May 8, 2013 8 comments
In 2003, Chicago MC Chancellor Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper, was 10 years old. At that point, it’s unclear whether the “rapper” surname was a predetermined pseudonym for Chance or a product of an the era in hip-hop to come for the 312. But, while rap was being bowled over that year by the East coast (particularly Hurricane 50 Cent), and radio was getting a steady stream of Southern cooking — including Lil Jon’s relentless Crunk influence and Ludacris’ completion one of the most impressive three-album runs — the only nationally recognizable legs Midwest hip-hop had to stand on were the slowly-buckling pair on Eminem. Of course, 2003 also saw the surface of the first solo effort from “best kept secret,” Roc-A-Fella wunderkind producer, Kanye West, with the I’m Good Mixtape. The release didn’t land with as much fanfare as his timeless studio debut a year later, but the threads of influence, at least in this case, can be traced back to a point as immediate as track one.
Acid Rap, Chance’s sophomore mixtape following last year’s impressive 10 Day, starts off with a not-too-subtle restructuring of Kanye’s “I’m Good (Intro)” from that mixtape, but rather than build solely with lyrics and personality over a jacked instrumental, the space here is populated with inaugural gospel piano, hand claps, jazzy horns, feverish bass, and backup vocals that rise to the highest heights and crescendo to a final “I’m gonna be” refrain, in the apparent vein of (fellow Chicagoan) Common’s “Faithful”. It’s a sign of the best to come, with a clear awareness for its surroundings, the urgency of someone hungry and creative enough to rework a hometown staple, and the positive disposition to not get caught up in its own hype and enjoy every last chord.
To clarify, Chance isn’t trying to be the next Kanye specifically, but, much like West, he’s as much a real-life character as he is a traditional ‘spitter,’ and probably more-so the former. With a bevy of spastic ticks, (“IGH!”) his, almost juvenile, teasing “neh-neh-” ad-lib and his more than serviceable singing voice, Chance bends himself around instrumentals in an effort to convey whatever style he sees fit. On the Slum Village sampling “Everybody’s Something”, he’s Infinite/Slim Shady-LP era Em, nimbly stuffing personal, while meticulously-paced, lines into limited-breath bars: “I used to tell hoes I was dark light or off white. But I’d fight if a nigga said that I talk white.” On “Chain Smoker”, he’s early Kid Cudi, drawing out vowels long enough to snap them at their most strained point and drop right back on beat. On “NaNa” — which rides Tribe’s “Sucka Nigga” bassline — he’s Wyclef mixed with SlimKid3, dropping non-sequiturs about “[kissing] Va$tie” and Idi Amin cannibalism. None of these tracks particularly sound alike, but all of them sound distinctively like their star performer, with the influences attributed purposefully.
This malleability allows for a revolving door of guests to weave in and out with little to no disruption to the flow of the mixtape. “Cocoa Butter Kisses” sees Chi-town elder statesman Twista flexing his old muscles just in case you forgot he’s the “Higgs Boson” of “rapping fast.” Childish Gambino holds up well on the “Real Love Remix” inspired “Favorite Song”. Another pair of Chicago emcee’s, Saba and Noname Gypsy, contribute excellent companion verses to “Everybody’s Something” and “Lost” respectively and, on “NaNa”, Action Bronson continues to prove to be one of the finer absurdist rappers currently working (yes, that was a Predator ad-lib). The only feature that misses the mark is Ab-Soul on “Smoke Again”, who isn’t completely lackluster, but also isn’t needed to keep the song entertaining. The unheralded MVP may actually be BJ the Chicago Kid here, playing signature Tony Williams roles on multiple occasions.
For as much of a showman Chance can be, when he’s personal, it’s magnified that much more because of his surprising depth and poignancy. The aforementioned “Cocoa Butter Kisses” is a heartfelt lamenting of the double-life lead when drugs, and other frowned-upon habits, mix with a loving and concerned family life. I don’t think there’s a weed-smoking soul that can’t relate to a line like “Put Visine inside my eyes so my grandma would fucking hug me.” “Acid Rain” turns even further inward, with a flow that undulates so seamlessly that one runs the risk of missing the inherent weight of his confessions. “My big homie died young; just turned older than him. I seen it happen, I seen it happen, I see it always, he still be screaming, I see his demons in empty hallways” Chance admits of his slain friend, Rodney Kyles, in cold candor. It’s unfiltered emotion at its root source, and even more heart wrenching considering Chance’s, sometimes stark, surroundings.
That emotional self-awareness comes to an early peak, with the stellar “Pusha Man”. The current climate of violence in Chicago is something that I personally have tried to explore and remain disturbed by, and the fact that this plague is still on the rise amid the recent popularization of Chi-Town’s “Drill” scene leaves little room for context from rap’s front line. This isn’t an indictment against the Chief Keef’s, Katie Got Bandz’ and King L’s of the rap world, as their perspectives, musicianship notwithstanding, is essential to the empathy required to grasp the culture for what it is. Incidentally, The first half of “Pusha Man” floats on even more Cudi flow and a Supa Fly-shaped hook that bounces with gleefully chopped exuberance. It’s archetypal “she’s addicted to my ‘D'” fodder done right, and it works right up until its abrupt end.
And then, 30 seconds of sun-setting silence gives way to the Nosaj Thing produced “Paranoia”, and a side of the young Chicago rap scene we’ve yet to see fully fleshed out subtly transpires. Chance begins his second verse with a few questions and comments:
“They merking kids, they murder kids here
Why you think they don’t talk about it? They deserted us here
Where the fuck is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric in here
Probably scared of all the refugees, look like we had a fucking hurricane here
They be shooting whether it’s dark or not, I mean the days is pretty dark a lot
Down here it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a fucking parking spot”
This ability to present without preaching is what keeps Chance as legitimate as his peers, and a continuously fascinating MC. In the spirit of, say, “Jesus Walks”, “All Falls Down” and “Through the Wire”, Acid Rap‘s greatest moments balance every inch of the architect himself, talking to, not at, its audience and embedding the world it was conceived within into a .zip file bursting at its seams with vitality. This is what truly makes Acid Rap such an enjoyable listen. Chance can incorporate multiple personalities and styles ranging from soul, to trap, to juke, to footwork, to cloud, then throw his signature idiosyncrasies into a blender, resulting in a project that celebrates a clear sense of self. But, packaged with Chance’s sense of self is also an accessible sense of consciousness as well.
The amalgam of this awareness is “Paranoia”‘s late breakdown. Chance, somber and broken-voiced, sings, “I know you scared, you should ask us if we scared too.” But, it’s the revealing and candid two words that follow, that of which you might never hear on record from almost any other rapper, that binds the listener to the artist: “me too.”
1. Chance The Rapper – Good Ass Intro Lyrics
2. Chance The Rapper – Pusha Man Lyrics
3. Chance The Rapper – Cocoa Butter Kisses Lyrics
4. Chance The Rapper – JUICE Lyrics
5. Chance The Rapper – Lost Lyrics
6. Chance The Rapper – Everybody’s Something Lyrics
7. Chance The Rapper – Interlude (That’s Love) Lyrics
8. Chance The Rapper – Favorite Song Lyrics
9. Chance The Rapper – NaNa Lyrics
10. Chance The Rapper – Smoke Again Lyrics
11. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rain Lyrics
12. Chance The Rapper – Chain Smoker Lyrics
13. Chance The Rapper – Everything’s Good (Good Ass Outro) Lyrics