weekend   |   review

New Chance the Rapper project with Donnie Trumpet is worth the wait


Chance the Rapper performs in the Social Experiment at the Austin Music Hall on March 20, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye/Chicago Tribune/TNS) Lenny Gilmore and Lenny Gilmore

I’m leaving a cafe in Tokyo when I get the news that Chance the Rapper has released his newest project. And my international data is turned off, so I can’t stream it via Spotify. And the hotel is a good 30 minutes away on foot, so I’m left with no recourse but to talk about how long-awaited this album is with a fellow fan.

“Surf” is finally out. We heard about it on Twitter, Chance’s legion of loyal fans clamoring to post their reviews in the form of 140 characters. We’ve been waiting a long time for this. Since 2013 when Chance dropped his second mixtape, “Acid Rap,” fans have been left with little more than singles on Soundcloud. Though “Surf” isn’t an exclusively Chance album — rather a collaborative project with Donnie Trumpet and the musical collective The Social Experiment — it was most certainly worth the wait.

At it’s simplest, “Surf” is just beautiful. The instrumentals are organic, original in that they’re embarking on scarcely visited territory. In the same vein as Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” “Surf” meets real-life jazz with hip-hop and makes a break from the canned beats that we’ve grown to accept as mainstream. If nothing else, this album is reinvigorating hip-hop as we know it, giving credence to the think pieces hypothesizing a new era of rap music.

The number of features on the album makes it feel something akin to a mixtape; some of the biggest names in the genre — though the exact genre is kind of hard to pin down — lend their talents to a verse or a hook. From Big Sean and Erykah Badu to Janelle Monae and Busta Rhymes, The Social Experiment weaves a variety of styles into a surprisingly cohesive body of work.

What I find more important than that, though, is the album just sounds great. And to take it one step further, it feels good to listen to. It’s soft in all of the right places, gritty in the others, neo-soul when I need it to be, jazz when I don’t. It’s Chicago and L.A. and most all of the things I love about music all thrown into one dope record.

And unlike the mentality many of us approached it with, “Surf” isn’t a Chance the Rapper album.

In sound and feel, “Surf” is quite uniquely a Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment project. And as Chance puts it, The Social Experiment is just “a collective of artists that are interested in making dope, free stuff.”

Though, in all honesty, Chance’s celebrity is what brought me to it. Since releasing “Acid Rap,” Chance has seen a near-meteoric rise to the top. He’s covered Source, Complex, Dazed and Confused and The Fader in the past two years alone. In 2014, he made XXL’s freshman list and the Forbes 30 under 30 music list in January 2015.

The kid’s had a lot of hype.

Still, he’s signed to no major label, instead opting for the freedom of releasing his own music on his own terms. In a 2013 interview with Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg, Chance had this to say about his noncommitment to any of the labels that had begun to court him: “I have so much fun when I make my music, and it’s all about me — it’s all about what I want to do at the moment. And if I wanna push back an album or just decided that I don’t want to drop it, I can do that.”

That sentiment still seems to ring true. “Surf” — and the singles that were released ahead of the project (Sunday Candy and Everyday Wonderful) — are a testament to experimental, collaborative music making.

Chance the Rapper, Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment aren’t big business. Thus far, it seems that their artistic integrity cannot be bought or sold. They produce projects that they believe in and release them for free. As for Chance, what perhaps makes him such a valuable asset — both solo and leading the group — is his readiness to put on for his team and his city.

It’s a beautiful thing, a rapper that isn’t publicly traded and sold to the highest bidder: a popular hip-hop artist who makes music for the inherent value it provides — an outlet for expression, a vehicle for change. And what’s even more beautiful? “Surf,” and the fact that it’s working.

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