I am on my own this summer as my family visits Colombia. Among other things, I've been thinking a lot about my youth and about Chicago. This past week I've sort of revisited the rap music that I grew up with, and reflected ruefully that the ultra-violent, claustrophobic world described by Tupac on Me Against the World still seems to describe the present-day situation in large parts of Chicago.
Anyway, listening to Tupac got me thinking about newer artists that I've known existed but never checked out, busy as I was with living an adult life and raising a family. Since I am currently on a sort of hiatus from my normal adult life and childrearing, I took the opportunity to check out Chance the Rapper's album Acid Rap. Chance is a big deal. He is a hot young Chicago rapper, and has gained as much fame for his unorthodox marketing style as for his clever, postmodern lyrics. You see, Chance releases mix tapes for free, and I guess he makes his money through tours and things. In so doing, he has turned the recording industry on its head, avoiding any binding commitments to labels and even services like Apple and Amazon.
I was really pleasantly surprised with Acid Rap (you can download it here; I hope I'm not circumventing Chance's control of the music by linking to this site, but Chance himself no longer offers the album on his own website). Chance is a fast-tempo rapper, with great instrumentation and lyrics by turns silly, hyper-self-conscious, and socially aware. I don't know enough about rap and trends to explain why, but it definitely has a "Chicago sound" to me, I think from the mix of complex themes, rapid-fire delivery, and lack of pretense. So I definitely recommend it.
Chance has a new mixtape out called Coloring Book. I can't say I like the one song I've heard from his new album, called No Problem, an Autotuned, southern-style collaboration with Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz where Chance doesn't really rap at all. But I guess he deserves to goof around with a song or two (and bask in his success) after the steady stream of well-thought verses on Acid Rap. Also, No Problem does have an interesting take on battle rap, since it's basically Chance challenging the record companies that he's managed to totally bypass in his rise to success. I imagine Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, two old dudes by now, must admire that Chance at less than 25 years of age has managed to do something they never did by redefining success totally free of any record label. In this sense, he's the not the youngster bolstered by stars, but rather the wise sage in the video, simply giving a guest spot to two lesser beings.