Wonderous Unfamiliar
by Emma
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Chance the Rapper - "Blessings (Reprise)"

Alright. I've already written here about Chance the Rapper, but I saw him play a show this week and now I have to do it again. Coloring Book, his most recent mixtape, is almost certainly my favourite album of this year; I spent a lot of time this summer just walking around with it in my headphones, trying to absorb its radiant, complicated joy, just like how in 2013 I spent a lot of my time walking around listening to Acid Rap, feeling equal parts comforted and unsettled by its push and pull.

Chance the Rapper - "Cocoa Butter Kisses"

Acid Rap is both entirely different from and completely the same as Coloring Book. You can track down the stylistic threads of the newer album in the older one, if that's your thing - there's a choir, there's the constant lyrical cartwheeling - but the through line that interests me most is his playfulness, how it's used and to what end. Dude has energy; even when it's hidden in a thick cloud of smoke or strobing LSD-light instead of being bolstered by a gospel chorus, it's there and endless, driving everything. On Acid Rap his voice is all trebel and hyper, his cadence shifting compulsively between stoner-lag and speed-rush while he somersaults around doing those playground-bully "nah nah nah"s in the background or just plain YELPING when he can't hold himself back any longer.

On Coloring Book, most of that energy is meticulously arranged in a line that points straight up to God. But on Acid Rap, things were a lot more diffuse. Chance wrote the songs on that album when he was 20, after the death of a close friend, and the longer you listen to it the more their layers start to organize themselves into a feeling that's far more complex than the sum of its flourishes. Spend a couple of hours hanging out with this mixtape and you will come away feeling both bolstered and fucked up, like you've been hanging out inside the mind of a preternaturally gifted teen who's as talented as any of his older rap-game peers and knows it. Maybe a bit of a totally charming shit-disturber who knows how to use his own smartness. Maybe sensitive enough to need to pad his worldview with self-medication. Someone who is in the process of negotiating his own place in the world using a talent that's so new and expansive he can just sort of tumble around in it, looking for edges to push against.

Chance the Rapper - "Pusha Man/Paranoia"

Maybe all of this sounds like critic-y nothing-language, but listen to "Pusha Man/Paranoia" and you'll see what I mean: that part where he drawls "you a laaaaAAAAAAAME," rolling downhill into a verse so slyly, densely packed it almost sounds like he's playing an instrument instead of talking; this right next to the heart-cracking change, minutes later, in his voice when he goes "Me too." The singsongy, heart-shredding trail-off of everybody dies in the summer, plus how it's hard not to hear that line echoing through the halls of "Summer Friends" a few years later. (There are mirror-moments like this all over the place - the part in Cocoa Butter Kisses where he talks about how girls wanna fuck him until they get frustrated with him for being childish, the way songs like "Juke Jam" wander the line between kid- and adult-ness.) One of those songs sounds like a young person processing complex trauma in an unjust world, and the other sounds like the work of someone who has resolved to make something with the results of all that processing. Maybe if Coloring Book gets its energy from its proximity to a sense of higher power or purpose, then Acid Rap gets its own from its proximity to Chance's own inner life. Whatever it is, both of these albums feel extremely, achingly honest, in completely different ways.

Chance the Rapper - "Summer Friends"

This seems like as good a place as any to mention that there are nuances to all of this of which I am entirely ignorant, because while I can listen to these songs all day long, I'm still a middle-class white-girl atheist, not coming at any of this from the same direction Chance is. Earlier this week I was reminded of this while reading Doreen St. Felix's brilliant piece "On Carefree Black Boys," which I stared at on my phone while standing alone in a crowd on a weird man-made beach out at the edge of the city, waiting for the Chance show to start.

The concert was good, fine - I got contact-high off the blunt-smoking teens next to me and filled my Notes app with things like "DONNIE TRUMPET'S PLAYING FULFILLS THE SAME PURPOSE THAT THOSE 'NAH-NAH-NAH'S USED TO, EXCEPT BETTER BECAUSE MAJESTIC!!!!!!!!" - but something about it felt just a little bit off. The crowd was shy, quiet unless he riled us, and there was this whole narrative that involved a bunch of life-sized puppets leading him on a journey through his past toward the light that never quite connected. Childhood is a recurring theme in Coloring Book - maybe because Chance himself just had a kid, maybe because there is an electric charge that runs from your memories of the lessons you learned in your own childhood to the lessons that come to you when you are suddenly responsible for someone else's to the way it feels to do all these things in the light of a God you truly believe in, though here, again, I am just guessing - but what felt funny was that all the parts with the giant Sesame-street-looking puppets felt the least plugged in to the actual playfulness that sets Chance apart. The most heart-racing moments, the ones where the show really lifted off, were the moments where we got to watch him just go off, unencumbered by narrative or props. Generating his own momentum, caught up in it.

[get Acid Rap / Coloring Book]

Posted by Emma at October 3, 2016 12:41 AM

Im sorry man, but anyone who has Young Thug on their album immediately and irrevocably loses all legitimacy and respect. Don't be Guiliani, you have a good thing going here, don't throw it all away by hitching your wagon to any star that even remotely believes Young Thug is anything more than an massive prank that Chance, and you, clearly just fell for.

Posted by Evan at October 10, 2016 10:31 AM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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