Last week’s rap release of the week was Rittz’s sturdy The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant. Mostly because the obvious pick, Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, was going to get a thorough evaluation thanks to a SPIN review (it was named an “Essential,” read the review here). That Rittz album is special — the kind of thing you’ll end up coming back to way more than you expect — but it doesn’t possess the inspired sprawl of Acid Rap by any stretch of the imagination.
This week, there are a couple of notable releases. Scotty, an Atlanta traditionalist wise enough not to saddle his rhymes with a savior complex, just released F.A.I.T.H, a confident step up from 2011’s quite-good Summer Dreams (RIYL: Kevin Gates’ The Luca Brasi Story). There’s also Internet-y producer suicideyear’s instrumental hip-hop album, Japan (RIYL: That super-duper expensive Boards of Canada Record Store Day release). Both of those are good, but, well, Acid Rap is something of a masterpiece and there’s a dearth of good commentary on Chance’s mixtape, anyways, so it’s this week’s pick.
I would love to imagine the lack of smart commentary stems from everybody sitting back, taking their time, and really ingesting the record. Though it’s more likely people are just taking their good ol’ time crafting an 500 words-too-long ultimate weigh-in, when they’d be better off just spewing immediate thoughts about the thing, even if some of them turn out to be wrong. Let’s talk about this album, people! Stop hedging your bets and waiting for someone else to declare that it’s as important as you think it is (and it clearly is). This is a great record. If your ears work, you know that already.
Mostly, Acid Rap just makes me want to do acid. That sounds pretty juvenile (and it is), but it also taps into the visceral, beyond-words appeal of Chance. As he tweeted: “It’s called #Acidrap for a lot of reasons…the influence that LSD had on me recording. The influences from Acid Jazz bands and [hallucinogen-tinged rapper] Esham…But mainly because when I drop it, niggas is finna start trippin.” That works. But there’s more going on with the title.
Despite the record not coding as conventionally “trippy” or whatever people expect from music connected to psychedelics, Acid Rap boils over with sensory details — references to the weather, to food, to how the past felt — which is precisely the sort of thing that’s heightened while tripping. Chance is particularly good at pulling out hyper-specific memories (how his grilled-cheese sandwich was cut as a child, for example) and affording them a great deal of importance from a number of different emotional perspectives: That grilled-cheese recalls the simpler times of childhood; it speaks to fellow ’90s babies on some cloying but important nostalgia-type shit; and namely, it’s just a keenly-observed writerly detail.
Smack me if you want for typing this, but Chance is enacting a downright Proustian approach to how the mind works. He’s wrestling with memory and what those moments from one’s past mean, while also processing the actual act of remembering. Why is the color of some dumb cassette tape from childhood so significant? It is. And it stands in contrast to guilt-tinged references to kissing his grandmother while he was high and feeling pretty fucked-up about that. It’s also just a total, in-the-woods-trippin’-balls type thought experiment. “Woah, think about the past bruh…” Rap has long been the world of more menacing drugs like crack and cocaine (or just boring-ass weed), and is currently so caught up in the exploitation of Ecstasy that the rave wonder-pill has been turned into a date-rape drug. So, a strange, open-hearted rap record that captures the real-life vibes of getting a little too in touch with yourself via LSD seems important. Rap’s dominated by Drake-like, surface-level introspection right now. Acid Rap kills all of that stuff dead. It’s a deeper-than-rap dive inside Chance’s mind.
Then, there’s the cover art: Chance staring into you, with a mixture of joy and horror on his face, the sky, an about-to-get-dark, or maybe about-to-get-light-out purple that’s just gorgeous. It captures the ambiguity of drug-taking (it’s always half-terrible if you’re doing it right), and it’s a perfect image for a record in which a young, hyper-talented rapper pretty much reminds listeners over and over again that he has no fucking idea how this weird world works.