Album Review: Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment | Surf
Chicago-based MC Chance The Rapper is in a band. The same Chance The Rapper, unknown three years ago, who now has nearly a million Twitter followers, collaborations with some of the biggest names in music, and a universally-loved debut mixtape, Acid Rap, lists himself as simply a member of the band Social Experiment. Earlier this year, it seemed Chance would return to the soul and funk music of his childhood instead of continuing on the path to hip hop superstardom he was destined for. Instead of an attempt to usurp the Chicago rap throne from Kanye West, however, Surf is an experiment in emotion; the range of feelings on this album span from the greatest possible love (“Sunday Candy”) to the tragic stalling of a relationship (“Warm Enough”). The musical development of Chance The Rapper should be celebrated and enjoyed by as many people as possible; after all, it’s free.
No, Chance is not the frontman of The Social Experiment. That would be Nico Segal, A.K.A. the aptly named Donnie Trumpet, who leads this album with his incredibly varied and nuanced orchestral instrumentation. Every part in this album is complementary to the other facets; no single feature (aside from Chance’s vocals) attempts to take center stage. Even the instrumentals, which I sometimes greatly struggle with in terms of interest, are beautiful. “Nothing Came To Me”, which includes exclusively brass instrumentation led by trumpet, is devastatingly emotional; the high register notes come out as pained and the track resolves itself beautifully. The video, starring model Cara Delevingne, multiplies the emotion fantastically. An instrumental with no backstory shouldn’t bring tears to my eyes, but “Nothing Came To Me” did just that.
Immediately afterwards, the general attitude takes a complete 180° and explores individualism and the dissolution of materialism with the song “Wanna Be Cool”. This song, the “grown-up” version of Ariana Grande‘s “Popular Song”, sees chance show his youthful exuberance wonderfully. On the hook, he sings “I don’t wanna be cool/ I just wanna be me/ You should just be you”, criticizing those who model their lives after others in attempt to gain favor while ignoring what they’re really into. Funnily enough, the three featured artists in this song are pointedly uncool. R&B vocalist Jeremih, who echoes Chance’s statements on the hook, is known for the viral hit “Birthday Sex” and little else, despite being a very talented singer. The second verse is rapped by Big Sean, who has been described as the “clown prince of modern hip hop”, has never been taken seriously. Yet on “Wanna Be Cool” Sean simply spits the best verse of his career. Finally, Los Angeles outcast Kyle handles the final verse. He bluntly (and coolly!) states “If a cool guy’s cool in the middle of the forest/ then nobody fucking cares”. I think that’s something we all can agree on.
The numerous collaborators on this album, including a mix of Chicago associates and established stars, all play their parts perfectly. Busta Rhymes and B.o.B. are excellent on the marching band-style track “Slip Slide”, and Migos frontman Quavo sings(!) tenderly on “Familiar”, an album highlight. A special shoutout should be given to Jamila Woods, whose caring, wide-eyed coos on “Questions” and “Sunday Candy” could soothe even the most agitated of souls, and Saba, who spits absolute fire on “SmthnthtIwnt”. Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment made the interesting decision to release the album without feature credits in the tracklist (no [feat. …]), which helps limit egos and create a more cohesive and solid listening experience.
I’ve mentioned “Sunday Candy” a few times, but if I didn’t dedicate an entire paragraph to it I wouldn’t be doing the song justice. “Sunday Candy” is the best song of 2015, a joyous ode to Chance’s grandmother and the support he’s received from her throughout his life. It hits home especially because I have a similar relationship with my grandma, and the video is perhaps my favorite music video I’ve ever seen.
Surf is one of the most tasteful, lovely, and emotional records to come out in years. Its effortless blending of styles and genres would make even the most talented of producers blush. But the focus remains on Chance, who doesn’t falter once on his rapping or singing within this album. It’s the quintessential summer album, meant to be equal parts sung without inhibition out of car windows and played softly laying down in bed. Surf will go down as one of the defining records of a stacked 2015, and it deserves every ounce of praise.
Five songs I’m listening to this week:
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment | “Wanna Be Cool”
Wet | “Dreams”
Rae Sremmurd | “Throw Sum Mo” (feat. Nicki Minaj)
King Los | “Can’t Fade Us” (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)