A few minutes after a download link for Acid Rap appeared on Fake Shore Drive, editor Andrew Barber tweeted that Chance the Rapper’s tape “just got dropped like it was an album.” Shortly afterward, the site crashed from too much traffic. Acid Rap comes from the new “like an album” Live.Love.A$AP school of mixtape: it’s a free release featuring all original (and expensive-sounding) beats, no DJ interjections and some high-profile features. Many pre-release song leaks and videos heralded its impending arrival and helped to built the hype to a fever pitch (Chance released about half of the tracks and several videos before the April 30th D-Day). I saw the constant blog updates throughout March and April- the kind that are usually posted about rappers after they have a few major releases under their belt- and I wondered if Acid Rap had already come out and I just didn’t know about it.
If you’re reading this and asking yourself “what’s a Chance the Rapper?”, I’ll briefly explain. He’s a twenty-year-old rapper from the South Side of Chicago associated with Save Money, a disorganized local crew of young MCs and producers. Chance intones or outright croons most of his verses, and often does so at breakneck speed. His precise, sometimes fussy rhymes invite comparisons to Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Chance’s boisterous delivery may be an acquired taste for new listeners; he sometimes assumes a fake patois that approaches the stranger accent work of Wayne and Young Thug, or launches into a long string of rhymes in full-on baby-talk voice. However, Chance raps about anything from his grandmother to gunpoint robbery in a dizzying variety of styles, and can do so over almost any type of beat. He’s possibly the most popular rising Chicago MC outside of Chief Keef and Rockie Fresh.
The sonic palette of Chance’s second major mixtape Acid Rap is wider than that of his more definitively homemade-sounding breakthrough #10Day. The production is infused with remnants of soul, gospel and jazz (“acid jazz,” Chance will clarify), and frequently sounds like it could be entirely the handiwork of a live band. The circular structure of the album (the reprise of musical ideas at the beginning, middle and end) and the complex musical counterpoint (say the interplay of the synth horns and vocal harmonies over two-stepping 808s at the end of “Good Ass Intro”) suggest the conceptual ambitions of hometown hero Kanye’s My Dark Twisted Fantasy, and the beats (sentimental, paranoid, celebratory or silly but always big) the ethos of most of West’s other albums. The classic soul/R&B elements on Acid Rap remind me of listening to The College Dropout for the first time; both that album and Chance’s are watershed releases that sound simultaneously familiar- largely due to the traditonal musical source material they use- and entirely new in approach.
The action of Acid Rap takes place in a Chicago that’s much like good kid m.A.A.d. city’s Compton: a town where drugs, violence and sex are facts of everyday life and good kids grow up too fast. Our hero is both involved in the action and turning a critical eye to it. This dichotomy comes across most blatantly on “Pusha Man,” which is separated into two dissimilar sections divided by a few seconds of silence. In the first half of the song, Chance plays a caricature of a successful drug-dealer (“Pimp slapping, toe tagging/I’m just trying to fight the man/I’m your pusher man”), while the second section is written from the perspective of an uneasy narrator driving around town grappling with his rising THC levels (“Paranoia on my mind, got my mind on the fritz/But a lot of a n*ggas dying, so my 9 with the shits”).
Chance is similarly reflective on “Acid Rain,” a hook-less monologue that is perhaps Acid Rap‘s standout track. He describes succinctly the senselessness of violence he’s experienced and his distaste for outsiders who exploit tragedy (“Sometimes the truth don’t rhyme/Sometimes the lies get millions of views/Funerals for little girls, is that appealing to you?/From your cubicle desktop, what a beautiful view”). Violence- in the past, present and future tense- recurs constantly throughout Acid Rap, no matter how light the given song’s overall tone. Chance describes his feelings about it clearly but subtly, speaking eloquently to what’s going on in his community precisely because he’s not aiming to take on anything larger than his own experience.
Some of the best moments on the mixtape come when Chance confronts less weighty subject matter: on tracks where he revels in one of his various forms of good fortune, and plays with words without saying too much of anything. Notable examples are the trap-infused “Chain Smoker,” the Ab-Soul collaboration “Smoke Again,” and Chance-the-Anthem “Juice.” At these junctures, popping pills, listening to Frank Ocean, hating the Lakers and having the “juice” (that je ne sais quoi that’s gotten him where he is now) is more than enough inspiration for Chance to make unforgettable and innovative rap songs.
Many of Chance’s verses on Acid Rap deal with being confronted with or returning to some element of his life after he’s attempted to escape from it, a sensation similar to the come-down one experiences at the end of a hallucinogenic drug experience. From songs like “Acid Rain,” you get the sense that this is an intentional choice, and that the title of the mixtape is more than just a multi-dimensional pun. Every time Chance tries to flee from something in his life (his family, drugs, criminal activity, etc.), he finds himself feeling isolated from another part of it. But in the end, that pervasive sense of alienation is just a central feature of growing up, and, as we learn when Chance’s father shows up in the opening bars of “Everything’s Good (Good Ass Outro),” when the smoke clears (NPI), your family’s still proud of you. It is Chance’s ability to transition fluidly between self-imaginings that makes him such an impressive and likeable rapper. It’s also part of what will make Acid Rap one of the major hip-hop releases of this year.
Download/stream it for free at Chance’s website.