Acid Rap's Second Chance

Brandon Soderberg distracts from an otherwise intelligent piece on the reemergence of misogyny in hip hop by insisting that it mirrors a specific kind of change in production values: “Most notably, [hip hop] has been shoved back into the strip club, and with that has come a woozy, dark, too-many-drugs vibe that producers have cribbed from eccentric internet rap and R&B groups like the Weeknd.” Fine – except that two of his subjects (not coincidently the year’s two hottest emcees by page hits if not sales) aren’t guilty of dropping club hits per se, much less cuts like anything from the slothful Abel Tesfaye. On the right hand, there’s Kanye West and his much exalted dark house-redux Yeezus – an album conceived without singles, if you take the Obfuscatory One at his word. And on the left hand, you’ve got the goofball Chance the Rapper, whose brassy, acid-burnt offerings might only score you a hit if your club’s in Edinburgh or the Mission …maybe. In fact, Chance’s Acid Rap resembles so little of the misogyny (not to mention the sonics, the form, the content) in hip hop in 2013, you risk dilating the focus of any argument just by citing it in context. So have mercy - that’s just what I’m attempting to do here. 

As for what Chance is attempting to do musically (a post on misogyny is forthcoming) - well, you can help sum it up (but you can’t reduce it) with a long look at his ‘Good Ass Intro:’ in a year when new father Kanye West is reinventing 1980s Chicago, this baby Chicagoan is reinventing 2000s Kanye West: cribbed from a mostly-unheard-of Ye toss off, the track’s opening sample sets into place a church chorus and piano backbeat Chance obliterates with assonance rap so knotted and colorful that Earl should consider tie-dying his sweatshirt before returning to the party. And not satisfied merely to lend to Yeezy’s golden hooks they flow they’ve always needed to get going, Chance undoes the the song’s time signature when his own hook rolls around with a cacophonous trumpet/percussion blast that totally fucks with your head, man. He’s suddenly out of sync and all over the place, and there remains until he decides to leap confidently into a second verse. 

It’s an off-putting shift until you note he knows his acid jazz way better than you do, and succeeds in juxtaposing chorus/static at least as well as (and a few months sooner than) his Chicago Godhead - and in so doing justifies his own lyrical paradox: ‘balancing sporadicity and fucking pure joy.’ 

Both dampening the song’s occasional cock-swing and constraining the self-importance of the innovative work in play here is Chance’s own childish squeal - a voice drawing comparisons to a theoretical Weezy who never inhales (so… he’s Drake?) or, when he’s coming down on the sombre tracks, Kendrick Lamar. But who’s ever heard either of those guys sound altogether lazy, cartoonish, pissed, condescending, snotty, and happy without changing pitch like Chance does on, say, the first verse in ‘NaNa’ - or maybe any other twenty-second segment you cut to at random? For that matter when has either (or any rapper?) had the balls to sing like a frightened little kid a la Chance in the hidden track, ‘Paranoid’? And don’t forget that annoying idiosyncratic ‘AIGH’ the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League was smart enough to keep time with. Right now no one sounds like Chance. 

The mix tape works this all together throughly: impossible, colorful language (first rapper ever to use sporadic as a noun), strange admixtures of tempo and placement (the first bonus track hidden in the middle of the album?), that weird voice that captures everything, and all kinds of stupid and unexpected samples that mesh when and where they shouldn’t. It disorients beautifully - well enough in fact that I’ll accept the stretch it is to say Acid Rap is a trip manifest in music, or is the attempt at such anyway. Written out, lines referencing LSD in hip hop to date wouldn’t have filled the space of a blotter; now we’ve got a whole album that sounds, looks, and feels like it. 

Chance is becoming quite famous and a little rich, so he probably shouldn’t worry that he’s a legit weirdo. But he does worry - and you can tell. He calls himself Chance The Rapper (‘please say The Rapper!’) and names his Statement Mixtape Acid Rap as if he were insisting: ‘I’m rapping! I am a rap artist, okay?! I mean I know acid and British jazz and orange Nickelodeon cassette tapes aren’t exactly hip hop, b…but I’m still a rapper! I rap!’ Yes he does. And more intricately this year than anyone alive (just go ahead and try to talk out the second verse in ‘Favorite Song,’ never mind spit it). So don’t tell anyone - but he’s not just a rapper. There’s a chance the rap he’s putting out there is a whole new growth in the genre: the bricolage of soul samples, white middle-class pop culture and drugs, a hipster fashion sense and social media presence, and a literate, postmodern sense of self (“please say the The Rapper!”). Esham wasn’t good enough to do this, and now Shady looks like some kind of goddamn prophet. Almost a shame Chance didn’t call this thing Acid Rap (A Good Ass Intro).