It wouldn't be accurate to say that Chance The Rapper came out of nowhere. He already had a healthy buzz in Chicago from his #10Day mixtape (with which he gave you his first "tab of acid for your ear") and the friends that he had made in the city's rap circles. But there was a moment at the beginning of this year (around the time when the single, "Juice" came out) that his stardom started to seem inevitable. He began to look like he was primed for the hype machine. He was media savvy, he brought fresh ad-libs and a dynamic voice to the table, he even had a catchy name. But when it came down to it, everyone knew the music itself had to be the core of his success, so that when the hype machine caught people's attention, there was a record to back it all up. Acid Rap was that record.
Everything about Acid Rap seems carefully thought out, from the juke-beat bookended structure to a self-aware line like "Last Chance joint/Gotta be a dance joint/From an introspective, drugged-out standpoint." His acute awareness of how he might be perceived allowed him to tailor his output down to the half-bar. He invites anyone, not at all facetiously, to engage the project in a "critical discourse analysis." But no matter which level you decide to break it down at (the individual line, the individual song, or the whole tape), you find elements that can stand alone.
Take the song "Acid Rain," for example, which by itself contains a lot of what Chance represents in his body of work as a whole. It's like a crash course in the recurring themes that he plays with. It's nostalgia ("I miss my diagonal grilled cheeses"), it's the struggle to make sense of love in a violent world ("Funerals for little girls, is that appealing to you?"), and it pins his demons against his sanctity in a battle to keep the faith ("And I still be asking God to show his face"). Beyond that, Chance is an incredibly talented rapper and singer—so much so that, somehow, neither of those descriptors fully encapsulate what he is. (The "The Rapper" part of his name seems cleverly reductive in this regard). He uses his voice as a pointed multi-tool, not only to rap or sing—but to express his thoughts in ways that sometimes lean into a theatrical performance. He is an artist with a clear sense of the scope of his talent, and a clear idea about what he wants to do with it. But of course, none of this overwhelmingly thorough intent would mean much if it didn't come out sounding good.
Overwhelmingly, it did. —Alexander Gleckman