not familiar with the records and can’t really turn up alongside the performer, there’s a chance it might not be that fun of a show. So this is where the genius of what The Social Experiment is doing shines. People really like the music, regardless if they know it or not. At one point in the night, Chance taught the crowd a chorus, eventually leading them in a sing-along, and when that beat kicked in—it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Similar to my thoughts while experiencing other progressive Art™ like Terrence Malick films or Werner Herzog documentaries, I tried to understand if I was appreciating the show and the music for what it was attempting to do, or if I genuinely enjoyed what I was hearing. We didn’t hear any of the songs that made me a fan of Chance the Rapper—and sure, that’s frustrating. Yet at the end of the show, my drunk friend came up to me, yelling, “Don’t you just want him to play the shit you know and love him for?! They tricked us by calling it a Chance show!” I was struck by how confident I felt telling her, “No, not really. Shut up for a second; they just brought Robert Glasper up on stage.”
Spencer Stein is feeling wonderful. He's on Twitter.