Surf: Album Review

The Social Experiment Ignore Rap Trends, Delivers Killer Album, But Will People Listen?

Chance the Rapper first began gaining recognition with his 2011 mixtape #10Day, named in honor of his ten day suspension from high school. The mixtape was mainly recorded at a public library in his native Chicago, and it landed him on watch lists from Complex and Forbes magazines. It wasn’t until 2013’s Acid Rap mixtape that Chance truly blew up. The tape was certified double platinum on Datpiff.com and it quickly became the soundtrack to the summer with hits like Cocoa Butter Kisses and Juice. Since the release of Acid Rap, fans have been left itching for Chance to release his debut album.

The bad news is we will have to wait longer, as Surf is far from a Chance album. The good news is that he still manages to be the star of the show. The free album is headed by Donnie Trumpet and his crew of Peter Cottontale (keys), Greg “Stix” Landfair Jr. (Drums), and Nate Fox (production), who make up the Social Experiment. Throughout the album their live instrumentation and production make the songs both fun to listen to and wildly different from the music of their peers. The result is the first successful hip hop band since The Roots, where each individual member is key to the finished product.

The album’s first and only single, Sunday Candy, showed us an early preview of what was to come. It features two verses from Chance that are an ode to his grandma, in the form of memories of going to Sunday church. It also features Chicago singer and spoken word artist Jamila Woods, who provides an unforgettable chorus. In a genre often associated with tough subjects like violence and drugs, Sunday Candy is a rare genuinely happy moment.

Chance is featured on over half of the album’s songs, but doesn’t completely take them over, often allowing others to shine. Still, his scattered moments throughout the album remind us just how good he is. He raps about love on Warm Enough and patience on Just Wait. On Miracle, the album’s intro, Chance shows off with a spoken word like verse and his fast flow on Rememory culminates in a calming outro by Erykah Badu. His best moment comes on Windows, a song featuring Raury and BJ The Chicago Kid.

“Keep ya head away from windows

Keep your arms inside the ride

Trust me with your body, trust me with your life”

and a chorus of:

“Don’t you look up to me, don’t trust a word I say”

Surf also manages to get great guest verses from some of hip hop’s biggest names. Busta Rhymes delivers one of the albums highlights on the track Slip Slide, also featuring B.O.B., BJ The Chicago Kid, Janelle Monae and The O’My’s. His quick delivery and deep voice compliment the horn filled, jazz pop production. Big Sean and Jerimih contribute to Wanna Be Cool, a song about not being afraid to be yourself, one of the albums best. J Cole’s verse on Warm Enough lets us into his torn thoughts regarding a girl.

“You’re like a flower that I won’t let die

Right before your petals start to wilt

I choose to give you one last try”

“I know the lord’s a forgiver, hope he’ll forgive me in time”

Even Quavo steps up to the plate on the catchy Familiar, written about at length here.

Chicago was once a hotbed for lyrical rap, with Lupe Fiasco, Common and Kanye West all repping the windy city. In recent years, stemming from a sky high murder rate, the city has earned the name “Chiraq,” and has launched the drill music scene that took over rap last year. Artists like Lil Bibby and Chief Keef’s violent lyrics came to represent Chicago. Chance is here to change that, and help the city’s music scene while he’s at it. Surf is littered with Chicago artists, both famous and unknown: BJ the Chicago Kid, The O’My’s, Noname Gypsy, Jerimih, King Louie, Saba, Jesse Boykins III, Mike Golden, Joey Purp, Jamila Woods and more. Surf allows the Chicago music scene to come together and shine.

The problem with Surf is getting people to listen. While Chance has a giant fan base, this is not a Chance album and that may turn some off. It’s filled with big names, but sounds way different than their own music. In fact, Surf is the polar opposite of the bass heavy, radio rap that often dominates the game in 2015. Earlier this year, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was given a mixed response from fans, many of whom found it to be too experimental. Living up to their name, the Social Experiment tested many different sounds on this album and it may sound confusing to some rap fans. The early results suggest that they have succeeded; on June 5th it was announced that the album had been downloaded 618,000 times with 10.1 million single track downloads. The numbers are justified, and Surf is in the early running for album of the year.

Verdict: 4.5/5

Top Tracks: Wanna Be Cool, Windows, Familiar, Windows, Sunday Candy

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