Three remarkable singles over the past few months were building up to Chance the Rapper’s second mixtape, Acid Rap, which is blowing up the Internet as I write this. And for good reason: Acid Rap serves as a remarkable (if not particularly surprising) showcase for a very young and very talented MC. Acid Rap does not have the appetizer sampler feel of a lot of other mixtapes, and is buffered with excellent guest vocals from the likes of Twista, Action Bronson, and (surprisingly) Chance’s pseudo-mentor Childish Gambino. None of whom, mind you, ever steals the show entirely from Chance’s snarling, theatrical vocal performance.
Chance is quick with words, though his voice never moves away from the ear-to-throat squawk he affects with glee; some may find this repetitive, many will find it grating. You could never say that Chance sounds uninteresting, though, and the scratchy vocals seem to go hand in hand with his excited and upbeat spitting style. Chance has impeccable vocal control, slipping seamlessly between choppy, gnarly punches and an almost sing-songy slower vocal that occasionally drops into Kanye-like snarls.
Despite the fun Chance’s mouth may be having, the whole of this tape is undercut by a darkness thak might not be obvious to the casual listener. The return from a break in the lengthy “Pusha Man” brings with it the first taste of another side of Chance, who is in this instance direct (and extremely tense) in his indictments of Chicago’s many gun-related violences. Chance the Rapper is the result of a discomfiture that cannot help but produce some measure of incisiveness in his lyrics. He’s experienced more by way of first hand violence than anyone his age ever should (having witnessed the murder of his friend Rodney Kyles Jr.), but less than many of his peers – especially in Chicago – have and will. He has been “saved” but – to put it bluntly – he resents the fact that his race is something many see him as having needed saving from.
Kanye West, it could be said, was one of the first truly mainstream rappers to confront the black experience from a perspective that entwined it necessarily with the American experience in general. For Chance the Rapper, it is not enough to say that there is more to sing about than gang violence and gun culture – he wants to show us that these things should be important to everybody. “Everybody’s Something” is the most direct expression of Chance’s discomfort; he makes direct reference to what race means to him – to the defenses he’s had to build among peers and family. But Chance seems to want to climb over these things, rather than to dwell over his defenses. If he can just be himself and be comfortable with that, what could he possibly have to defend against?
Even in its darkest moments, Acid Rap is fun. It is everything that a mixtape is supposed to be without falling into the traps of being overlong or containing songs that aren’t ready for an actual album. That said, Acid Rap should not be confused for an actual album, in the traditional sense. Its message – since Chance seems intent on imbuing it with one – remains largely unfocused, though things seem to be coming together towards the end. With any luck, we’ll see something bigger from Chance later this year; until then, Acid Rap should be more than enough to hold a body over.
Chance the Rapper – “Favorite Song”
Chance the Rapper – “Juice”