That Chance The Rapper released his second mixtape, Acid Rap, on April 30, during Chicago’s first truly summer-like day of the year hardly seems coincidental. Summer invites conflicting emotions in the city, especially near the South Side neighborhoods where Chance was raised. On one hand, the warm weather signals the return of cookouts, beach trips, and exposed skin, but it also brings with it the skyrocketing threat of gun violence. And sure enough, like cruel clockwork, once temperatures in Chicago hit the 80s on April 30, shootings claimed three lives and left more than a dozen others wounded. Chance captures both sides of summer on Acid Rap, an intoxicatingly soulful listen that’s often as bright and joyous as those long-awaited first days of open-window weather, but also that’s sobered by the understanding that the city’s most beautiful days are also its most dangerous. “It just got warm out, this the shit I’ve been warned about / I hope that it storm in the morning, I hope that it’s pouring out,” the 20-year-old raps with shell-shaken timidity on “Pusha Man.” “Everybody dies in the summer,” he shivers, “so pray to God for a little more spring.”
Acid Rap’s portraits of growing up amid temptation and crossfire feel familiar; Kendrick Lamar explored these themes exhaustively just six months ago on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. As a young natural-born rapper with a showy technique and a nonsensical accent—he rhymes in a squawky, groggy scat that thankfully proves less grating than it seems on first exposure—Chance is destined to attract Lamar comparisons, and that’s fair, given that he seems to have cribbed at least a few ideas from his West Coast counterpart. There’s no mistaking the rappers’ personalities or presences, though. Where Lamar is saddled with a teetotaler’s conscience, Chance is a transparent druggie with a smoker’s voice and a stoner’s wandering mind. He telegraphs his drug use at every turn; it’s visible in his bloodshot eyes, and you can smell it on his cigarette-burned hoodie. And where Lamar is fundamentally left-brained, Chance is, true to his jazz singer’s voice, free and impulsive, an unabashed romantic. He vests every story with open-hearted emotion, whether he’s reliving a woozy hookup on “Lost” (“Damn, I’m in so deep / Probably cause you’re empty / You can’t even speak / Damn your mouth so minty”) or hiding from the ghost of a murdered friend on “Acid Rain” (“I seen it happen, I see it always / He still be screaming, I see his demons in empty hallways.”)
What’s most amazing about Acid Rap isn’t Chance’s talent, but how eagerly he employs it. There’s hardly a track where he isn’t pushing or testing himself, or somehow going out of his way to dazzle with torrential wordplay or euphoric, dopamine-pumped production. More than a shared ear for feel-good soul, it’s that mastery of the wow factor that positions Chance as a successor to fellow Chicagoan Kanye West. What he’s accomplished with Acid Rap is nothing short of remarkable: Just two years removed from high school, and with no label support, he’s crafted the most assured breakthrough Chicago rap release since The College Dropout.