After refreshing my Twitter feed at 10:48pm this past Thursday, tweets from Donnie Trumpet, Chance the Rapper, and Pat Corcoran announced that The Social Experiment’s long-awaited album Surf had just dropped. Within minutes of the announcement, I was hit by a wave of tweets from an abundance of Chicago artists supporting the record. It was almost as if the artists involved had been anticipating this moment and couldn’t wait any longer to tell the world about Surf.
Anyone who has been following the unraveling details of Surf knows this is not a Chance the Rapper album but a Social Experiment album. The Social Experiment consists of Donnie Trumpet (the mastermind behind Surf), Nate Fox, Peter Cottontale, Chance the Rapper, and their live-drummer Greg “Stix” Landfair Jr.
It was almost as if the artists involved had been anticipating this moment and couldn’t wait any longer to tell the world about Surf.
Inevitably, Chance’s name will be at the forefront of conversations about the album (including this one) because of his celebrity. However, Chance has tried to keep the spotlight away from himself and direct it instead towards the Social Experiment as what it really is, a band. By entrenching himself in a group setting rather than labeling the Social Experiment as “Chance the Rapper’s band,” a real community feel is created, one that reaches far beyond the music.
Because of the competitiveness within hip-hop culture, rarely do you see such a truly collaborative project that brings so many local artists to the top with it. This is some next level co-sign shit—The Social Experiment were selflessly able to connect rising Chicago artists (Joey Purp, BJ The Chicago Kid, Lili K, Noname Gypsy, Mike Golden, King Louie, Saba, The O’My’s, Eryn Allen Kane) and put them on the same project as genuine stars like J. Cole, Big Sean, Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, and Janelle Monae.
According to Genius, each song features around 20 to 30 contributors and even maxes out at an astounding 71 contributors for “Sunday Candy.”
Aligning with the “Sunday Candy” music video, Surf plays like a musical, cutting seamlessly from each grandiose act to the next. But when looking at the track list on iTunes, no features or names of artists are given—and that was a conscious decision.
Fake Shore Drive’s founder Andrew Barber, one of the Chance’s earliest supporters, was invited by Chance to listen to Surf a few days before its release. He explained, “Chance had a few caveats, though. He wouldn’t tell me much about the song, other than the title. He wanted me to hear it without the bias. He wouldn’t tell me what singer or rapper was featured on any track – he wanted me to figure it out for myself. A rare surprise in this day and age. He wanted the music to speak for itself, and that’s the way it should be.”
Surf is a statement from a community of artists who have decided that their aim is the greater good rather than individual success.
Surf is more than an album—it is a statement from a community of artists who have decided that their aim is the greater good rather than individual success. That selflessness is embodied by Chance personally—the people of Chicago are well aware of his initiatives to help the city, hosting open mic nights to give students a safe place to express themselves, for example. Chance’s compassion and vision for a harmonious existence can be traced back to his upbringing which was detailed in FADER’s recent cover story on The Social Experiment:
“He [Chance] came up in a small, tightly knit creative community and is now instinctively using the cultural capital he’s earned to sustain that same circle. It’s only revolutionary when you look at it through the lens of a bent industry that has built its business model around severing stars from the scenes that birthed them. In a better world, it would be a given that making music for the sake of the music comes before marketing yourself, that community is more valuable than celebrity.”
Being from Chicago, and having a close friend who was shot multiple times and nearly killed, I am not blind to the violence in this city. But the use of the term “Chiraq” to describe the city, and specifically its rap scene, is a sensitive subject. When writers or kids on social media who have never even been to Chicago talk about “Chiraq,” they make light of the true tragedy of the violence, appropriate our city’s culture, and play into unhelpful negative stereotypes. But there’s another side to Chicago that a lot of people don’t see, and Surf is proof of that.
The unity of local artists and the uplifting themes throughout the album instills hope into the Chicago community. The Social Experiment represents real Chicago—not the war ground that mainstream media depicts it as, but a city full of people willing to band together for peace, prosperity, and happiness.
Download Surf free on iTunes here.