Acid Rap, arguably Chance the Rapper’s best project, also represents the era that could have killed him.
“I think if I hadn’t had my spirit tugged on, literally, and a calling to become a better version of myself, then I would’ve died,” Chance says calmly from Complex’s New York City studio, celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the pivotal mixtape. “I would just be the representative of acid, and I’m so much more.”
With time, Chance proved to be much more than the poster child for psychedelic raps. Before the Chicago multi-hyphenate made a drastic lifestyle change and carved out a lane for himself with his gospel-leaning project Coloring Book, Chance was just a 20-year-old kid making music with friends in his city. Acid Rap captures a specific moment in time for Chicago, reflecting a new sound that was being born parallel to the Chicago drill boom from Chief Keef.
For the fans that Acid Rap resonates with the most, it reflects a specific period in their lives: the transformative years of self-discovery. “I feel like that’s what Acid Rap is,” Chance says now. “It’s a whole bunch of questions and as time goes on, you find some of those answers.”
Those questions come in the form of 14 tracks, bonded by vibrant horns, lush production, and tongue-twisting bars—a living, breathing product of the Windy City. Crafted entirely in the city, over the course of just one year, it features several beloved artists and producers from the region like Noname, Vic Mensa, Twista, Nate Fox, and Peter CottonTale.
While the mixtape is named Acid Rap, despite popular belief, Chance the Rapper was not on acid during the majority of the recording process, and he stopped using the drug just a month after its release.
“I had to come to myself and realize and remember that I was not making those songs off acid,” Chance recalls, pointing out that he drew a lot of inspiration from his acid experiences (and dabbled in the drug while picking out beats) but wasn’t on acid during the bulk of the actual recording process. “I may have found some beats I liked off of acid, but it was me making the songs. And I think that was probably the key thing that I learned from that experience.”
These days, one of the most common narratives around the project is that fans miss “Acid Rap Chance,” or more specifically the style of music he was releasing at that time. Chance doesn’t blame them for that sentiment. In his mind, he recognizes that Acid Rap represents a specific moment in time in many of his fans’ lives, and he believes it’s the artist’s responsibility to grow out of that space more than it is theirs.
“It’s really on us,” he explains. “How much do we care about a like or a comment that says ‘This is fire,’ or a meme that says ‘I got a triple-double on a collab song.’ Fuck all that shit, you know what I’m saying? Those people do not go to sleep with you. They can’t take care of your kids. They won’t recognize you unless you’re wearing a 3 hat.”
Today, Chance is more than Acid Rap and the 3 hat. He is a reflection of independence and proof that it takes a village to raise a star.
In honor of the 10-year anniversary, Chance reflects on some of his fondest memories from the making of the mixtape, why he’s happy he left acid behind (but isn’t opposed to trying it again), and why he believes Acid Rap to be the greatest project of all time. The conversation with Complex, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
How does it feel that Acid Rap is a decade old now?
It does feel crazy. I feel it, though, because it’s been so many experiences since I dropped it. Right after that, I went on tour with Mac Miller, opened up for Eminem, and did my first headlining tour: The Social Experiment tour. And that feels so distant from where I am now. 10 years seems like less than the amount of time. Feels like it was 20 years ago for me.
You told Zane Lowe that you feel Acid Rap is the greatest project ever. Why do you feel that way?
I think Acid Rap is what it is because of how vulnerable I was in making it, and how real the whole process was. It was a lot of people that came together to make Acid Rap. It wasn’t just me, it was so many vocalists and producers that came together to make it. And then the features, everybody that was on it went on to do great things, like Action Bronson, Ab-Soul, Donald Glover, Noname, Saba. We were all very young and hungry 10 years ago. And not that anybody wasn’t established, but we were all hungry. I think it was just a product of people wanting to make something that they could be happy with and be vulnerable. I think Acid Rap gave that space to all those people.
What are some of your fondest memories from those recording sessions?
The night that we linked up with Noname and BJ the Chicago Kid. It was the same session that we did the backing vocals for the intro, and BJ’s also on “Everybody’s Something.” It wasn’t like, “OK, here’s this track, let’s write to it together.” It was like, “Here are all these songs that I made. Do any of these speak to you? What would you like to add?” And that same night, Fatimah [Noname] did the verse on “Lost.” It was just us three in the studio, kicking it super hard. I remember my dad came by and it was his first time hearing a lot of the songs and he was so excited.
“I think Acid Rap is what it is because of how vulnerable I was in making it and how real the whole process was.”
