Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment (Self-released, 2015)
Much of the buzz about Surf, the indie debut from musical collective The Social Experiment, is due to the band’s most famous member: Chance the Rapper. The 22-year-old Chicago wunderkind’s self-released 2013 mixtape, Acid Rap, marked him as a poster child for eccentric, left-field rappers who have built followings largely via the internet and word of mouth.
Surf isn’t the follow-up Chance fans were waiting for—it’s actually a joint effort with his touring band—but they’ll find plenty to like. The distinctive trumpet playing by Nico Segal (Donnie Trumpet) is the star here, with Chance making subtle but memorable appearances along with a bevy of guest artists.
Sonically the album covers a lot of ground, from the languid jazz of “Nothing Came To Me” to “Slip and Slide,” a loud, brassy stomp featuring a verse from legendary rapper Busta Rhymes and a catchy hook: “I’mma stand up on my own two.” The motif of trusting yourself carries over to “Wanna Be Cool,” a commentary on the emptiness of popularity.
On “Questions,” poet Jamila Woods delivers searing prose that sounds prophetic given our current political moment: “Pigs wanna take black mama’s kids/Bible say we all came from the same rib/But some of us go to heaven too soon.” On the lighter side is “Sunday Candy,” Chance’s gospel-tinged tribute to his devout, churchgoing grandmother. It’s a perfect pop song, curiously buried toward the end of an album’s worth of more challenging material.
Then again, the inattention to commercial appeal seems to be the point. Surf is available as a free download on iTunes, indicating the band’s primary interest is making music that inspires them, and on their own terms. It’s a bold move, but when you have something important to say, that’s confidence you can afford.
This review appeared in the September 2015 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 80, No. 9, page 42).