Some MCs have that voice, an unmistakable presence on any track. Chance the Rapper will never be that dude. His raspy cackle sounds like an over-caffeinated Schoolboy Q, which can be exhausting at times. It’s an acquired taste for sure, similar to eating magic mushrooms. Still, for all these shortcomings, Chance is somehow defiantly nice on the mic. Acid Rap, his second mixtape, makes this abundantly clear.
Chance’s whole shtick is performative. Although he’s only twenty, he cut his teeth coming up in Chicago’s spoken word scene—a very different world than Chief Keef’s. You can feel the influence of countless poetry clubs in Chance’s resistance to a conventional flow or rhyme pattern. All that’s missing are the finger snaps from dingy basement clubs. Much like an open mic night, the success of this technique can be spotty.
As an ode to psychedelics, the Acid Rap tape has an underlying instability at its core. This erratic approach gives Chance the freedom to mess around and try different styles, with varying degrees of success. On “Cocoa Butter Kisses” (featuring Twista), he’s disarmingly poignant: “put Visine inside my eyes so my grandma would fucking hug me.” On “My Favorite Song” the cloying chorus plays like a bad trip locked inside a teenaged hellhole. Imagine dosing and strolling to a Forever 21 that you never leave—that is Chance at his worst.
But when he’s on, he brings a giddy shamelessness that’s as refreshing as it is fun. “NaNa” and its accompanying video, co-directed by stand up comedian Hannibal Burress for only $5,000, puts this euphoria on full display. It involves chicken suits, gaudy gold chains and Spiderman. Donald Glover stops by to mooch pizza. The bassline from “Sucka Niggas” doesn’t hurt either.
It unfortunately doesn’t feature Action Bronson, whose verse steals the song. Bronsolino shouts out Rick Patino and has “a team of hos like Pat Summitt.” This dude has a golden touch for features.
On “Pusha Man,” Chance says, “I hate crowded beaches, I hate the sound of fireworks.” It’s one of the most arresting moments of the tape, simultaneously brutal and beautiful. Last summer, murders rose 38% throughout Chicago, largely in the West and South Side, where Chancellor Bennett grew up—a stone’s throw away from Chief Keef’s headquarters in the Chatham neighborhood. Chance is usually the joker, covering over the grimness with comic relief, but sometimes shit is too real to hide from.
Still, escapism is a hell of a drug.