But I think there are so many different phases that Acid Rap went through. There was the whole time that I was trying to secure beats and trying to figure out what the sound of it was going to be. I was traveling a lot. I went to SXSW for the second time and met Nate Fox who made “Juice,” “Favorite Song,” “Chain Smoker,” and “Pusha Man.” And I got a pack of beats from him and I got a beat from Jake One to make “Acid Rain.” There were all these different moments. Traveling to New York for the first time, getting called by all these labels off of the success from 10 Day, and using that free flight to bring my director pal Austin Vesely and shoot the “Juice” video in Times Square. A lot of stuff just came together. It was getting it out the mud.
Are there any songs you wish you made a music video for back then?
A lot of people ask me why there’s no music video for “Coco Butter Kisses.” But I kind of like the fact that there’s not one, because it’s a testament to how some people only know that about me. I had to realize that without a video—without it being majorly distributed, without it having any Grammy nominations or famous TV performances of it—it just stands alone as a song that meant a lot to people.
I’m kind of glad that I still get offers all the time from people like, “Hey, let’s make a retroactive video for ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses.’” And I’m like, “Nah. I kind of like the way it is.” But at that time we were also very innovative with what we were shooting and how we were shooting the videos. So I feel like we could have made some dope stuff. I always wanted there to be a music video for “That’s Love.” It’s a short song but it was just cool, poetic, vulnerable raps.
I shot a video for “Paranoia” that never came out and it was really intense and really dark. It wasn’t separate from the sound of Acid Rap, but definitely divergent from the other visuals that came out. I just never put that shit out. I think the ones that we made were so important to me. “Everybody’s Something” is my favorite video, just because I like editing and repurposing old films for new stuff. And the “Smoke Again” video was fire, too, because I remember we shot that with Ab-Soul and Mike Waxx and all the Illroots dudes. Shout out to Darnell and Mike Carson and Mike Waxx and all of them. We came out to LA and shot that video with them real quick.
What did Acid Rap teach you about yourself as an artist?
I think Acid Rap was a good example of me just trusting myself and being OK with being who I was. I don’t ever want to sound like I’m taking credit for shit, but druggie culture, like niggas rapping about doing LSD and other shit that wasn’t weed, was not happening in 2012. So in 2013, coming out with this Acid Rap project, niggas were calling me a weirdo and all types of shit. I had to deal with that and also realize that my projects described experiences that I had already been through. But they were not the sum of me or the whole exploration of who I am as a person. I stopped doing acid probably less than a month after the project came out.
I was like, “I’m done with this” after too many bad trips and just weird shit happening to me. But I had to deal with it for the next year and a half. Having everybody that met me trying to either offer me acid or ask me interview questions about acid and having to be basically the spokesperson for drugs. But I had to come to myself and realize and remember that I was not making those songs off acid. I may have found some beats I liked off of acid, but it was me making the songs. And I think that was probably the key thing that I learned from that experience. It was like, you could dress up something to be one thing and draw inspiration from one thing but it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the main ingredient to it.
After the project dropped, I know people were coming to your shows off acid. They were treating Acid Rap as if it was a promotion of acid.
Motherfuckers were giving us bags of a hundred tabs, or literal liquid acid, and we was like, “Just chill. It is not that serious.” But I also understand it because Acid Rap took me a year to finish. And it was a lot of studio sessions where I was just listening to other people’s music off acid or traveling to other places. You’re supposed to do acid either by yourself or with a group of people you trust, in a small controlled setting, and just trip and chill in that space. And I was like, shit, I’d take two or three tabs and just go downtown. This is pre-Uber too. I would just go on the train by myself and just walk around downtown Chicago or travel around with that. I was tweaking at that time. But it was all those experiences—the friendships that I made, the friendships that I possibly ruined, all the relationships in my life—that were being influenced by the way I was at the time.
I also think there was a certain hunger just around wanting to reach a deeper success than I had on 10 Day. 10 Day was obviously the biggest thing I had done. All my other projects were only famous in my high school. So once 10 Day dropped, I got to go on a national tour with Donald Glover. I had played SXSW and done some local Midwest stuff, and I needed my next project to be something that was going to break the mold and not just be me rapping about school or being done with school or whatever.
Did you think that this would become the tape to change your life? Because 10 Day had a lot of momentum as well…
[My mom] used to just buy CDs and she would find artists that she truly supported. She’d go catch them on tour and shit like that. And she always used to say your second album makes or breaks you. She’d be like, “An artist will come out with their debut album and they’ll get pushed to the forefront of music and be called the ‘voice of the generation’ and champion for all this stuff. And then their second album comes out and it doesn’t hit all the same high notes.” So in my head, that’s why the first song starts off with, “Even better than I was last time.” You know what I’m saying?
