Down Memory Lane: Acid Rap 10 Years Later

During my second semester at Pace University, I was introduced to Chance the Rapper when my friend played me the music video of “Juice.” It was playful and beautifully outlandish, something unlike the seriousness of non-commercial Hip-Hop, where it’s not too comical for parody, as Chance let it all breathe, setting up what would be a tremendous step in his evolution as an artist. The production wasn’t as slow but more colorfully eclectic, weaving its structure like the drug that influenced Acid Rap, LSD. It was a predominant vibe entrenched within one’s mental stasis, where they reflect on the highs and lows while expressing this fluidity about their youthful core. It resonated when I saw him live, opening to Mac Miller, and in my rambunctious youth, that performance brought joy. When he brought out Ab-Soul for “Smoke Again,” I had to spark it up again. But I slightly digress; I’m here to talk about Chance’s extraordinary moment on the come-up, where he garnered over a million downloads on DatPiff, a music hosting service predominantly serving the Hip-Hop community before streaming became what it is today. It’s about the music, how it made me feel, and what’s everlasting about it.

At the time of release (April 30, 2013), Acid Rap became a peak of my musical journey where I could experience a wide range of music beyond apropos Hip-Hop and Indie/Alternative Pop, and it bled through the number of plays shown on an old 2011 MacBook. I kept digging more into non-commercialized hip-hop and zoning, whether through rapping on the side via freestyles or wearing a penguin cap just to dance to it; not my proudest moment, but there are no regrets on my end. It all came together during a performance, opening before Mac Miller in the summer of 2013, where Chance the Rapper brought the charm; he’s an optimistic young adult who loved the presence and the music and relished in it. It gave me a new perspective on his performative nature, which doesn’t come as a surprise based on his musical roots in Chicago, especially that of being in a dance troupe. As Acid Rap replayed, I kept falling in love with the music, especially when we got a weaker verse from Ab-Soul that felt lost within the assignment. It feels like an artifact from a time when the music was looser as avenues hip-hop took were more boastfully esoteric.

Acid Rap was part of a shift in Hip-Hop where new, intriguing soundscapes became more pertinent than drops by Styles P or Busta Rhymes seem not as hot as they were in the early 00s. I may sound a little facetious, but its growth came at an apex where what was hot on the streets wasn’t what we were used to. These older rappers dropped heaters, sometimes as a featured artist on a pop song remix; it wasn’t anything new, unlike these distinct sounds we were acclimating to, like the Houston chop-n-screwed influence within A$AP Rocky’s first few tapes. What made Chance the Rapper unique was that he came off as playful, colorful, bombastic, and profound to the point where you can just plug and play and go about the world like you just dropped a tab of acid, and you get left with your vices. I am no stranger to LSD or hallucinogens in general, having gone through my misadventures with them, and the more I kept taking them, I was stuck between two sides of Acid Rap. I was juggling between the introspection of “Paranoia” and “Acid Rain” and having lively fun with “Good Ass Intro” and “Smoke Again,” using the latter song as a calling cry to spark up again. 

The mixtape had such a wild rotation that if I leave it for a year and return, I’ll remember the lyrics easily. It continuously brings back memories. I was chain-smoking cigarettes because I felt free from the hold of my family and going on wild journeys through Brooklyn and Manhattan. I remember the mixtape playing a lot on shuffle with a few friends I had. Memories are endless, and many of Chance the Rapper’s lines spoke true to the nature of my being, whether it was rolling and puffing at Prospect Park in Park Slope, Brooklyn, or varying areas of Central Park and Riverside Park. I was just a joyful loose canon trying to get into the production world before concerts became part of what made music that universal love. I was always a fan of music; hell, it was what I grew up loving as much as The Simpsons that I used to pretend to be performing on stage. That extended toward a short-lived joke with college friends where we’d get stupid high and record me in a penguin winter hat and just dance. I did so with my introduction to Acid Rap, “Juice,” an energetic song that fit the tones of the intro, “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” and “Favorite Song.”

The contrasting introspection and the non-colorful track vibes have come from the confines of the non-lucid moments of a hallucinogenic trip, keeping a balance between the shifting moods and vibes, whether you’re toning down in the visual department or slightly elevating your thoughts. Chance the Rapper expands his horizons, taking us through his thoughts on the socio-political climate around him (“Everybody’s Somebody”) or weaving a tale of lovers who realize they aren’t fit for each other(“Lost”). The paths he took the music in gave it the purpose of being more than just what it is on the surface layer. The production on Acid Rap breathes with consistency, allowing each track a moment to linger within our minds as we come to our conclusions. It’s no more present than on the second track, where Chance starts this transitional shift between when he goes deeper into his mind and flexing. There are so various avenues Chance goes, and multiple times, coming out on top with a track that stays with you, despite it only being ten years. It’s especially so with the songs that offer more personal perspectives, which comes from his inner thoughts.

