At a time when hip-hop is full of over-the-top personalities like Lil’ B, Riff Raff, and Kreayshawn—a group ripe with God complexes, ridiculous makeup, and flamboyant outfits—it seems that some sort of gimmick is necessary to make a name for oneself. This is especially true considering that more and more artists are gaining notoriety and building their careers on the internet, where there are millions of other rhyming hopefuls churning out material in a similar fashion. It would appear that there is no hope in today’s game for the “ordinary” rapper wishing to focus on the music without turning their image into a spectacle.
Enter Chance the Rapper. Just from the name, we get a taste of his no-nonsense style. Not far down on his Tumblr page is a personally uploaded picture of his passport with his name reading “Chancelor J. Bennett”. So, when it came time to give himself a moniker, he kept it straightforward. His name is Chance. He is a rapper. Hence, Chance The Rapper. Can you imagine Riff Raff tweeting a picture of his passport with him at seventeen? Does anyone even know his real name or how old he is? This type of transparency is refreshing to see in a young artist whose fame started online, especially since the internet seems to have recently produced almost exclusively MC’s who are desperately trying to perpetuate their larger-than-life, over-the-top personalities.
The inception of Chance’s fame is well-known and equally humble. Towards the latter half of his senior year of high school, he was suspended from school for 10 days for smoking weed on campus, although he maintains he was across the street. During these 10 days, he recorded a mixtape by himself, mostly to vent his frustrations with the suspension. Regardless of its legitimacy, Chance’s suspension turned out to be a blessing in disguise. His mixtape—appropriately named the 10 Day mixtape—blew up online, with over 50,000 downloads on Datpiff. This sudden attention allowed him to feature notable names such as Ab-Soul, Childish Gambino, and even Twista on his next effort, Acid Rap.
The difference in terms of production from 10 Day to Acid Rap is obvious. The samples are tighter, hooks more memorable, and and the recording quality is higher. Yet, Chance The Rapper maintains his humble demeanor, using the same crew of Chicago-based producers from his Save Money collective, such as Nate Fox and Mic Mensa, as he did on past projects. On Acid Rap, he is just as comfortable in his 20-year-old skin as ever. It’s apparent from tracks like “Pusha Man”, in which he reveals that his mother still does his laundry, as well as his lamentations on “Cocoa Butter Kisses” over the problem of having to put Visene in his eyes after smoking weed so that his Grandmother would hug him. This track features fellow Chigoan Twista and his time-tested flow of delivering hordes of syllables at once, which effectively complements Chance’s laid back vocals. While it feels slightly weird for Twista—a man twice Chance’s age—to join in such blatantly teenage sentiments, any incongruity is soon forgotten after the catchy organ hook and a healthy dose of Chance’s trademark shrieking ad-lib, which he recently revealed on Reddit he prefers to spell “IGH”.
The growth in musical maturity between 10 Day and Acid Rap can be felt not only in the production of each individual track, but the structural complexities and hidden references of the album as a whole. Two good examples of this are the tracks bookending the album: “Good Ass Intro” and “Everything’s Good (Good Ass Outro)”. “Good Ass Intro” kicks off the album with soulful vocals from a chorus of female singers proclaiming to be better than the last time—exactly what Acid Rap turned out to be compared to 10 Day. Throughout the track, the listener is bombarded by an ever-changing series of subtle horn and string samples which reappear in some form or another intermittently throughout the next twelve tracks of the album.
Where the opening track succeeds in its rapid, bombastic, delivery, the closer is just as effective due to its minimalist piano vamp underneath stripped-down verses that are almost spoken at first. In fact, the track starts out with a recording of a phone conversation between Chance and his father, in which Chance thanks him for all of his support and his father tells him how proud he is of Chance. The shout-out to his father seems like the perfect follow-up to his song “Hey Ma”—a tribute to mothers everywhere—off of the 10 Day mixtape. The fact that a 20-year-old kid appreciates his father enough to include this on the track is endearing enough, but the poignant and reflective verse that follows makes this song a highlight of the album. After the phone conversation, Chance reflects on his journey thus far. He recalls first listening to J. Dilla in class, who is obviously a big influence on his production. In fact, on the song “Everybody’s Something”, Chance joins contemporary artists BADBADNOTGOOD and Robert Glasper in sampling Dilla’s hook from the Slum Village track “Fall In Love”. He adds another easter egg of sorts by quoting the original Slum Village lyrics when he proclaims to be “on them mic like it’s a dick”. After the verse, the instruments slowly break down and fade out until there is only a bass line. The next minute or so slowly builds the instruments back up, and features no rapping, only quick samples of previous songs from both 10 Day and Acid Rap. Most of these are reinterpreted at a different tempo or a higher, cartoon-like pitch and then put over new horn samples. In this way, Acid Rap ends in a sort of sonic collage of all the songs that brought him to this point. Like the verse before this point, there is a nostalgic feeling as Chance thanks those who helped along the way.
Another testament to the diversity of the record is how Chance is able to move seamlessly from trap-influenced bangers such as “Smoke Again”—a track that just screams to be played over car speakers with the bass all the way up—to candid love songs, such as “Lost” and “Interlude (That’s Love)”. The ability to be both funny at times and sincere at others is rare in young artists. By effectively doing both, Chance the Rapper has avoided being pigeonholed, separating himself from other more one-dimensional rappers.
WIth that being said, his light-hearted moments are often the most memorable, and seem come more naturally than serious topics. This makes sense; he has a lot of reasons to celebrate. He’s 20 years old, touring internationally, playing Lollapalooza, and being eyed by virtually every major record label. This youthful radiance particularly shines on tracks like “NaNa”, where he is free to rhyme about everything from his use of psychedelics, to his sexual exploits, to his tendency to skip class. After a few choruses of him literally chanting “na na na” as if he were making fun of you—a move which would be incredibly annoying if done by anyone else—there is an appropriately-placed guest verse from the always ludicrous Action Bronson.
A significant departure from the jaunty wildness of “Nana” is the track “Pusha Man”. It begins with images of various drugs and the lives of those who deal them, sung over up-tempo jazz fusion bass and keyboard samples, and followed by a minute of silence. The second half finds Chance tackling issues of faith, gang violence, and race relations in his home town over slow, spacey synths. These somber moments give him an opportunity to join the ranks of Common, Kanye, and Lupe Fiasco as a Chi-Town rapper with a real message. Unfortunately, he often falls short when given this chance (no pun intended). Instead of diving headfirst into the struggles brought on by these moral and social issues, his thoughts skim the surface, leaving more to be desired.
Still, he’s never even had a legal drink, so it’s forgivable if he hasn’t yet formulated eloquent political views. He still has a lot of time to grow as an artist. But, hey, playing a venue of 90,000 with Eminem and Kendrick Lamar isn’t a bad place to start. If Acid Rap is any indication, Chance’s sudden success may bring drastic musical and stylistic changes, but he will always stay himself—a maker of music both goofy and soulful whose influences range from Beirut and the Isley brothers to Kanye and Lil’ Wayne. Oh, and a whole lot of acid.