Vonnegut said something like writing a savage, over-the-top piece of criticism of a book you hated was like putting on a suit of armor to fight an ice cream sundae. What’s funny is that articulating an overwhelmingly positive response to something you love can seem just as futile—there it is, something so simple, laid out in front of you, and all your critical facilities are rendered moot against it. The thing to do, then, is remove your suit of armor and engage the sundae as close-to-the-ground as possible.
This is an elaborate way of saying Acid Rap is without a doubt my favorite long-player of this year so far, but I’d also put it ahead of most of my other top records from 2012 or 2011 etc etc. It is an impossible achievement, so original and clever and emotional. Acid Rap is that “hurry back to the car so I can listen again” music, that “can’t wait to put my headphones on at home to listen again” music, that “listen to tons of other music just so I can reward myself by listening again” music. I fully plan on writing something more “in-depth” about it—but I wanted to write down my favorite lines, and use them as sort of annotations for a deeper piece.
While Chance is undeniably a great lyricist, the achievement of Acid Rap goes beyond his rhymes, and especially beyond an entry-level Rap Genius reading of his lyrics. The achievement is how it all comes together; some of my favorite moments from the album don’t look good on paper, because the joy is in hearing Chance stretch syllables out or how he contorts his voice to slant a rhyme or en-jamb a line, but in a way that is organic, original, and innovative, instead of lazy. But so much of the greatness of Acid Rap *is* the lyrics, without a doubt—how he can often rap like he’s just talking like it’s you and me (like another Chicago rapper I know) but then follow it up with a line that’s Rakim-esque in its complexity (“wonder if I wrote this cause it’s so crisp”).
Footnotes on the internet are annoying but this is literally the only way I can think of working on an examination of an album like this.
OK enough prologue.
They murkin kids
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
They probably scared of all the refugees
look like we had a fuckin hurricane here
And we shootin’ whether it’s dark or not
I mean these days it’s pretty dark a lot
Down here it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a fuckin parking spot
from the second movement of “Pusha Man”
Chance somehow channels Eminem and Kool A.D. at the same damn time (“where the fuck is Matt Lauer at?”) but finishes with a line that is Kanye through and through, by finding the absurdity of violence in the language of a plainspoken observation.
And I ponder what’s worse between knowing it’s over and dying first
Cause everybody dies in the summer, wanna say goodbyes
tell them while it’s spring
Everybody’s dying in the summer, so pray to God for a little more spring
I know you scared, you should ask us if we scared too
If you was there, then we’d just knew you’d care too
Mostly Junk Food hit the nail on the head when they said Chance’s “me too” is the skeleton key to the entire album—his sympathy is the heart which keeps the entire machine moving. But I chose the second instance of this bridge that omits the “me too” because while “me too” communicates empathy, after seven minutes of violence the appeal to mercy is the capper to the entire three-suite movement of “Pusha Man”.
Put Visine inside my eyes so my grandma would fuckin hug me
from “Cocoa Butter Kisses”
Still gettin ID’ed for Swishers
Mama still wash my clothes
from “Pusha Man”
Two perfectly delivered youthful images rendered poetic by virtue of contrast.
How does it feel to be you?
Yo no se
I ain’t really been myself since Rod passed
I ain’t even really need that shop class
I ain’t really been weak since pops smashed
There are plenty of other times on the record where Chance gets more introspective about the death of his friend but I love this because on the mostly joyous “Juice” the way the reference to his friend dying fits between “shop class” and a small identity crisis is exactly how a fresh-out-high-school kid deals with grief—the weight of the loss isn’t lost on him, but the gift of youth is that it is a moment that passes and lacks the self-absorbed grieving that comes when a person is older and loses a friend. A beautifully human moment.
Do you love being Kobe when you make the layup?—
til you realize everybody in the world fuckin hates the Lakers?
Sometimes I think this is my favorite line on the entire album because it is such a unique, fully-formed, gorgeously rendered thought. There are more emotional lines but this inversion of typical rap bragging that is smashed out of the park with a universal truth—everyone hates the fucking Lakers—is literary.
Do your mama hate me?
Daddy wouldn’t let you
if he ever met me, if he ever met you
The first time I heard this my heart stopped. I assumed “Lost” would be the standard “slow jam” of the album until I realized Chance was up to more—the song is really about what it takes to love another person, instead of “just” a love song. What makes it really work is knowing Chance’s parents are still together—I’m not a child of divorce, so to me the whole “divorce thing” is so alien. Chance comes from that angle—there’s an innocence to way the line is delivered, like how a youth casually mentions awful things all the time without even knowing how it feels. (See #4.) There’s also a theme of abandonment in this sentiment, which is fulfilled later on by Noname Gypsy’s devastating verse. There is no real love possible that isn’t built on a loss of something—which is why people are drawn to each other in the first place.
