Album Review: Acid Rap

Call me Chancellor the Rapper/Please say “the Rapper.

That line appears midway through “Good Ass Intro,” the opening song off Chance the Rapper’s new mixtape Acid Rap. It acknowledges that Chance carries a forgettable pseudonym, a detriment in this era of low attention spans, but it also asks the listener to remember Chance’s primary skill: rapping.

That might seem obvious, but the lines between wordsmith and musician blur on his tremendous new album. On his Twitter feed, Chance writes “It’s called #AcidRap for a lot of reasons…The influences that LSD had on me recording…the influences from Acid Jazz band and Esham…But mainly when I drop it, n—– is finna start trippin.” He backs up his claims with aplomb.

Chance raps about what he knows, and he knows a lot about drugs. His lead single “Juice” was inspired by a ten-day suspension from his high school for being caught smoking pot. “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” “Smoke Again,” and “Chain Smoker” all address a self-aware nasty tobacco habit, while “Lost” and “Pusha Man” bring the dark side of addiction to the forefront. Most of the time, however, he uses his verses to advocate for hallucinogens, especially substances that one can only learn of on Urban Dictionary. This is a terribly dangerous album for the young and impressionable.

But all of the drug use can be forgotten, because beyond the haze, one will discover a wondrously talented musician. Chance has a unique delivery: some say he sounds like Macy Grey, some say Eminem, some will find it annoying (I find it playful, especially his monosyllabic ejaculation “IGH” and his polysyllabic “nyahnyahnyahnyahnyahnyah”). His lyricism has room for improvement. He isn’t Kendrick Lamar, and he never will be, but he doesn’t need to impress the English majors to catch their attention like Kendrick does. Most of all, however, Chance displays a tremendous ability to form melodies and choose instrumentals. The production on “Acid Rap” is J Dilla flawless and Chance’s singing unexpectedly outshines new rap-crooners like Kanye and Drake. As good a rhymer as “Chancellor the Rapper” is, Acid Rap’s most memorable moments are sung.

“Good Ass Intro” doesn’t require my convincing for you to like it, because unless you have a problem with happy, I guarantee you will experience repeated listens. The following song “Pusha Man” pushes the drugged envelope, however. The first three minutes sound like the soundtrack to an anti D.A.R.E. commercial, but after a brief pause midway through the track, Chance opens up about the true nature of his city, his anxieties, and the dark side of addiction. He raps, “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.” He follows Kendrick’s approach in refusing to flaunt a false machismo regarding the youth violence surrounding him. Kids are shooting kids where Chance lives, and it petrifies him.

The mood picks up quickly soon after. “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and “Juice” use gospel piano and acid jazz synth samples to relay some sunny childhood nostalgia, and both are so fun and focused that it’s difficult to imagine the twenty year old Chance with some polishing. I’m afraid he might not need it.

Immediately following is the emotional cavern “Lost,” carrying the most beautiful beat on the album, layering minor key guitars with ethereal flutes, framed by Chance’s desperate croon throughout. The subject matter pains those even not exposed to his problems, addressing the double-helplessness of those addicted and in love with each other. It doesn’t really matter what mood Chance chooses to present, because he succeeds at every endeavor.

The second half of the album slows down a bit. “Interlude” and “Favorite Song (featuring Childish Gambino)” are both excellent summer jams, while “Acid Rain” and “NaNa” could receive moderate attention as lead singles to a slightly lesser debut album. In a vacuum, these songs still sound phenomenal, but they might want to be passed over for Chance’s eventual debut (if he pushes for a classic, anyway, which he’s certainly capable of).

The final two songs may provide the most worthwhile material. In the prelude to “Chain Smoker,” Chance claims that he wants this to “sound like a Prince song.” It’s high ambition for someone who just entered his third decade of existence, but he not only succeeds, but also creates a song that Prince would be proud to cover. As nasally a rapper as Chance is, his singing is overwhelmingly emotional, and one can feel the hallucinogens ooze throughout his impeccably sung first verse. The crescendo of late Kanye-esque samples lift Chance’s impossibly catchy chorus into a sparsely populated stratosphere. For three and a half minutes, he bares all, and he comes out the other side iridescent.

The album’s finale “Good Ass Outro” provides the only skit in the entire album, and the following song is just as “Good Ass” as the intro and the interlude (inexplicably not named “Good Ass Interlude”). For all the trappings of a wonderful rapper Chance possesses, he on many occasions talks about his humble origins or how it’s not so great being Chance. I can’t remember one moment where Chance mentions money, power, possessions, or anything self-referential. Acid Rap is mostly about drugs, but Chance leaves plenty of room for love, family, charity, and human decency. Coming off a decade of comic decadence, I welcome the trade-off. His second mixtape is not quite a classic, but I could easily see four or five songs as the framework to the best album so far this young decade. The kid is only twenty years old, but I don’t see him having much room to grow. He doesn’t need it.

 

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