The first time I heard Chance the Rapper’s voice, it was on the intro to his latest mixtape Acid Rap, appropriately titled “Good Ass Intro.” With this perfect blend of joy, rasp, and charisma, Chance interrupts the gospel-swoon background to announce: “We back, and we back, and we back….”
I knew, after only ten seconds, that this was a man who was happy to be alive. Ecstatic that he’s finally emerging as a new voice in hip-hop. Thankful that he can financially support his mother. And by the end of the song, confidently content that: “this your favorite fucking album and ain’t even fucking done.”
In a style that many rappers attempt but few can master, Acid Rap is full of self-praise. It’s a “Good Ass Intro,” he’s done a “Good ass job,” he’s “better than I was the last time,” it’s your “favorite fucking album,” that includes “your favorite song, you just don’t know the words.”
Sure, he’s tripping balls on acid right now, but can you blame him? Chance is alive, he’s not in jail, and he has emerged as one of the best new rappers on the scene, thanks to his original sound, hilarious ad-lib, well-chosen sampling, and witty lyricism. Coming from a city that tallied more deaths than Afghanistan last year, I think he has the right to rejoice.
But as all acid trips go, there’s a handful of loneliness, mistrust, and abandonment on Chance’s mind. On “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” he yearns for familial affection, looking back on his childhood days when life was simpler; his family was close, and he wasn’t afraid to hug his grandmother without putting visine in his eyes, or get a kiss from his mother without reeking of cigarettes.
But Chance is grown up, now. Despite burning up a fair amount of his brain cells, he’s still cognizant enough to recognize the tragic stench of death in his hometown. On “Pusha Man,” Chance takes us “to a land where the lake made of sand, and the milk don’t pour, and the honey don’t dance and the money ain’t yours.”
It’s not the Israel that God promised Moses–try Chiraq. And if you’re patient enough to wait through the silence following “Pusha Man,” you’ll be rewarded even more tales of fear and murder and crooked cops on the mixtape’s secret track “Paranoia:”
They merking kids, they murder kids here
Why you think they don’t talk about it? They deserted us here
Where the fuck is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric in here
Probably scared of all the refugees, look like we had a fucking hurricane here
Really, though, where the fuck is Matt Lauer? While The Today Show is busy reporting on the latest fashion trend, or interviewing a rescued white girl, there are hundreds of young black men dying from gun violence in our inner cities. While school shootings are mourned across the nation, inner-city schools provide the only glimpse of shelter for many of today’s youth. The media spotlight has consistently avoided the tragic genocide and mass incarceration of black teens.
But who needs Matt Lauer when we have Chance the Rapper. He’s here to report that, while he has successfully escaped the dangers of his hometown, his peers are dying from Chicago’s summer heat:
And I ponder what’s worse between knowing it’s over and dying first
Cause everybody dies in the summer
Wanna say ya goodbyes, tell them while it’s spring
I heard everybody’s dying in the summer, so pray to God for a little more spring
This third verse in “Paranoia” is as telling as it is haunting. It’s springtime, and the summer is approaching, so he’s saying his goodbyes. He’s already accepted that hundreds of his city’s youth, and probably a handful of his friends, will die in the coming season. He’s heartbroken. He’s perplexed. But he’s brutally frank. If only spring could last forever, perhaps Chicago wouldn’t lose another hundred teens.
Acid Rap is much more than a blissful hallucination. We see Chance bounce seamlessly between pure joy and sadness. Between mourning and thankfulness. Paranoia and confidence. We see the duality hidden in the life of a newly successful black man. A man who can’t help but rejoice in his triumph, but refuses to forget the calamity he has narrowly escaped.
I’m excited to hear what Chance has to offer in the future. He’s already established himself as a thought-provoking, innovative artist in an industry full of rappers with a get-rich-and-brag mentality. For now, I think we can certainly reaffirm Chance’s claim. So far, he’s done a good ass job.