Since releasing his sophomore mixtape, Acid Rap, last week, Chance The Rapper has drawn comparisons from Kanye West to Andre 3000 and his record has been called everything from “a monolith” to “an infinite jest.” People like this album. Regardless of the particular label or parallel, two things seem certain: Chance is rap’s newest golden boy/enfant terrible and Acid Rap is a career-making record.
Chance The Rapper is the stage name of Chancelor Bennett, a 20-year-old Chicagoan who arrived on the rap scene as recently as July 2011. Aside from Acid Rap, Chance’s repertoire includes only one other album-length mixtape, last year’s excellent 10 Day, which was inspired by the rapper’s 10-day suspension from high school for smoking weed. Following 10 Day’s spring 2012 release, Chance has been steadily gaining momentum over the last year. In summer, he opened for Childish Gambino and by fall he had signed to CAA and begun sharing an agent with Kanye and Eminem. By winter he was selling out shows in Chiago and come this past spring he was a main attraction at SXSW. It’s been a wild ride and Chance’s latest mixtape captures all the contradictions and weird turns that have come along with it.
Featuring contributions from national stars Action Bronson, Ab-Soul and Childish Gambino alongside Chicago locals like BJ The Chicago Kid and Lili K., Acid Rap straddles the fine line between about-to-make-it and making it. Chance raps with familiar bravado about money and drugs while still lapsing into local scenes like open mic nights on “Acid Rain” and startlingly specific memories like teen romance on “Lost.” This paring of the micro and mainstream gives the record one of its most notable features: complete irreverence. Each of Acid Rap’s 13 tracks bends, breaks, or generally disregards hip-hop conventions, while at the same time paying tribute to the greats who inspired them. This isn’t a surprise to the listener though. From the outset, Chance’s jarring squawks and taunting “na-na-nas” make it clear that no beat, news item, or piece of pop culture is safe. Rhymes about lean and sex lead nearly in the same breath to thoughtful meditations on nostalgia and Chicago’s festering street violence. And an unlikely cast of characters including Michael Jackson, Robert De Niro (circa Casino) and Trayvon Martin rub shoulders in the rapper’s hazy, relentless flow.
“Pusha Man” best sums up the record. The track opens with the line, “Ten damn days and all I got to show for it is shoes and shows and chauffeurs with road rage,” the expected hip hop not-so-humble-brag floated out over an old school keyboard beat. For the first half of the track, “Pusha Man” moves exactly as you’d expect—”You a lame, and your bitch break down my weed sometimes,” Chance taunts—until it abruptly falls silent for 30 seconds at the 2:20 mark. When it picks up again it’s a totally different world: the sound is slow and minimal. Lush chimes echo through an environment that’s suddenly foreboding. The hustling joker from the first half of the song is anxious and paranoid, driving aimlessly. “They merking kids/They murder kids here,” he raps. “Why you think they don’t talk about it/They deserted us here.” This is where the good trip turns bad; the joke becomes serious; and fantasy runs up against reality. It is contradiction distilled.
“Everything’s Good (Good Ass Outro),” a companion to the first track, “Good Ass Intro,” closes Acid Rap and gives the record a circular quality. “I ain’t really that good at goodbye,” Chance muses, seemingly stalling for time. The record is engineered so that he never has to. Listen past the last track and be introduced to Acid Rap all over again as a voice promises on loop that it’ll be “Even better than the last time.”