Chance the Rapper goes surfing (with trumpet)
Like Kanye West and every other Chicago hip-hop superstar, Chancelor Bennett didn’t hone his craft in a vacuum before breaking nationwide. But the dedicated individualist and diehard independent has been much quicker—and a lot more generous—in turning his spotlight on his musical compadres and the scene that produced him.
And so, before he’s even dropped his first proper album (that is, if you consider 2013’s Acid Rap his second mixtape instead of a proper album, and I’m not sure I do), we’ve gotten the gift of Surf from Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, released for free via iTunes on May 28, and already closing in on a million downloads.
Make no mistake: Chance shines here, and very brightly indeed, especially on “Familiar,” a harsh critique on (some women’s) superficiality and materialism; “Sunday Candy,” a love song to grandma, “Wanna Be Cool,” a bold statement of pride in being a nerd. But like every one of these 15 tracks, he’s just one of a number of voices that take the microphone, ranging from much-buzzed local up-and-comers Saba, King Louie, Joey Purp, and Noname Gypsy, to established national stars such as Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, Big Sean, and Busta Rhymes.
And the band led by Chance’s childhood pal Nico Segal, a.k.a. Donnie Trumpet, the Jon Hassell of hip-hop, and featuring drummer Greg Landfair Jr., Peter Cottontale, and Nate Fox, proves itself as deep and deft as the mighty Roots, swinging effortlessly from Cuban grooves to minimalist electronica, and from Beach Boys-like harmonies and orchestrations to show tunes, gospel, and funk.
Surf lacks the dark shadow of the violence of Chiraq that hangs over much of Acid Rap, but the defiant optimism is the same, as is the core message of individualism, nicely summed up in “Wanna Be Cool” by Chance’s lines, “I don’t wanna be cool/I don’t want you to be me/You should just be you.” Chicago’s South and West side communities are incredibly rich and vibrant places not easily stereotyped or pigeonholed; to be sure, the politicians protesting the title of Spike Lee’s new film are the folks who are doing that, not the director, who says he’s making a musical comedy.
If that sounds jarring to you, you’re not from those neighborhoods. The Social Experiment is, and they capture the diverse and complicated tapestries in all of their glory.
This is to say that comparison to the Roots earlier on is not made lightly. Just as Questlove and his collaborators created an ideal and inspiring community in the midst of Illadelphia in the ’90s, drawing some of their best work out of collaborators such as Badu, Jill Scott, D’Angelo, and wayward Chicagoan Common, Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment stand poised to do the same, with Chance starring as Michael Jordan, but a bench every bit as deep as the championship Bulls.
Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, Surf (self-released)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 3.5 stars.