A few months ago, someone (I forget who…please remind me, if you read this, so I can give you proper credit) passed along a music video of a kid from Chicago. If I remember correctly, he wanted me to hear the song because the young kid on the track scream-sung that everybody in the world fucking hates the Lakers. I hate the Lakers. (Raised outside Boston; born into it. Sorry guys.) Thus, this person concluded, I must like the song.
I did like the song. Not (only) because the kid on the track, Chance the Rapper, scream-sung that everyone in the world fucking hates the Lakers. I loved it because Chance seemed eager to take chances, to be strange. It was almost like the song was compelling him to places he wasn’t even aware of…how else do you explain his sudden switch to a Russian accent in the middle of the song? It’s completely unexplained but feels natural. He switches to a Russian accent not because it would be cool, really, but almost because he HAD to.
It’s rare to find a rapper who seems totally taken over by the beat. A rapper who makes it seem like they aren’t even trying. It’s like it is just happening. Lil’ Wayne had a two-year run there where he wasn’t rapping—he was possessed. (I miss possessed Wayne. Let’s listen to this song just to remember for a second. Damn.)
Chance doesn’t yet have Wayne’s wordplay or dexterity, but he does have that…shit, I don’t even know the word for it. I guess “presence” would be the closest word to it. Maybe “immediacy.” Or “naturality,” if that’s even a word. Chance is a natural rapper. Nothing seems calculated. You know a ton of work went into it, but it doesn’t feel like a ton of work went into it. It feels right. It’s the wind through a car window. It’s the drums on a Kanye beat. It’s the melted cheese on a medium rare burger. Some things just seem like they couldn’t be anything else.
It’s tempting to talk about Acid Rap in these big ways, to say it’s a perfect mixtape. It isn’t. It lags in the final third. On the tracks when Chance tries to replicate “types” of rap songs—the club banger, the weed joint—the mixtape stumbles. Chance is at his best with a clean piano line and a snare drum. The three songs that best fit this feel—the “Good Ass Intro,” the “Interlude,” and the “Good Ass Outro”—are a flawless three songs, nothing but positivity and Chance meandering over a piano line.
I won’t go song by song—but the highlights are easy to find. “Favorite Song” takes a handclap and a pulsing chord and gives us a perfect summer BBQ song, not to mention Childish Gambino’s best verse in a minute, where he finally stops talking about all the half-Asian girls he hooked up with and gets back to the observations that made me fall in love with Gambino in the first place. (“White dudes Harlem Shake / Why you laughing? / Cause you Harlem Shake.”)
“Cocoa Butter Kisses” is a nostalgia-fest featuring TWISTA, of all people, over a great beat that Kendrick Lamar must be furious he didn’t get to first.
Before I get out of here and implore you to download the (FREE) mixtape, I guess I should comment briefly on where this album is coming from. Geographically, I mean: Chicago. Chicago is a mess, guys. You know that. In awful times, it’s easy to see a city producing music that comes from places of anger. Last year Chicago gave us Chief Keef, who literally spent three minutes rapping about all the things he doesn’t like. Who could blame him? When the murder rate in your city is rivaling warzones, it seems pretty natural to vent out about all the things pissing you off.
Chance is not interested in such things. This mixtape has anger and sadness, but mostly it is joy, 13 tracks of happiness, laughter, Russian-accented weirdness, and singsong. It’s not because Chance is naïve. He knows what’s going on in his city. He even raps about it at length. He’s just choosing a different way to look at it. The last song on the mixtape is called “Everything’s Good.” It may not be true, but god damnit I love Chance for thinking it anyway.