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Review: Chance The Rapper/ Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment's "Surf"

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By: Alex Wood

As previously reported, Chance The Rapper has been working with Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment on a new full-length record, abandoning his solo career in favor of a collaborative full-band sound.

Today, The Social Experiment released Surf on iTunes for free.

The record not only lives up to the hype, but surpasses expectations, joining the likes of Kendrick Lamar in setting a new precedent for modern hip-hop.

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment steals the show, creating jazzy textures throughout that boast a live, full-band sound, Donnie Trumpet’s soloing (on trumpet, of course) keeping the instrumentals lively without interfering with verses.

This isn’t to downplay Chance The Rapper’s involvement.

Chance’s verses live up to his work on Acid Rap, unparalleled by modern standards, and his dense production techniques and experimental tendencies are what take The Social Experiment’s instrumentals to the next level.

Yet guests join Chance on nearly every song, changing as often as the album’s many moods, entering and leaving at a dizzying pace but never sounding unnecessary or out of place. This keeps the spotlight from falling solely on Chance, instead illuminating the recording’s entire cast as equals, each contributing positively to the record’s density.

So let’s get to the music.

The album opens with dramatic strings and choir-like vocals, setting up the record’s theatric sound. The track features Chance rapping for less than a minute before returning its focus to the band, with horns and live drums leading to its jazzy climax.

The production is flawless for such complex tracks.

“Slip Slide” features B.o.B., BJ The Chicago Kid, Busta Rhymes and Janelle Monae, all making their individual marks in less than three minutes.

This is the pace of the record, and even as the songs themselves slow down, the momentum never does.

“Nothing Came To Me” is fusion jazz, thick with delay on a soloing trumpet, not far from In A Silent Way-era Miles Davis, ambient and moody.

Yet “Wanna Be Cool” follows, the song a catchy hip-hop single, the horns slipping to the background, Big Sean even appearing for a verse.

“Windows” is R&B with a reggae influence, Chance handling the melodic vocals with noticeable confidence. “Caretakers” is straight R&B.

“Familiar” is amongst the albums highlights, the verses delivered melodically over sporadic, clean piano playing. It’s spacious but packed with energy, and features more guests, Migos’ Quavo and fellow Chicagoan King Louie. Even auto-tune sounds artistic amongst such an innovative instrumental and such stellar songwriting.

It’s worth noting that when Chance released the track listing, he separated the final three songs from the first 13, as though they were the encore of a setlist.

In this sense, the final track before the imaginary encore is “Something Came To Me,” an instrumental jazz-fusion track featuring spacey drums and layers of horns and altered horn sounds. It isn’t a climactic ending, but an indication of a precise sound The Social Experiment brought to the table, the sound that makes Surf such a huge success.

The encore, then, so to speak, would begin with “Rememory,” a spacious, soft jazz song that prominently features Chance’s vocals as well as Erykah Badu.

The song gives way to the radio-ready “Sunday Candy,” a sure single with catchy verses and chorus, upbeat and poppy compared to the remainder of the record, settling eventually into “Pass The Vibes,” easing the album to its finish with an relaxed reggae-influenced jam.

Surf is amongst the most ambitious hip-hop records I’ve heard in years, featuring a clear sense of direction and, despite the use of interludes and instrumentals, not a weak track to be heard.

This isn’t necessarily ‘rap’ or even ‘hip-hop,’ but something bigger and more difficult to label. It’s an elevated plain above those genres, one that puts music, composition and production first, never settling for less than the best.

With more than two years having passed since Acid Rap took the hip-hop world by storm, it’s easy to see that Chance The Rapper hasn’t stayed idle in that time. Surf isn’t a follow-up; it’s the next level.

 

Surf track list:

1. Miracle

2. Slip Slide

3. Warm Enough

4. Nothing Came To Me

5. Wanna Be Cool

6. Windows

7. Caretaker

8. Just Wait

9. Familiar

10. SmthnthtIwnt

11. Go

12. Questions

13. Something Came To Me

 

14. Rememory

15. Sunday Candy

16. Pass The Vibes

 

 

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