Once a month, I'll be taking an in-depth look at a landmark album in the music industry. This month, we dissect the young Windy City prodigy's SoundCloud monster mixtape; a 13-track, 54 minute embodiment of every sound, style and emotion that makes Chance The Rapper so polarizing. The first modern rap mixtape to be certified "Diamond" by numerous music streaming sites, Acid Rap will stand the test of time as a landmark in rap for Chicago - a powerful testament to artistic independence by a kid from 79th street in Chatham.
11:30 P.M. (Eastern Time), February 13, 2016
Studio 8H, New York City, New York
Melissa McCarthy stands in front a small crowd of SNL cast members and audience-goers. The lights behind her on stage are dimmed. Up on stage stands a thirty-person choir and gospel artist Kirk Franklin.
McCarthy is given the cue to speak.
"Once again, Kanye West!"
The lights brighten. Kanye stands tall in front of millions watching at home. "Ultralight Beam" begins.
To this day, "Ultralight Beam" is regarded as one of the Chicago legends greatest works - a culmination of all the styles Mr. West has culminated in his long and illustrious career.
Two minutes into the extravagant performance, the song transitions into a brief vocal pause, indicating the start of a verse.
The crowd trembles with anticipation, anxious for the bars to come.
It's Kanye's time to cement his legacy one final time.
He puts the microphone down.
The camera pans out, revealing an additional feature artist.
Draped in a diamond pattern sweater and a Chicago White Sox cap, this moment is a build-up of every day, month and year of hard work to this point.
Kanye nods, passing the torch to a man who has looked up to him his entire life.
The young rapper smoothly delivers the greatest verse of his career to near perfection.
You cannot mess with the light
Look at lil' Chano from 79th
The artist finishes his verse, and looks back at his hometown idol, seeking approval.
An era begins.
11:00 P.M. (Central Time), April 30, 2013
Chatham (South Side), Chicago, Illinois
Three years prior to Chance the Rapper's performance and mainstream "introduction" on SNL, young Chancellor Bennett was a bright young star on the music scene.
Considered "underground" by many, Chance's earliest project was 10 Day, a mixtape made during a 10-day suspension Chance and a couple of his friends were given. Jam-packed with samples and snippets of some of Chano's earliest influences.
Raw and quickly done (hence the name), 10 Day isn't so much an accomplishment in quality as it is independent efficiency - the mere fact that Chance and his musical peers were able to culminate a still popular mixtape in that amount of time was a marvel in many listeners opinions.
You may be asking yourself, "what's the meaning of the date above?"
Well, April 30th of 2013 is the date in which the today's subject is formed.
On April 30th, Chance the Rapper released his followup to 10 Day, a mixtape titled Acid Rap. Was it a "followup" of sorts? I guess, but in reality, Acid Rap stands alone atop Chance's short and accomplished discography - his masterwork to this point.
If 10 Day is Chance's introduction to the music industry, Acid Rap is nothing short of a breakthrough. Following it's initial release, the mixtapes overwhelming success aided in SoundCloud's push into the mainstream, as music aficionados around the world downloaded the app onto their phones, eager to catch a listen of this new MC everyone praised so highly.
"Good Ass Intro", Acid Rap's first track, is one of Chance's best tracks to date. Featuring BJ the Chicago Kid, Lili K, Kiara Lanier, Will Miller and J.P. Floyd, Chance enlists the help of a handful of local artists to deliver an uplifting, fast-paced return to form. Production from Peter Cottontale is almost immediately recognizable - the live concert sound with horns and percussion is Cottontale's specialty. In all honesty, Good Ass Intro would've fit perfectly onto Coloring Book, Chance's third and most recent 2016 release. This, however, does not mean I would've rather seen it as the intro on Coloring Book. "Good Ass Intro" holds such great significance to Acid Rap that this would simply be impossible.
Following the introduction is "Pusha Man/Paranoia", the mixtapes longest, most deeply layered track by far. Chance jumps into "Pusha Man" with one of my favorite all time bars:
Ten damn days
And all I got to show for it is shoes and shows
And chauffeurs with road rage
Still the same damn ad-lib: IGH!, old ways
Spit in a rapid, hypnotizing cadence, Chance reflects on the spoils he's gained since his debut project - treasures that would satisfy most - but not Chance, who is hungry for more. Another valuable point Chance makes is the presence of his now synonymous ad-lib. Chance was in no way the first to introduce a trademark ad-lib to his style, but the famous "IGH!" has undoubtably influenced many new rappers that came after him.
