“Acid Rap,” the new mixtape from Chatham-raised artist Chance the Rapper, is triumphant. This is in line with Chancelor Bennet’s trajectory, which has been marked by a fair share of triumph.
His rise has been meteoric. His debut mixtape, “10 Day,” conceived during a ten-day school suspension from the Loop’s selective enrollment school Jones College Prep, was released in 2012 to almost universal acclaim. His style is different; he mixes cheeky swagger with a sharp intelligence. Chance has something to say, and the way that he says it sticks. It rings fresh, but with a backbeat of a Chicago past, a South Side rhythm replete with the soul samples and earnest style similar to those that drove Common and Kanye West to superstardom.
With “Acid Rap,” his second self-produced mixtape, Chance departs from the current narrative of South Side rap. Compared with fellow young talent Chief Keef, whose angry, jagged delivery is defiant to the point of participation in the violence that defines his youth and his music, Chance’s verbosity and drawled delivery immediately frame a far more nuanced take on similar issues. Chance does not hide behind a gruff, street exterior, and he does not feign to act older than his twenty years of age. His music retains its earnestness because it is unabashedly from the mouth of a recent high school graduate. While he stands apart from the street, his perspective on the violence in Chicago is one that matters.
“Acid Rap” opens with swagger, with “Good Ass Intro,” during which Chance’s gleeful whine cuts through an upbeat sample from West’s and John Legend’s “Intro (I’m Good).” It’s a joyous, gospel-tinged victory lap, and it merely hints at the more nuanced, less self-assured tracks to come.
The next track, “Pusha Man,” is less straightforward. It sets Chance in the aftermath of “10 Day,” a world of “shoes and shows and chauffeurs with road rage.” He’s a rapper still chasing success and still plagued by the demons of his past. It paints a picture of the complicated nature of life after the first break: what Chance wants to be, and the reality of the moment. In the chorus he declares himself a “pusha man,” referencing the 1972 film “Super Fly.” For the duration of the track, he is the epitome of Blaxploitation coolness and Curtis Mayfield soul and swagger. It’s cartoonish and excessive, intentionally unrealistic, and as such, pairs chillingly with the hidden track on the back half of “Pusha Man,” “Paranoid,” in which Chance bitterly asks where Katie Couric and Matt Lauer are to witness the violence of his city where “everybody dies in the summer.” He toes a line between a teenager whose confidence is swollen with his own verbal virtuosity and an embittered veteran of Chicago street violence.
It is this dual mentality, this tendency to prance between his swaggering ebullience and his earnest musings on violence and personal struggles that pervades the rest of the album. Take a track like “Juice,” which jokingly praises his own indelible talent, yet states that “I ain’t never been the same since Rod passed.” Rod is his friend Rodney Kyle Jr., whose death by stabbing occurred in the fall of 2011. Others, like “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” with lines like, “I put Visene in my eyes so my grandma will fucking hug me,” pine for lost youth and lost love that conflict with the life of a rising hip-hop artist.
Chance belongs to the Save Money crew, a collaboration of friends, some going back to early childhood. It started as a family affair, a group of friends messing around, drawn by their common interest in music. The group includes the genre-bending rock/pop/hip-hop outfit Kids These Days and up-and-coming rapper Vic Mensa, along with videographers, designers, and producers. Members of the crew frequently guest on each other’s projects–Mensa was featured on “10 Day” and “Cocoa Butter Kisses” from “Acid Rap.”
With his samples of soul and jazzy rhythms–“Acid Rap” is both a reference to the psychedelic and the style of jazz–Chance demonstrates an awareness of Chicago rappers past. His is a complicated story–the Chatham native who went to the prestigious prep school downtown. It’s the antithesis of drill music, but shouts out to Chief Keef on “Acid Rap.” He’s intelligent, with a knowledge of musical history, but essentially youthful, rapping about prom night and smoking weed. With his distinctive voice, Chance narrates a story about the South Side, about Chicago, and about youth.