“The funny thing that a lot of people historically don’t remember, is when Acid Rap first came out, people were not universally loving that shit.”
And, “This your favorite fucking album, I ain’t even fucking done,” I had a lot of lyrics that were leaning into that because I really didn’t want it to be less than 10 Day. The funny thing that a lot of people historically don’t remember is when Acid Rap first came out, people were not universally loving that shit. Especially people that had found me through rapping about being suspended from school. They like, “I’m not trying to hear you rap about drugs for a whole album, and who the fuck is Childish Gambino?” Shit like that. The same thing happened with Coloring Book.
I think when I was making Acid Rap, I was thinking a lot about my own emotions, and where I wanted to be. I think I was also trying to get signed at the time, too. I was really trying to get signed to a label. You’ve got to think about the climate. 10 Day is really around the time that [Chief] Keef blew up on YouTube, pre-Kanye co-sign. At the time in the city, that’s what everybody would compare me to. “Damn, Keef doing numbers but Chance The Rapper’s dope, too.” And so 2013, it was like, if I could just get signed to a label, I’d be good. I was so thirsty and I was traveling to New York and LA a lot to go to niggas offices and hear about four-album option deals and just terrible [deals] that I’m glad I didn’t get stuck in. But that was where my head was at. It was like, I just want to make this as good as 10 Day, and thank God it was better.
Acid Rap and 10 Day were coming out at the peak of Chicago drill era sound. Then here you are making music that’s sonically alternate of that. How much do you think Acid Rap affected the Chicago sound?
I think it’s the blueprint for that Midwest sound that you still hear to this day. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody that’s a year or two younger than me, that wasn’t influenced by Acid Rap, even if they weren’t from the Midwest. Like Jack Harlow, [Lil] Uzi Vert, and people that are from opposite coast and from other places still tell me what the album meant to them at that time. But if you were in Chicago, then you had the opportunity to be on the album, and work closely with helping to promote it or to help me get shows or to open for me or whatever. It was this whole ecosystem that was bred really out of a community that already existed. A lot of us went to Young Chicago Authors, a lot of us went to YOUMedia and went to different after-school programs around the arts. So we all got to learn from each other. And that’s why Mick Jenkins, Saba, Lucki, Noname, Nico Segal, Vic Mensa… We were all 14 and 15 years old doing writing exercises together as kids. So I think Acid Rap really gave one a lane for people that were trying to do something alternatively.
But you also have to recognize that 2012 was the peak of drill coming out and being introduced to the world. But I wouldn’t say that it was what anybody in Chicago was accustomed to as a sound yet. That came later on, as more and more artists came out, doing the same sound and having more success and getting remixed by people like [G] Herbo who supported that movement. [Lil] Dirk supported that movement. And they also have different sounds from Keef even. I feel like in 2012, Kanye West is still the biggest artist in the world. Lupe [Fiascos]’s still charting. It was still an older generation of music that didn’t sound anything like Acid Rap or drill music.
So I feel like me and Keef came out around the same time, both doing our own thing. Why we got so much coverage and so much support was because it was different than what you thought would be the typical Chicago sound. Now, if you’re really being honest, I would say the more recognizable Chicago sound at this time would still be drill. And there’s still a lot of fanfare and media hype around anything related to drill, whether it’s music or otherwise. But, still—within the actual city, the ecosystem, who’s doing shows—are the people that are influenced by Acid Rap, too.
“I think it’s the blueprint for that Midwest sound that you still hear to this day.”
Acid Rap lives in such a unique place in everyone’s lives because it wasn’t common with all the other music were that they were experiencing at the time.
There’s definitely nothing that sounds like Acid Rap, if you go back to 2013. You got Yeezus, you got Nothing Was the Same. You got Mac Miller’s Watch Movies with the Sound Off. You got J. Cole’s Born Sinner. And in terms of rap, there was not another album that had a song like “Chain Smoker” on it or another album that had a song like “Everybody’s Something” on it. It was its own thing. And like you said, because it was just something you had to be in the know about to even have access to it. It became, I don’t know, like I said, it’s like a cult classic.
What’s one thing you miss about the Acid Rap era? And what’s one thing that you’re glad was left in that time?