Simply put, prominence in today's rap game requires an easily identifiable identity, a concept Chance helped established for many who followed.
After a series of head-spinning verses and lavish choruses from the ever-talented Nate Fox, the beat pivots into the tracks latter half, "Paranoia".
Taking a serious turn, Chance highlights the concerns he has on a daily basis for the safety of his city. Emphasizing the gang violence and murders that riddle Chicago, Chance calls upon well-known entertainment figures, wondering whose going to be the one to come and help the situation at hand.
Next is "Cocoa Butter Kisses", a nostalgic track that shows Chance reminiscing about the things he loves so very much from his "coming-of-age" years. Featuring two fantastic verses from fellow Chicagoans Vic Mensa and Twista, "Cocoa Butter Kisses" is a beautiful ode to sentiment - a reminder to never forget what shaped you as a man.
What comes next is easily one of Chano's most popular songs, "Juice". On this party-pumper, Chance straddles the choppy, clanging beat and raps to it with near-perfect cohesiveness. By using the brief pauses between speaker shaking chords to spit awe-inducing bars about haters, his hometown and rapid luxury, Chance effectively creates one of his best records to date.
I mean, c'mon, the bar about the Lakers? Fucking genius.
"Favorite Song" is arguably the mixtapes most recognizable song. The first handful of bars are iconic in nature, as Chance raps:
Chance, acid rapper, soccer, hacky sacker
Cocky khaki jacket jacker
Slap-happy faggot slapper
Iraqi rocket launcher
Shake that Laffy Taffy, jolly raunchy rapper
The brilliant tactic to start with world play like this on an undeniable hit was one of the best moves Chance could've made, as he immediately gave millions of listeners at home a taste of his lyrical skill from the jump.
A couple songs later, Chance blesses our ears with "Smoke Again", a song that, while random in meaning, is one of the most memorable in Chance the Rapper's catalog. On "Smoke Again", Chance and guest feature Ab-Soul (one of the members of TDE's Black Hippie Collective with Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock) rap about sneaking into clubs, smoking weed and getting laid. In essence, this smooth record is about the the various things that come with being a rapper on the road during tour.
"Acid Rain", the third to last track on Acid Rap, is considered by many fans to be one of Chances greatest musical accomplishments - and I whole-heartedly agree. "Acid Rain" is easily the mixtapes most simplistic instrumental, but this is done for a reason. On this lyrical mammoth, Chance layers vocabulary and wordplay hundreds of feet deep.
According to various sources, "Acid Rain" was written from start to finish in less than two hours.
Go listen to the song, you will quickly realize how incredible that is.
The last song I would like to highlight from Acid Rap is, in my eyes, Chance's most powerful to date. According to Chance, "Chain Smoker" was meant to be his "swan song" - a metaphorical term for an artists final piece of work before death or retirement.
Since I still struggle to analyze this record to this day, I chose this excerpt done by Roy068, an annotator on Genius, a lyrical dissection website:
"If he would’ve died just after he released this mixtape or decided to retire after it released, this would’ve been his last song, which makes Chance realize that his last joint should be something that everyone, kids and grown ups, can dance and enjoy together. This is a recurring theme throughout the song."
5:44 P.M. (Central Time), November 24, 2018
So here I sit, five years later, blasting "Juice" in my room while I finish up this article.
Acid Rap accomplished a number of things, but it's biggest success is more valuable than any of the other positives combined.
Acid Rap, simply put, is/will be a pioneer for the music industry.
You see, Chance the Rapper is not signed to a record label.
He does not make direct profit off of music streams.
His intention for Acid Rap was never to get industry recognition or make money and flex.
If I could summarize what I'm trying to say here in a few sentences, it would go something like this: Acid Rap is a wonderful, empowering testament to musical independence and freedom. Chance wants to make one thing abundantly clear - music really is all we got (see "All We Got" off of Coloring Book). Record labels are not needed, a concept that Chance introduced to the rap world as of recent.
Acid Rap is the landmark mixtape in this young and wonderful movement; a movement that cherishes the art and beauty of music of the riches and profit behind the scenes.
So, why do you think I prefaced this article with a visual outline of the "Ultralight Beam" performance on SNL?
The answer is simple: to show that a man who hasn't collected a penny from streaming services has worked hard enough to where, four years after a mixtape he made with his buddies on suspension, is performing on the most popular show on television with his idol, rapping for millions at home.
If that doesn't make Chance an inspiration, nothing does.
No record deal.
No binding contract.
Just music - wonderful, incredible music.
Keep rocking Chance, so far you've done a Good Ass Job.