If Chance The Rapper really doesn’t “wanna be cool” then dropping the coolest album of the year will probably have done him no favours. Lucky for him, this time around he is not alone; on ‘Surf’ he is able to share the burden and the spotlight with a large group of his peers. Disappearing for songs at a time, Chance allows his Social Experiment bandmates to flex their own creative muscles, carving out a smooth and original sound that sets itself apart from the rapper’s solo work.
The album’s greatest achievement is filling the Chance-shaped void with intoxicating, ever-changing instrumentation and intelligently choreographed guest spots. The young rapper is still undoubtedly the star of the show, but when he does slip off the radar his presence is not sorely missed; and for this reason alone the experiment should be seen as an unequivocal success.
Chance has long emphasised that ‘Surf’ is about collaboration, and one glance at the liner notes confirms that. There is an astounding amount of players(according to some sources over 60 on Sunday Candy alone) that enhance the album’s rich sound. The Social Experiment’s musicians are at the base, led by Donnie Trumpet, Chance’s long-time friend and collaborator AKA Nico Segal, curating live instrumentals as expansive as an entire marching band on Slip Slide’s intro and minimalist trumpety glory on instrumental tracks Nothing Came To Me & Something Came To Me. As a result it is rarely in stasis, shifting seamlessly between jazz, experimental hip-hop, funk and a host of other genres across its 16 songs
A slew of guest vocalists lend their voices to the musings of Donnie’s trumpet, creating a varied and vibrant pallet. Artists that seem a world apart from the happy-go-lucky, mo’ money mo’ problems ethos of the Social Experiment(J Cole and Migos’ Quavo spring to mind) manage to fit in, adding to a joyful melting pot of sounds and genres.
On Wanna Be Cool, Big Sean endearingly throws back to his Kanye worshipping salad days;”rockin’ pink polos, shit ain’t even fit me”. Busta Rhymes rises up from the dust of his career and delivers a pounding, slobbery beast of a verse on Slip Slide. Erykah Badu even makes a rare guest appearance to console Chance’s desperate father character on Rememory.
The record exudes joy, dropping out like whittles of spit from the valves of the various wind instruments utilised in its production. The music is large and bright, and the subject matter light and breezy. There will be few existential crises solved by the lyrical content, but that is far from the objective. It is about enjoying the present moment, as, it is abundantly clear, the musicians have.
If Donnie’s trumpet is the record’s heart, Chance is it’s racing pulse, streaking through with boundless energy, spitting verses out as if he’s rushing to get to the end to find out what happens. Despite this constant urgency, his flow is as focused as ever; Chance that has been owning guest features left, right and centre; from Action Bronson’s Baby Blue and Kehlani’s The Way;
He announces his presence emphatically on Miracle, bursting through a choral intro with romantic notions of happiness being completely unrelated to financial success; “not a care in the world or a pot for the piss”.
With Chance, everything is incredibly fast paced, including romance; “Let’s get an apartment, with a dog and a song that I wrote you this morning”. All of his energy, his haste is as if happiness could be lost at any moment and thus should be celebrated at all times, especially right now.
It is this sentiment that courses through the album’s biggest and brightest moment, the theatrical Sunday Candy, written about Chance’s grandma. He is the “thesis of her prayers”, and sees fit to return the favour with a hymn of his own. It is a song about unconditional love, and it’s resounding chorus refrain and bubbling instrumentals go a long way to replicating the kind of happiness that goes hand-in hand with such a feeling.
Such is the nature of Chance’s charisma and character that you can’t help but want more. But by not over-saturating the record, he manages to increase public demand for more output; he is cooler than ever before.
And it is to the album’s credit that rather than casting a shadow over it, Chance merely adds another layer of charm. He is the star on top of a layered tree, complete with trinkets and baubles.
‘Surf’ is a summer album for the ages; relentlessly joyful and bright. If the genre-bending instrumentals and sheer musical happiness don’t get you, Chance surely will.