I miss my diagonal grilled cheeses
and back when Mike Jackson was still Jesus
from “Acid Rain”
There’s a Complex interview where Chance mentions how being so young to him meant Kanye was a person who’s always been relevant. There was never a time in his perception that Kanye was new or innovative—he was the standard. So he misses out on the older generation’s perception of how innovative and new and original and groundbreaking Kanye was. What’s telling about this line is Chance is so young that Michael Jackson was never Jesus, in the same vein like Kanye was never innovative. What the line is really about is the perception of icons—dude had been the target of a media-takedown for the entirety of the ’90s and ’00s. But the perception of him as a godly icon is what lingered—and lingers, now, after his death. A youth’s innocent admiration of a flawed legend is just part and parcel of missing grilled cheese sandwiches. MJ was always a legend, Kanye was always a legend; I miss my Nickelodeon cassettes.
My big homie died young, just turned older than him
from “Acid Rain”
A simple phrase that contains volumes.
All this medicine in me, hoping I don’t get sick
Making all of this money, hoping I don’t get rich
Cause niggas is still gettin bodied for foams
Sometimes the truth don’t rhyme
Sometimes the lies get millions of views
from “Acid Rain”
Chance does something remarkable here—he effectively critiques the “materialism” and “superficiality” of certain strands of modern rap (and ties it to violence) without sounding like a clueless dork. There’s a telling moment in this Pitchfork interview where he says,
“There’s a lot of shit that the city isn’t proud of, which kind of connects with the music and the violence— I can’t really argue that it’s not connected—”
and his candor just won me over. Of course, Chance being a young rapper from Chicago, absolutely has the authority to say this, and he makes a good point, that only he (and not some legislator, not some blogger) could make. Oh yeah and the line doesn’t rhyme—which kinda suggests the idea that in reality, the “truth” of youth violence, alienated kids, ad infinitum, goes beyond rap, or music, or easy targets. (This is a thing I want to spend more time on in my other piece.)
He does something similar with this next line:
Yelling ‘YOLO was a lie’
and you a liar, wonder why you wanna die so young
from “Chain Smoker”
Having graduated from college and I still live in the city I grew up in and I still go to the malls and stores I used to go to a lot when I was in high school—I wonder how much things have changed in the six years since I was 18. I didn’t even have a cell phone in high school—no one had Facebook, everyone had struggle Xanga and MySpace pages that were more for fun than anything. At the risk of sounding old and making too broad a generalization, when I was in high school it seemed like a more innocent and joyous time than the kids who are currently going through it. We didn’t have Drake—we had “Walk it Out,” “Laffy Taffy,” “Throw Some D’s,” “Shoulder Lean,” Kanye before he got Serious, T.I. when he was still relevant. There is just a certain cynicism in rap today that genuinely makes me worry about the young people (pre-adolescents and under-18 teenagers) growing up and listening to it. I don’t want to sound as puritanical as this certainly is coming across—but it just makes me wonder when I go to the mall and feel this sense of disaffection. Chance was nineteen when he delivered these words, which means he is just old enough to be a part of it while also having some remove from the “teenagers of today.” Even Kesha singing “we’re gonna die young” feels weird to hear on the radio—remember when she was just trying to party like P. Diddy?
I ain’t really that good at goodbye
I ain’t really that bad at leaving
I ain’t really always been a good guy
from “Everything’s Good”
Maybe in my more thorough examination of the album I’ll talk about how in this record, as well as in interviews, Chance risks coming across as not entirely likable, but this in turn makes him more effective as a rapper. Because he transcends that easy, entry-level introspection of Drake or all these songs that sound like Drake featuring Drake—it is comparable to early Kanye, where he was still writing hits like “Gold Digger” but going on national TV and speaking from his heart, without really caring how he was perceived—there was a sense the divisiveness was “baked in” during those candid moments.
If you pick your rappers based on how much you can laugh at them, or how easily they can be turned into memes, Chance is not for you. He’s not entirely likable, he doesn’t have a lot of you can laugh at him for, he is a little pretentious (and lacks the maturity of Kendrick, but duh he is five years younger than Kendrick), he called himself ugly in some interview I forgot where I read that. But he’s not some self-deprecating nerd, either—in that same breath where he said he was ugly he said he hoped his body still attracted women, which, I mean, is 1000 times more honest than almost anything said by famous men. That thing where we are invited to dislike rappers doesn’t exist in Chance—he’s too young, and yes, too “pure” to present himself like that. If you don’t like him, you really don’t like him not “don’t like him” in that way most sensible people “don’t like” Drake but listen to him anyway.
I didn’t like Chance at all before Acid Rap. I thought his videos were corny and he wasted a chance to do something cool with Hannibal Buress. But fuck it he made a miracle of an album.
More TK soon.