Acid Rap

Chance The Rapper

Independent release, 2013

http://chanceraps.com

REVIEW BY: Kent Glenzer

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/08/2013

Put money on it: by the end of the year, you’re going to hear Chance The Rapper earworms on commercials and in all places where catchy and cool musical segues are needed.  It’s a Moby 1999 kind of album in which every single song has an obsession-inducing hook.   

But it’s a lot more.

This is hip-hop that’s not East Coast, South Coast, or West Coast.  Nor is it beholden to the Chicago rap and hip-hop scene of Chief Keef and the drill scene. Chance – Chancelor Bennett of Chicago, a 20 year old wunderkind kicked out of one of the city’s best private schools who turned the experience into one of the most sought after mixtapes of 2011 – is creating a sound all his own, and it is summed up by the album’s title, which is not metaphoric: this is rap written with the help of a lot of LSD, by a young man experiencing both it and adulthood for the first time.  Think Wayne Coyne, if he’d grown up on the South Side of Chicago in the 2000s.

But this album also represents a kind of hip-hop Holden Caulfield moment.  Except that Chance is actually likeable, funny, and fresh.  He swaggers, then giggles at his own swagger.  He self-inflates, then pops his own bubble.  He tells raw tales of friends gunned down, and couples them with an  irritating, childish, yet haunting verbal tic that reproduces itself across most of the album’s songs, continually morphing, repeating, and burrowing into your brain:  na na na na  na na na na. 

Na na NAH na na, na na NAH na, na.

Nyah nyah nyah nyah NYAH nyah.

Put the accent on different syllables.  Stretch the vowels in Goldberg Variation manner.  Bring them to the foreground here, bury them in the background there.  Add yips, Buddy Holly hiccups, and over-emoted falsetto intakes of breath.  Turn them into aural riddles, or knock-knock jokes, predictable in their premise but always surprising with their punch lines.    my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

While the album’s recurring motif is this ever-changing group of nonsense utterances, what attracts is the album’s insistence on the analog.  There are few electronic gimmicks, or mixology magic.  Instead, most songs are built on sounds that could have been produced in the 1970s:  flutes, pianos acoustic and electric, old-school bass guitars, and wah-wah guitars that hark to Nile Rogers or smooth ‘70s soul.  There are more than a few resemblances – homages – to Dungeon Family, OutKast, and Goodie Mob.  Chance’s voice resembles that of Lil Wayne, and the nasality may put some listeners off.  Yeah, sure, there are the usual (if unpredictable and still riveting) samples that one expects in this genre, the headline collaborations (Childish Gambino!  Action Bronson!  Wu Tang!), the machismo.  But what sets this album apart is the sheer joy, freshness, and wonder of discovering one’s own power to capture and hold the world through narrative.  That emerging understanding that describing the world through words is more powerful than bombs, drones, or guns permeates every song.  At one point, Chance laughs as he makes a meta-commentary about how crisp the lines he’s just delivered really are.  Like us, he can’t believe how good his words can be.  He’s as surprised, and naively delighted, as we are.

On this album, Chance is growing up, and he’s letting us in on the process. Songs range from silly, to angry, to lovely. “Cocoa Butter Kisses” taps into the universal love that kids have for grandmothers.  It’s warm and soothing, until the pace quickens and Chance’s bitterness surfaces on a rapid fire rap:  “Deadbeat dad, enough of that jazz, asshole, absinthe up in that class / Are we there yet? Ice cubes in a bong, we're brain dead, take a tug and then pass.”  The next song, “Juice” (the first single) is lyrical joy, with Chance scanning across rhymes in profoundly pleasing and smile-inducing ways, and a big pumped up chorus that will be playing out of fraternity windows for the next few years. But the guts of this album are three songs that come in succession later.  On “Favorite Song,” Childish Gambino offers a cameo verse over some seriously acid-induced beats and interestingly allusive lyrics, including a hilarious dis of Harlem Shake aficionados.  “NaNa,” strung across a bass line that will infect your dreams.  It segues immediately into “Smoke Again” featuring a terrific appearance by Ab-Soul, sounding like Darth Vader two feet below the ocean’s surface.   Chance devotes the song to a litany of reasons to enjoy a variety of mind-altering substances, in rhymes and verbal rhythms intricate and perverse, with shout outs to Drake, No Doubt, Trayvon Martin, and the Dukes Of Hazzard. 

Acid Rap is almost too catchy for its own good.  But should you pay attention to Chancelor Bennett?  Absolutely.  Music may end up being too constrained a medium for his creativity.   Enjoy it while it lasts.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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