I could tell you first, what I’m glad is left is acid. I have not done acid since 2015. And just the lack of control, man, you can’t tell if it’s because of the acid or just it’s a bad day. But I’m glad that I don’t do acid anymore. Glad that that’s left behind.
And I mean, there’s so much that I miss. I miss the relationships, just as time goes on. People grow up and we were all 19 or 20 years old—all of my friends from Chicago were around the same age. We didn’t have kids, we hadn’t moved to other cities. We hadn’t started having to deal with bills and all types of other shit. And all those things changed the relationships between everybody. So I wish that we still had that level of freedom to just up and decide to go to SXSW. And not because we have all these shows booked, but just because we’re trying to see if we could jump on a show and have fun.
I wasn’t able to play shows the way that I am now. I wasn’t able to take care of people. I was still very much so in a self-discovery time. I feel like that’s what Acid Rap is. It’s a whole bunch of questions, and as time goes on, you find some of those answers. So I don’t necessarily miss being confused, but I do miss… I think the best part about it was how tight me and Fatimah [Noname] were. How tight me and Austin Vesely, who directed all my videos, were. And all these people are still the loves of my life, but we live in different cities. Some of us have kids. It’s just different.
What do you think your life and career would look like if you didn’t grow beyond Acid Rap?
I probably would’ve died, to be honest. That’s the thing: entertainment is entertainment. We like it because it’s something that’s recorded, that we could experience in that one time and then hopefully come back and listen to it and it sounds the same. But it takes away the humanity from the people who make it. The way that I was living at that time, I had everything in excess. So right after I dropped the project, I went on a few tours where I didn’t really make any money. But then I went on my first tour, my headlining on tour, where I made some money. And I went and bought a crib or rented a crib, this fat ass mansion in LA.
“I think if I hadn’t had my spirit tugged on, literally, and a calling to become a better version of myself, then I would’ve died.”
This is my first time living outside of my parents’ house in another city and having money and doing a lot of drugs, you know what I’m saying? A lot of Xans, you know what I’m saying? Too many Xans. And just becoming a different person, a lesser, lesser person than I am now. I think if I hadn’t had my spirit tugged on, literally, and a calling to become a better version of myself, then I would’ve died. And then I would just be the representative of acid, and I’m so much more.
As fans, we often want artists to stay the same because they reflect moments that were important to us.
I think the thing is, we always put it on the fans. Like, “The fans need to allow artists to grow.” But really, artists need to allow themselves to grow. It’s really on us. How much do we care about a like or a comment that says “This is fire,” or a meme that says “I got a triple-double on a collab song.” Fuck all that shit, you know what I’m saying? Those people do not go to sleep with you. They can’t take care of your kids. They won’t recognize you unless you’re wearing a 3 hat. Opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one. It comes down to how much do you love your life and what do you have to live for and what do you want to see happen in your life and happen for you in your life?
You’ll never be able to control how people feel about you. Never. You could give them your all. You could give them your worst and they’ll surprise you every time. So I think it’s really up to artists to just remember that they made music before they had fans, and they loved music before they had fans. So, whether that fan loves you or hates you or says they’re not a fan anymore, if they tell you that you need to start doing drugs again, who are these niggas? They don’t matter, you know what I mean? Everybody matters in the grand scheme of humanity and being a good person, but in terms of shaping who you are, and giving you life advice, that’s one tweet out of how many that they made.
So it’s safe to say that you will not be doing acid again?
You know, maybe I’ll get over it. Because I also think sometimes it could become an irrational fear around PTSD or around just instances of uncomfortability that [I] dealt with, that can become a hindrance and you’re over. But also, yeah, I don’t have any need to do acid. I think I created an aesthetic and a story, a narrative around it though, that is Acid Rap. These are raps inspired by acid, but there was no acid around. “Everybody’s Something,” there was no acid around. “Chain Smoker,” there was no acid around.
The songs that I did acid before I made are “Favorite Song,” which I don’t necessarily love. “Juice,” which I don’t necessarily love. I love them, but those aren’t the songs that I go back and listen to. I’ll go back and sit down and listen to “Everything’s Good,” the outro of the project, I think is just so well=written. I’m so proud of that 20-year-old kid that made that shit. I’m like, this is true vulnerability, true penmanship. It has the little outro where it goes into the juke version of the song and then it brings in samples from other songs on the album. That’s ill, that’s just an ill idea.
I used to be like, damn, I tricked all these [people] into doing acid. But, yeah, I think as long as I can remember the truth of what it meant for me, what it did for my family, what it did for the city of Chicago and how it was made, and who were the people and the players that made it possible, then I’m good.