I love Chance The Rapper. I'd be willing to argue with almost anybody that his 2013 wrecking ball, Acid Rap, is easily one of the best hip-hop albums to come out in the past 10 years. In my own estimation, only Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a better album. And I'm including Kendrick's To Pimp A Butterfly in this mix. I think Acid Rap is better. By ANY measure its more listenable and enjoyable. There's a reason why I haven't listened to TPAB in over a month and I still pull up Acid Rap when I can't decide what I want to listen to. It's pretty much my, "I'll just wear these then…" option (with comparable choices Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest and currently - believe it or not - Drake's If You're Reading This It's Too Late. I know. FML. I owe it a reverse review where I say how much I love it considering I lampooned it as being boring.)
Point is, I'm all in on Chance The Rapper. Anything he attaches his name to, I'm willing to give a shot. Apparently many others felt the same way because that album led him to being on tour with freakin' Eminem and all of the major labels trying to woo young Chancellor to their 360 deals and hopes. So what does Chance do? Drops off the Eminem tour, turns down all of the labels, and instead of releasing what would be a surefire anticipated release, decides to hang with his friends, create music and let his man Donnie Trumpet (real name Nico Segal) take the lead on the next project and attempt to fade into the background. Chance teased this project for the better part of a year, dropping tentative release dates in feature articles, at shows, and on Twitter. It finally dropped at the end of May, for free, on iTunes. Out of the blue, because thats how you drop an album nowadays. Thanks,
What we got was Surf, a musical mashup of various styles, that features a shitton of artists on each song (Chance himself jokinly stated that each song had like 50 people on it). You've got Busta Rhymes, Janelle Monae, J. Cole, Quavo from Migos (!!!), King Louie, Big Sean, B.o.B., Erykah Badu, Jamila Woods from M&O (more on her later), amongst others. Hell, Chance even said a lot of the music was inspired by the freakin' musical The Lion King.
Sidenote: I realize I keep talking about Chance The Rapper even though this is a Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment album (with the Social Experiment including Chance, Peter Cottontale, Greg Landfair, and Nate Fox). But this album doesn't see the light of day if Chance doesn't blow up. It just doesn't. While I love the album, I'm not even sure I'd give it a listen if not for him. The lesson here? Drink more water.
Oh, and if you only give this album a listen because of me…
Let's switch gears for a minute. I'm the kind of chap that likes happy music. Despite listening to some of the most socially destructive and non-community minded music known to man at times (Straight Outta Compton in theaters August 14!), at my core, I like music that incites positivity. To this day I smile whenever I hear Donnell Jones's "I'll Go" from the Love & Basketball Soundtrack. It just makes me happy. Same with Maxwell's "Ascension", which is actually a song I listen to when I'm pissed to calm me down. True story, I used to carry this song with me literally everywhere I went in some format JUST in case I got pissed.
I listen to more gospel and inspirational music than you can shake a stick at. Songs that even sound like they're positive or use tones that ring towards the happier end of the emotional scale will usually get me. Music tends to be my on the spot therapist (see "Ascension") so this makes sense. So when I find music that puts me in a happy place - and that can't really happen if niggas are rapin' bitches and murdering hoes and bitch ass niggas all through the project - I'm all in on it. Of course, that tends to require it to be well produced.
Such is the story of Surf, a super well produced album that makes me happy. Like very, very happy. I've read people talk about this "soft ass hip hop" and yeah, it might be that. But its also fun. It never takes itself too seriously and sometimes, just sometimes, you need that. I know I do. For instance, the Busta Rhymes and B.o.B. assisted "Slip Slide" is one of my favorite songs on the album and its mostly about…making it. Not succumbing to the stumbles of life. At its core, its like pop gospel rap about upliftment. I mean…sure, its a bit corny, but when its executed this well you can look past Monsanto and feel compelled to give this same advice to somebody else. I told a homeless dude this morning that we fall down, but we get up. Okay, this didn't happen. But I felt like I could and feel like I achieved something. But more than that, it sounds great. The vocal arrangement on the hook is absolutely splendid. One of my favorite parts of Kanye's MBDTF banger "All Of The Lights" wasn't just the beat, but how well they incorporated and mixed the 15+ vocalists on the hook so that if you listened properly
on Tidal you could pin point each voice. This happens on "Slip Slide" and I love it. Again, it makes me happy.
Even the instrumental pieces are great. My personal favorite is "Something Came To Me". Here's a Panama fact that you may not know. The piano is my favorite instrument. But the trumpet has always made me the most emotional, for better or worse. Donnie Trumpet's "hip hop jazz" performances all through this album are great uses of that instrument in context of the larger scope of the project. Basically, my man is getting his man and when he's given his legs to let loose, he does so very well. Miles Davis he ain't , but who is? And right before "Something Came To Me" is the song "Questions" with vocals by Jamila Woods of M&O fame.
Let me tell you something, I love smooth vocals. Phyllis Hyman? Check. Amel Larrieux? Check. They are great singers. Jamila Woods is one of those women whose voice puts me in a special place. Her group, M&O were in DC last year performing, and I was one of, maybe 50 people in the crowd. I went PACIFICALLY to see if she sounded as good as she does on their albums in person and I was floored. This woman? Can do no wrong in my book. Ever. Every note she sings is a gift I didn't know I was getting. Extra? Absolutely I am. Do I mean it? Absolutely I do. Her voice? Makes me happy.
This entire album, Surf, is full of nuggets like that. I don't even like J. Cole (or Big Sean, much, though I don't hate him like other notable bloggers that write for this site seem to) but they both turned in good verses.
Ultimatley, this is a project that hits so many notes and so many angles with a certain, "why not?" zeal that I can see myself listening to this album for as long as I can hear. Is it perfect? Not at all. But I enjoy it…because from the beginning to the end, it makes me happy.
Life has been up and down for a lot of us lately. The criminal justice is fucking us in every conceivable way possible it seems. While listening to "Fuck The Police" is always a good way to vent, sometimes its good to have music that lets you know that the sun will come out…tomorrow. Corny? Yes.
True? Yep (unless you live in, like, Seattle).
And that makes me happy. These Chicago kids have figured it out.
Take a chance. PUN.
*This post has been sponsored by my emotions.*