It was my first year of high school when a friend of mine sent me a link to a song off a mixtape called “Acid Rap” (2013). Intrigued by the cover art, I decided to start at the beginning of the tape. Lili K’s soulful refrain, “even better than I was the last time baby,” immediately hit my ears, and by the end of “Good Ass Intro,” I knew this was all that would inhabit my earbuds for months—and maybe years—to come. Little did I know, this tape would define my high school, college and life experience. Wherever I went, I would go with an earbud in and the transformative masterpiece of “Acid Rap” at my side. The mixtape is euphoric, melancholy, hazy, loving, manic and reassuring in its masterful 53 minutes and 52 seconds. The critically-acclaimed mixtape was more than the sophomore effort of an up-and-coming Chance the Rapper; it was a gloriously personal meditation on the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Fusing the arms-wideopen joy of teenage years with the looming complexities of adult life, Chance on “Acid Rap” feels as much an easygoing friend as he does the ghost of innocence past. Energies change with every track, as the listener jumps from the hectic spirit of “Juice,” a groovy celebration of the rapper’s meteoric emergence, to the despondent vibe of “Lost,” a somber ballad of unrequited love. From heavy social commentary on his day-to-day life in South Side Chicago to deeply personal ruminations on loneliness and drug abuse, the profound vulnerability of “Acid Rap” is what makes the unique tale of an aspiring West Chatham rapper so endlessly relatable. Start to finish, Chance’s breakout mixtape is a product of pure youthful ambition. Like his debut tape, “10 Day,” the emcee beautifully captures the budding talents of his Chicagoan peers to make an authentic and timeless sound. However, “Acid Rap” surpasses its predecessor, growing from the “10 Day” precedent by flawlessly utilizing features from Childish Gambino, Action Bronson, Ab-Soul and producer Ludwig Goransson. While Chance’s star certainly burned the brightest, the platform that “Acid Rap” provided ignited the career of his childhood friend, rapper Vic Mensa, and critically lauded Noname, while also showcasing some of rap’s best up-and-comers (referenced above). Working the soundboard is a who’s who of talented young producers, headlined by Chance’s frequent collaborator Nate Fox, who would go on to sign as a songwriter and producer at Disney Music Group. Fox can be credited for the lush psychedelic samples that bolster Chance’s unique delivery across the tape. As each track vibrates off your eardrums, the fluctuation from upbeat absurdism to deeply poignant lyricism, paired with masterfully layered production, fuels one of the most musically expressive mixtapes to date. Yet, while the collection benefits greatly from its emotional ebb and flow, Chance’s sophomore effort is far from melancholy.
Rife with tracks capable of lifting any mood on a dime, “Acid Rap” harnesses the embellished highlights of adolescence into a series of upbeat bangers. Kicking off on a high note, “Good Ass Intro” combines the sonorous gospel stylings of Peter Cottontale and Lili K with Chance’s frantic prose, creating a joyful retelling of the rapper’s debaucherous road to stardom. Juvenile optimism abounds, most notably when Chance brags that he “did a ton of drugs and did better than all my alma mater” over infectious vocals sampled from Kanye West’s “Freshmen Adjustment 2 Intro.” In his “Good Ass Intro,” Chance wastes no time letting the listener know that, despite his whimsical wordplay, he is rapping amidst his transition from kid to star.
This theme continues in later tracks like “Juice” and “Pusha Man,” during which the confidence of the barely 20-year-old artist serves as conceptual lifeblood. Chance’s self-assuredness is as evident in his bars as it is in his unique deliveries across the tape. For example, in “Pusha Man,” despite the uplifting message and production, Chance takes a few lines to highlight how he has grown. When spitting, “I’m the new Nitty, fuck it, Nitty the old me/So I’mma tell the buyer what Nitty told me,” Chance is reflecting on prior instances of having to sell weed, functioning as a Nitty, or dealer, for studio time, and how he has matured beyond that habit.
Although the tape has a fair share of blissful tunes, Acid Rap is a showcase of Chance’s willingness to display vulnerability and substance in his work. In “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” Chance meditates on his nostalgic desires while simultaneously introducing the audience to his vocal range as a singer. Longing for a simpler time, Chance recognizes his lost innocence over a slow-moving beat crafted by jazz pianist and producer Peter Cottontale and producer Cam O’bi. For most, hearing a youthful Chancelor Bennett dreamily refrain “cigarettes on cigarettes my momma think I stank” makes a listener reminisce about a simpler time; one free of the perpetual turbulence quintessentially unique to letting go of juvenescence.
Throughout the track, Chance invokes imagery of youth in the shape of his hoodies, classic cartoons and religious icons. “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and the tape’s other reflective tracks strongly contrast with the happy-golucky persona driving the lyricism of songs like “Juice” and “Good Ass Intro.” Such contemplative songs depict the less pronounced growing pains of maturing. Never is this clearer than in “Paranoia,” a poignant ballad in which Chance contemplates gun violence in the Chicago summer while desperately clinging to the blunt on his lip.
To conclude his masterpiece, Chance embarks on an introspectively triumphant victory lap. Unlike the buoyant and braggadocious bangers or the melancholic sounds of his earlier meditations, the final tracks of Acid Rap see Chance come of age through his music. In “Chain Smoker,” Chance, supported by the spectacular production of Nate Fox, highlights his uniquely youthful artistic traits. Although the album contends with heavy topics, “Chain Smoker” pays homage to the juvenile ambition that drives the rapper, while also putting his musical career in perspective. Since “Chain Smoker” is the last song before “Good Ass Outro (Everything’s Good),” Chance spits that he sincerely, if it were to be his last song, “[Hopes] you love all of my shit, I hope you love all of my shit.” By putting his priorities in place, Chance is, on the mixtape’s final song, ready to depart after taking stock of life one last time—from a different context. After an interlude, structured like a call from his dad in which he expresses pride in his son’s accomplishments, Chance shows his gratitude to the forces that shaped him—from J Dilla to Fruit Snack candies—in a final ode to his contentedness towards the future.
Today, Chance the Rapper is a critically acclaimed artist whose debut album “Coloring Book” led to his first Grammy award. While he remains a figurehead of contemporary rap, the legacy of “Acid Rap” has proven inescapable: Many rappers and producers featured on the mixtape have emerged as success stories of their own. Rappers like Childish Gambino (who happens to be featured on the track “Favorite Song”) or Ab-Soul have gone on to become household names and industry staples, and local Chicago emcees such as Saba and Noname used the station of Acid Rap to launch their distinct and lauded solo careers. Both artists have produced outstanding albums, Noname’s “Telefone” and Saba’s “CARE FOR ME,” and they are discussing reuniting for an album as a trio featuring another Midwestern rapper known as Smino. Additionally, Chance is reported to be at work on a new project due out in July.