Ten years ago, a young Chicago rapper named Chancelor Bennett – better known as Chance the Rapper – released his second mixtape, Acid Rap. About a year removed from his debut outing, the then-20-year-old created a body of work that would forever change the fabric of the music industry. Upon its release, the free project crashed several websites, and achieved the holy grail of obtaining both critical and commercial success; launching this relatively unknown artist to new heights.
Chance’s 14-track magnus opus contained several themes – maturation, nostalgia, and the struggle of being from a city beaming with beauty, talent, and creativity, but sometimes crippled by its reputation of crime and poverty. What is perhaps the most important part of this mixtape’s legacy, is just how non-monolithic Chicago truly was. Rappers such as Chief Keef, Lil Durk, and King Louie had risen to prominence with their aggressive storytelling, bass-heavy production, and transparency about the dangerous lifestyle thay had become accustomed to due to their environment. The West Chatham native however, had a much different sound and message than his contemporaries, and helped to usher in a new wave of musicians from the Illinois area.
Music journalist Yoh Phillips spoke about his dynamic in an interview with WBEZ earlier this month. “It was a shift in perspective more than anything else,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve gotten another album that created the experience that Acid Rap did. But the perspective shift? The belief it created? It’s like College Dropout to some people. It changed what you thought was possible.
Acid Rap is both a testament to Bennett’s uniqueness as an artist, as well as showcasing his ability to encompass a variety of sounds, styles, and concepts within one project. It includes genres such as soul, juke, gospel, blues-rock, jazz, house music, and more, while still staying true to the foundation of hip-hop. Beginning with its first track “Good Ass Intro,” listeners are taken on a journey through the mind of creative youth clinging to the memories of the past, while making mistakes and becoming a better man on the path to adulthood.
“Pusha Man,” featuring Nate Fox, highlights Chance’s maturation as an artist, and his willingness to experiment sonically. It is also the first time the audience is introduced to a recurring theme on the project, and the inspiration for the tape’s project as a whole – drug usage. “Acid Rain” and “Smoke Again” further expounded on this concept, and it also highlights the mindstate of a person still new to stardom, and not long removed from his teenage years. It is these factors that give Acid Rap a form of innocence at some points, even amidst the trials, tribulations, and turmoil that comes with life.
While the “No Problem” rapper’s second outing has its moments of optimism, it also includes tracks that mirror the harshness of Chicago. In 2011, Bennett witnessed the stabbing of a close friend, something that he speaks about on the track, “Juice.” This, along with records like “Paranoia,” show Chance in what is perhaps his most transparent, saying lyrics like “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 f****n’ hurricane here.”
One of Acid Rap’s standout records is “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” where Chance speaks about the simplicity of life as a child, and how he wants to retain the image of innocence with his family that he is losing to his experimentation with cigarettes and psychedelics. Also, it featured the up-and-coming Vic Mensa and the legendary Twista, which paid homage to the previous generation of Chicago’s rap scene, while showcasing the talented pool of artists that it has today.
For many, this mixtape was an unforgettable moment in time, and solidified itself as one of the best mixtapes ever. Additionally, it was symbolic of an important piece of hip hop’s history – the blog era. Phenoms such as Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Big Sean, and Wale among others, all came from this period, and for many, Chance’s release signified the end of the blog era, adding a powerful exclamation point to one of the most exciting stages of the world’s most popular music genre, and become a classic in its own right.