Chicago hasn’t been producing the best news lately. There were over 500 murders in 2012 alone and signs of improvement still seem to be a ways off. The music coming from the Windy City, at least as far as rappers like Chief Keef go, seems to reflect the harsh realities of Chicago life. An artist like Chancelor Bennett aka Chance the Rapper is very welcome from the Midwest hip-hop scene right now. Chance made his debut with the mix-tape ’10-Day,’ which was recorded as a result of his being suspended from High School for 10 days due to marijuana use. Sure, that doesn’t sound very positive, but he’s changed since that 2011 release.
With his second release, ‘Acid Rap,’ the entire album is like a much-needed conversation being conducted by a young man at his most self-aware. As the title implies, this is a trippy listen, thanks to Chance’s animated delivery and unique voice (and the influence of LSD at times). Really take time to listen to the lyrics, though, and you’ll find yourself going along on a journey with someone attempting to make sense of life while living in a place where violence seems to be the only solution that most people trust. From lines like “They be shooting whether it’s dark or not, I mean the days is pretty dark a lot / Down here it’s easier to find a gun that it is to find a parking spot” off the song “Pusha Man,” you get the impression that this 20-year old emcee has no interest in dwelling in the same pitfalls a large number of his peers have made a living rapping about.
None of this is to say that all of the tracks are solemn and void of any fun. The range of socially-conscious topics covered here are presented in a very up-beat and current-sounding fashion. Chance’s style is very unique and would be difficult to describe without naming a bunch of different rappers and saying that he’s all of them rolled into one, so I won’t bother. He rhymes fast, uses a lot of ad-libs, and has the sort of wordplay that can easily be seen as either impressive or confusing. The second half of ‘Acid Rap’ presents the most examples of this, starting with “Everybody’s Something.” Running into a lot of double-entendre usage like, “I slurped too many pain-kills, downing them off a lot / I got a lot of off days, but it ain’t often that I’m off the clock,” can lose some listeners, but it’s far from babble. All of the songs here are going somewhere, which is to say this whole collection of songs is going somewhere. Pacing is a very tricky thing in rap albums (which I guess explains the existence of the mix-tape market), but the songs run so well together on ‘Acid Rap’ that it’s sometimes hard to tell when a new track has started.
Production-wise, there aren’t any really big names here aside from Jake One, but the beats have an old-feel and give Chance a lot of room to stretch his style. There’s not a great deal of featured rappers on this one either, but as introspective as this record is, that’s a good thing. Action Bronson, Ab-Soul, and Childish Gambino do help out on a handful of tracks and enhance the experience where they’re included. All in all, ‘Acid Rap’ is truly a gift for hip-hop fans, a free mix-tape that offers a great deal more than what many rappers are trying to sell these days. Here’s hoping Chance the Rapper has a long and successful tenure in the music business.