Chance the Rapper gives us varying layers within the writing or performance, that was rather absent on his last album, The Big Day. It isn’t something to marvel at, like listening to Raekwon or Ice Cude, as Chance keeps it real with his POV approach to the delivery and fluidity with rhyme schemes, playing to his strengths, like when he rapped, “With my drawers hid but my hard head stayed in the clouds like a lost kite/But gravity had me up in a submission hold/Like I’m dancing with the Devil with two left feet and I’m pigeon-toed/In two small point ballet shoes with a missing sole/And two missing toes,” on “Everybody’s Somebody.” It plays with different suffixes, keeping the rhyme intact with these overlong syllabic lines that come off phonetically smooth. Same with the slightly sullen and deep “Acid Rain” or the soulful “Chain Smoker.” It may not be the most astute, like the masterwork wordplay we’ve heard from better lyricists, but Chance takes it to the nines by giving what the beat entails.

On “Good Ass Intro,” we get to hear Chance the Rapper rap with glee and marvel at his success, rapping, “Did a ton of drugs and did better than all my Alma mater/Motherfucker money dance, hundreds xan, gallon lean/Make a joke ’bout Leno’s hair then piggyback on Fallon’s spleen/Balancing on sporadicity and fucking pure joy/Nightly searches for a bed and I just came off tour with Troy.” Here, Chance goes off with joy, reflecting on what he did. More importantly, he brings a significant stamp by noting he was touring with Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, and exposing himself to the world. In turn, that exposure allowed Chance to get the clout to boast and bring the Chicago rappers emerging alongside Chance, like Saba, Vic Mensa, and Noname, and ones that have made a name for themselves, like Twista. I also include Action Bronson from Queens, New York, who has been materializing underground prominence. Additionally, Chance plays with the name at the end of that set of bars, using Troy, his character from the cult NBC comedy Community. The little things, like allusions and alliterations, like the bars, “Get a watch with all that glitters, come in clutters, different colors/Ben-a-Baller, Benford, butlers, chauffeurs, hit a stain-er, did I stutter?,” which brings dimensions to his writing and flows, keeping you entwined and returning to such an enriching experience.

So as Chance the Rapper takes these distinct pivots, I’m constantly reminded of an LSD trip, though part of that comes from having done the drug. The mixtape’s musical concept getting built under the influence directing these jazzy, soulful, playful, sometimes moody components into the lyrics and music, elevating Chance’s performance in the studio. His flows aren’t totally on par with some heavyweights, but it stays original as Chance switches from melancholy to expressing innate fun that boasts the sonic structure it embodies. Between its more stylized and sometimes compartmentalizing production from Blended Babies, brandUn DeShay, Cam O’bi, Ceej, DJ O-ZONE, Jake One, Ludwig Göransson, Nate Fox, Nosaj Thing, Peter CottonTale & Stefan Ponce, the quality stays high, giving Chance that extra push. We’re listening to smooth transitions between styles, witnessing this modestly trippy music guide us through the different sounds we get, especially as it shows maturity within Chance’s choice of beats. It isn’t a perfect mixtape, as he poorly chooses to spit a homophobic slur on “Favorite Song,” where his approach to nuance isn’t the strongest or even correct – similar to “Smoke Again,” with a slightly lesser verse from Ab-Soul that isn’t the good type of comical. Yet, what surrounds it is greatness that I had to write about it, especially with its importance in my young adult life.

So as I sit back and reflect on Acid Rap, there is so much that gets funneled through my mind; I get a little zany just remembering the live performance, the drugs, and the music that allowed me to feel free and expand horizons beyond the pop, commercial hip-hop, and techno/electronica. I still find myself replaying the tape more regularly than Chance the Rapper’s others, specifically Coloring Book, which I think is a step above Acid Rap. However, Acid Rap is remarkable as it takes a construct and evolves it beyond the known stereotypes, like the slow, hazy beats or simpler rhyme schemes. It has beautiful range and dynamic synergy with the listener, where you can feel that grounded writing Chance delivers. So as you finish reading this, take a moment to open your music player and play that old Datpiff downloaded audio from 10 years ago. It’s a fantastic mixtape that truly drives home multi-faceted dimensions toward feeling and living, and hell, it’s an overall fun listen.

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