When Chance the Rapper, the young Chicagoan rapper released his critically recognized second mixtape, Acid Rap, no one would have predicted his next project to be anything like Surf. Credited as Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, the album is headed by Chance’s live bandleader and a collection of other artists. Forgoing his immense talent for a team effort, Surf provides contagious positivity and empathy making it a forerunner for album of the summer.
With months of buildup and small tastes of the album and the band’s collaborative efforts released on Soundcloud over the past year, the album finally came to fruition when it was released for free on iTunes last May. Donnie Trumpet otherwise known as Nico Segal as trumpeter, bandleader, producer, percussionist and leader of the extensive group finds the best of both worlds within music. Featuring live instrumentation and drum machines, with sung, rapped, and sing-rapped vocals, the hour long album can’t be tied to down to one genre. Featuring appearances of J. Cole, Jeremiah, Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, and presenting several instrumentals, the album provides variety like no other.
Still not being signed to any major labels, Chance has been able to use his independence to mainline his band and release the album free for everyone. Upon the same very issue we saw earlier this year, Drake originally intended to release If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late as a free download until Cash Money Records intervened. The album for Drake also stands as the fourth and final studio album on his contract meaning he can finally leave the company. Going back to Surf, even with Chance’s investment into the album and having a vocal appearance on more than half of the songs, the album truly belongs to Donnie Trumpet and his collaborative efforts. Stripping away the fear, anxiety, and darker themes that could have been found in Acid Rap, Surf definitely finds itself being a different experience. At the same time it’s not to say Acid Rap didn’t carry signs of the future, take one listen to “Interlude (That’s Love)” and you’ll find signs of what will come. Layered with sounds spanning multiple genres, what Donnie, Chance, and the rest of the Social Experiment are able to do is make a collaborative experiment that feels just as nostalgic as it does new.
Releasing samples of their collaborative efforts throughout sites like Soundcloud over the past 15 months, several of the singles that didn’t make it on the album provide the same positivity that was carried into the main course. Most prominently doing their own rendition of the theme song of the popular PBS children’s show Arthur, “Wonderful Day” is a lovely tribute that even outshines the original. Another early highlight would be “Tap Dance“, a song that envisions a tap dancer’s two feet battling to obtain synchronicity. With all of the music headed by both Chance and Trumpet being released for free so far, Surf was the first album to be released for free on ITunes (that wasn’t forced upon its users). When asked about the model of providing an abundance of music for free, Trumpet spoke to its use.
“Hopefully it encourages people not to do the same thing but to do maybe a similar idea with a gigantic music platform, bringing it back to being about the people and releasing music and having it be really be about the music and not just a list of names that are easy to find on the internet. What we did was different, and I think that’s why it worked,” Trumpet stated.
Going back to the album itself, Surf opens with the vibrant “Miracle”– “If it’s a miracle to be alive and well/ If we fell, we feel we’d be OK”. Followed by the elaborate sounds of unity, the song provides the message that it’s a miracle to be alive and more so to be able to live amongst family and friends. With “Wanna Be Cool”, Chance, Big Sean, and Jeremih show they are perfectly content with being themselves rather than trying to be cool: “I don’t wanna be cool/I don’t want you to be me/You just should be you”. Even when things become darker with the following song “Windows“: “Don’t you look up to me, don’t trust a word I say/ Don’t you end up like me, if you learn one thing today”. Chance is telling people to strive for their own path to be an individual and to not try to be anyone else besides one’s self. In “Just Wait” the line: “Good things come to those that wait” is repeated multiple times throughout its conclusion. Providing the message that even though bad things may happen throughout life, good things will come your way if one is patient enough. With a large quantity of the songs being about finding the inspiration already inside of you and having a great time, perhaps the best thing about Surf is that it simply feels like summer. Have one listen to the album and it will have the ability to make you feel happy, as if you are at a Summer BBQ, and most importantly as if you are having a good time.
Even the music video for first single of the album is all about having a great time. Shot in one take, Sunday Candy made as an ode to Chance’s Grandma is joined with what looks like a high school theater show along with astounding choreography.
When Chance was interviewed by Complex about the responsibility of being a hip-hop artist and covering the recent hate crimes and incidents occurring throughout the nation, he provided his own perspective on his role within the situation.
“I think, as a black man, I have a responsibility to have knowledge and have an opinion. I don’t necessarily think, as a person of influence, that it’s always my job to influence people regarding my opinion. I try to explain to people a lot: There is no singular black experience or black opinion or black thought. We are united in a lot of experiences. Because I’m a black man, the life that I live is a part of the black experience, but it’s not something I can just pass off as the ultimate,” Chance stated.
With both Chance and Trumpet pushing the musical genre boundaries and the availability of their music, it will certainly be interesting to see what they come up with next. Whatever may follow afterwards for Chance, Donnie Trumpet, and the rest of the Social Experiment, Surf will certainly leave a legacy of its own for simply being accessible and providing unadulterated joy. With a huge ensemble of people and sounds, Surf will continue to provide a good time for summers to come.