Analysis and Review of Chance the Rapper’s “Acid Rap”
Chicago native Chance the Rapper has influenced the genres of rap, soul, hip hop, and gospel with his stylistic bridging of genres, and wholly unique take on emotional and meaningful song writing. Hallmarks of Chance’s music include heavily interlaid synth beats, gospel and soul influences, colorful wordplay, dynamic rhythm and flow, and larger than life adlibs.
Chance’s humble beginnings originated from a 2012 EP, 10 Day, released on Soundcloud amid a lengthy high school suspension for “chiefing a hundred blunts”. The album features a range of samples from the slow trot of a french horn marching across his first track “14,400 Minutes”, to a piece of the Angel track, “You’re Not Fooling Me”. Chance’s first EP also shows off his wordplay abilities, with intense rhymes, puns, and double entendres that necessitate more than a few listens per track to fully comprehend. 10 Day is unquestionable one of Chance’s strongest releases, but his second EP, Acid Rap is where Chance comes in to full form.
Acid Rap is a flamboyant, unapologetically drug riddled, quirky, and abstract composition. The release is filled with intense moments of elation accented by nutty word-play, and juxtaposed to empty, raspy soulless drug filled ramblings, and songs of anguish drawing on African-American themes of oppression, and disenfranchisement harkening back to the freedom songs of Africans enslaved and brought to the United States.
The composition opens in a flash of creative vibrancy. Lili K delivers a Afro-influenced choir-esque hook declaring personal growth (“I’m better than I was the last time, baby”) with a rapid choir organ melody and snappy 808 rhythm. Chance enters the track with confidence and sing-song raps with rapid tempo. The first half of the track evokes a peppy, exciting start to a, victorious and celebratory album, but it falls flat as the song progresses. Chance continues his vocal delivery and begins to alternate between rapping and harmonizing, but due to the clamor of the underlying track (complete with trumpet, piano, drums, “NaNaNa” adlibs, and yelps) it sounds as if Chance is wrestling with the overcrowded, obtrusive beat for the audience’s attention. And at the very end of the track, Chance may as well be recording while his audio technician vacuums in the next room.
The next track is highly significant, and one of the unquestionable high points of the album, accomplishing many of what the opening track could not. The track, originally entitled “Pusha Man Ft. Nate Fox and Lili K” (later divided by its subsections into two tracks, “Pusha Man” and, “Paranoia” on the Spotify rerelease of the Soundcloud EP) employs a clever juxtaposition of the dualities in Chance’s public and private personas: from famous, haughty, rapper, to a young, isolated teen living a scarring life whilst coping with drugs and alcohol.
The original track begins on a shimmery, piano synth melody that carries with it some of the same christian choral motifs of the previous track. The rhythm is again a fast tempo affair, with earthy kicks interlaced between the tippy-tap of a rapid snare. Chance launches in the track, donning one of his caps as a successful, drug-dealing, hardened rapper out the rough streets of Chicago. Despite his seemingly uncaring attitude, Chance’s lyricism, and liturgical knowledge shines through in his despairing description of Chicago,
“I’ll take you to land, where the lake made of sand
And the milk don’t pour and the honey don’t dance
And the money ain’t yours”.
The bars feature obvious allusions to the Exodus 3:33, and the story of Moses leading his people to the holy land. Chance continues his to boast his innovative lyricism and mastery of any flow throughout the piece, even paying homage his Rastafarian influences. He does this by adopting a five-line Rastafarian flow, riddled with internal, multi-syllabic and end-of-line rhyme, and completing it with a sexually charged, outlandish punchline just before the chorus comes back around and, the first subsection of the track ends.
It is followed by an extended period of complete silence in the track, and a completely different Chance accompanied by a different beat curtails the almost minute long period of quiet.
The beat flows back in with eerie synths played crescendo and slow taps of the drums and odd snare distortions. The track evokes a somber tone which complements dramatic shift in lyrical and rhythmic tone. Chance describes himself as a solitary addict.
Chance shifts his focus to the forgotten, war torn streets of Chicago, his degenerative home. He expresses his frustrations with the rapper persona portrayed in the early part of the track. He does not want to live a drug riddled life of crime, but feels he has little other choice for success. In one point of the track, Chance shows strong resentment to the government and American news media who he feels ignores the predominantly poor, African American portion of “Chiraq” he grew up in. He asks,
“Where is Matt Lower at?”
Somebody get Kit Curic in here.”
Chance feels forgotten, and while news anchors like Lower and Curic report on war torn countries with displaced refugees, Chance feels like a refugee in his own home. Lyrically this track is filled with passion and presents an interesting dichotomy of the African American experience. It is certainly a high note on the album.
The next track, “Cocoa Butter Kisses” is Chance’s full embrace of his free word association lyricism. He bounces across the track with alternating stressing of syllables, and zany lyrics interspersed with upbeat, yet bittersweet bars. It may be an ode to smoking and getting high, but Chance spends more of his time on the track talking about the less glamorous side of marijuana and cigarette consumption. He misses cocoa butter-infused kisses from his mother because he reeks of smoke, and is viewed as dirty, an oft-forgotten side effect of a drug-filled life that Chance leads.
The track features Vic Mensa and Twista, both of whom deliver fantastic, machine gun flow verses to contrast Chance’s slow, inebriated hook. The track has an electric guitar sample which is layered under pronounced, fuzzy drums. It is a poppy hit, and perhaps the most radio-friendly on the album.
“Juice”, Chance’s next track has incredibly engaging verses, with a waltzy electric guitar, drum combo. The track has obvious funk and jazz influences, which are accented by Chance’s braggadocious lyrics and freestyling delivery. The lyrics are complemented by Chance’s off kilter, high pitched adlibs but the track’s chorus falls flat. Despite the lyrical flamboyance of his in-verse rapping, featuring free wordplay as Chance coasts from one subject to another, the highly repetitive and screaming, “JUICE” chorus falls flat, and ruins the work on the verses. It throws off the whole track, and comes off as phoned in and lazy.
What follows is a love ballad. A track composed of leisurely, high pitched flute and piano melodies. “Lost ft. Noname” is a non gendered tale of love, alternating between Chance and Noname, both discussing their insecurities and desires in a relationship. The duo delivers a harmonizing melodic hook, but this song shines through in its latter half with the single verse from female Chicago rapper, Noname. She chronicles her battle with depression, self worth, and popping pills to make the pain go away. It makes the listener question the meaning of romantic love with the final line saying,
“When the only time he loves me is naked in my dreams”
Noname describes the objectification she feels as a woman in a relationship, and contrasts Chance’s male centered view of love, and leaves the listener thirsting for another few verses from this fresh female voice.
This album has odd pacing, with most of the true hits and moving pieces focused at the beginning of the track list. Chance alternates from mellow R&B influenced, inspirational songs like “Acid Rap” and prophetic jubilee filled tracks like “NaNa” and trumpet touting, “Smoke Again”.
All of the tracks are pleasant, and humorous to listen to for the most part, and the album is a great road trip production. I would have liked to hear more of Chance’s world views, as most of his references to the issues of the day feel shallow and short lived. And oftentimes, they are overshadowed by over the top, misogynistic lyrics which blur the line between personifying a typical rapper, and becoming one himself.
Despite this, the album is an impressive creative flourish of a very young rapper, searching for his message and platform. I would strongly recommend this album to any rap or R&B fan, but any listener regardless of preference is bound to a “Favorite Song” on this versatile and innovative EP.