‘Surf’ By The Social Experiment Review: Chicago Crew Blends It All
When Acid Rap came out in 2013, listeners across the world were introduced to Chance the Rapper, a self proclaimed “acid addict” rapper from Chicago who immediately stood out from his peers because of his eclectic influences that made his second mixtape sound like an homage to everything Chicago from Windy City jazz to juke music to classic soul and scatting. His unique voice, a post-pubescent Alvin and the Chipmunks with a Marlboro Red habit, immediately polarized listeners but past the initial shock, the rapping talent was obvious to all.
‘Surf’ By The Social Experiment’ Review
Rather than capitalize on his new found success, Chance avoided the spotlight all together and neither decried major labels or signed any sort of deal, choosing instead to remain aggressively independent. While fans waited for his next full length, their appetites were whetted by his many features on songs for everyone including SZA, Skrillex, James Blake, Lil Wayne and Childish Gambino but everyone was looking forward to his next project. This morning fans got their wishes granted.
Surf, the first full length release from collective The Social Experiment, a group of musicians hailing from Chicago that is made up of trumpet player Nico Segal aka Donnie Trumpet, Chance the Rapper, producer/engineer Nate Fox and keyboardist/producer Peter Wilkins better known as Peter Cottontale. The Social Experiment is adamant that they’re a collective though and Chance is nothing more than another member.
The album which was released as a free download on iTunes gives us 15 songs, only one of which had been released as a loose single by before today. The actual music itself is a roller coaster and between songs you have to mentally prepare yourself; the variety of influences and genres are so unexpected that there’s no telling what is going to come with each track. Keep in mind that these are the same guys who covered the theme song to a PBS kids show and still made it sound like a hit.
Chance has said in other interviews that “Surf is Nico’s project” so it’s not all that surprising that Chance only appears on nine songs. His star power is more than enough to draw in a superstar list of features including Busta Rhymes who comes through with B.o.B., Janelle Monae and BJ The Chicago Kid on “Slip Slide” over a funky drum line and horn section; other standout features include Quavo of Atlanta rap trio Migos who hops on the autotuned warbling track “Familiar” with Chicago drill scene superstar King Louie.
Going with the trend of fusing hip hop and jazz that has been on many of the best recent hip-hop albums (Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp A Butterfly and Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead both come to mind, songs “Windows,” “Just Wait,” and “Something Came to Me” all are undeniably influenced more by Dizzy Gillespie than Dizzy Wright. “Nothing Came to Me”, the third song fourth track on the album is actually a free form jazz instrumental, key and tempo changing included. Segal’s training in jazz clearly rubbed off on his band mates and rooted itself deeply in the concept of Surf.
Even on the song like these without their superstar frontman, The Social Experiment show their strengths as musicians. On “Caretaker,” lead vocalist duties are handed over to D.R.A.M., a vocalist/rapper from Hampton, VA whose single “Cha Cha” blew up the blogosphere earlier this year thanks to a timely Beyonce cosign.
The whole project feels like a really cohesive mashup, drawing from the depth of the musical talents brought to the table by the members and by the cohesiveness that has developed as a result of working without the pressures of a major label or any sort of contracts.
No matter how much the album may try to not be a vehicle for Chance however, his shadow looms over every track and most people who find their way to the tape will be disappointed to find out Chance doesn’t even appear on every song. His talents and formidable clout within the rap industry instantly peg him as the center of attention within the album and he shows through his lyrics and delivery that he deserves the spotlight.
You can catch The Social Experiment this summer at the Pitchfork Music Festival this summer in Chicago or you can peep the rest of his tour dates here.