Chicago's rapper Chance the Rapper (Chancelor Bennett) was still a teenager
when he released his first mixtape, 10 Day (2012). He became a local
celebrity overnight and proceeded to put out a more meticulous mixtape,
Acid Rap (2013), notable for its hodgepodge of soul, gospel, acid jazz and house elements.
The comic festive clownish fanfare Good Ass Intro ,
the articulate playful elegance of Cocoa Butter Kisses
collide with the convoluted introverted multi-part suite Pusha Man.
A voice that seems to be coming from a vintage record introduces Juice over a saloon piano, the beginning of a dialogue among voices that seem to belong to different ages. It takes very little music to ignite his verbal talent,
like in the indolent nursery rhyme Smoke Again,
although sometimes it would help (the anemic Acid Rain).
Elsewhere, the music seriously enhances the words, like the merry-go-round
of arrangements that fuels the insane altercation of Chain Smoker.
His meandering intelligence can transform a song in subtle manners, like when
Everybody's Something shifts from childish rant to gospel-ish hymn over martial hyper-bass.
The album toys with
the pensive gospel singalong Interlude That's Love,
with the jumping pseudo-reggae Favorite Song
and with countless other ideas;
and it still manages to deliver a coherent vision out of a maze of influences and detours.
Surf (a free download of 2015), credited to
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment (Bennett's touring band),
was the first full-length album to be released for free download (on Apple iTunes).
The group consisted of
Donnie Trumpet (trumpeter Nico Segal), drummer Greg Landfair, keyboardist Peter Cottontale, and producer Nate Fox.
It was augmented by important guests such as
Erykah Badu and
It was, first and foremost, a "feel-good" album in the tradition of disco music
of the 1970s (explicitly referenced in Go, replete with steady beat,
sensual strings and female backing vocals).
And it was, again, a melting pot of influences, from the
dreamy Steve Winwood-esque Miracle
to the stately pop-soul ditty Sunday Candy.
Slip Slide evokes a marching band and Caribbean party.
The instrumental Nothing Came To Me harks back to Jon Hassell and maybe even to Miles Davis.
The theatrical and parodistic Wanna Be Cool appropriates a refrain that
could be from a 1980s hit of British dance-rock (Culture Club and the likes) amid trumpet licks a` la
Earth, Wind & Fire.
Familiar fuses vintage funk shuffle, Caribbean singalong and jazzy trumpet.
There are, however, two songs that point beyond mere entertainment:
the somberly pensive Windows, that has the emotional power of a plantation chant, and Just Wait, in which trumpet and vocals conspire to hijack the festive mood of the beginning towards an anguished ending.
Coloring Book (2016), another free streaming-only release, suddenly veered towards gospel music, overflowing with choirs.
The opening song, All We Got, is an awful singalong a` la
with the motto "Music is all we got" sung by a children's choir and by
No Problem is more propulsive, but its main attraction is
the magnificent interlocking pattern of the choir.
If the piano-based hymn Blessings
or the organ-based hymn How Great
are not particularly exciting (gospel
music has produced much better hymns), the
neoclassical overtones of Mixtape
and especially the
reggae-tinged Angels with steel drums are at least original.
There's another reference to the golden age of disco-music,
All Night, and another appropriation of vintage funk-soul in the
first half of Finish Line/ Drown.
The tone is optimistic and euphoric.
Al Green would have certainly loved this album.
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