By Randall Roberts
Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
7:45 PM EDT, May 3, 2013
This post has been updated. See below for details.
An infinite jest, Chicago lyricist Chance the Rapper's stellar new mixtape "Acid Rap" begins with a woman's seductive voice -- chanteuse Lili K. -- uttering, "Even better than I was the last time, baby, ooh oooh oooh, we back, we back, we back."
Over the following 13 songs the assured voice of Chance runs through a surreal tale of pills, rap, a Chicago high school for gifted students, cigarette stink, "chauffeurs with road rage," cocoa butter kisses, Chuck E. Cheese and LSD. "I think we're all addicted," he sings on "Cocoa Butter Kisses," adding that "if I sip any Henny my belly might just be outie."
A free mixtape released this week, "Acid Rap" is a surreal, smart, skillful batch of tracks. The man born Chancelor Bennett, 20, has a confidence matched only by the playfulness with which he deploys it. In both delivery and phrasing, he revels in an obvious love of the elasticity of language.
He continues to reference the topic of his first mixtape, last year's "#10day," with wit. That week-and-a-half was when Chance got suspended from high school. During that time he created "#10day." He's even better on "Acid Rap."
He sings, he raps, he smokes lots of cigarettes, all the while offering scenes of a city, Chicago, with a skyrocketing murder rate and gang violence that's received international attention.
Luckily a group of young rappers are documenting it. Along with Chief Keef, Rockie Fresh, Lil Reese and King Louie, Chance is telling stories that capture the scene. And, of course, the influence of fellow Chicagoan Kanye West permeates the release. But unlike West, Chance is still reporting from the streets, and doing so with a keen eye, albeit it a tripped-out one connected to the brain of a young artist admittedly on acid and nicotine and running wild.
Safe for impressionable youth? Hardly. But his best rhymes are so skillfully crafted that you forgive him his indiscretions. (Or at least I do.)
Chance is as exciting musically as he is verbally, with chaotic taste in beats and an equally chaotic — and drug-fueled — lifestyle. "Juice" features a free-spirited beat — this is some forward-thinking stuff — that suggests everything from speakeasy jazz to Outkast to Hammond B3 funk. "Swallow them synonyms like cinnamon Cinnabun / kept all them sentiments down to a minimum," he raps on "Everybody's Something."
"Cocoa Butter Kisses" is about the stank of cigarette smoke on a kid with "burn-holes on all my hoodies -- all my homies think it's dank." "Lost" is a woozy jam involving a night on cocaine and sex. Chance's way with describing his many vices lifts his already inspired guests, which include Action Bronson, Childish Gambino, Ab-Soul and B.J. the Chicago Kid. Even old-school "speed rapper" Twista steps up.
Best: Like David Foster Wallace's classic postmodern tome "Infinite Jest," "Acid Rap" works as an M.C. Escher-esque loop with no beginning or end. At the conclusion of the final track, "Everything's Good (Good Ass Outro)," the voice of the Lili K. arrives to offer more reassurance. "I'm Good," she sings. Then the work ends abruptly -- except that if you're listening on repeat, "Acid Rap" loops back to track 1, where she introduces the tape once again.
This time Lili's assurance has a new context: That she's "even better than she was the last time, baby" has context. We've just heard how good "Acid Rap" was the first time. This time is going to be even better? And the time after that even better? And, if we listen forever, each time we'll be reassured that it will continue to rise? That's some "Inception"-level stuff.
But, then, so far, after dozens of listens, "Acid Rap" has continued to ascend. With each turn of the loop, more of Chance the Rapper's exquisite way around a phrase, thought, hallucination or epiphany becomes clearer, revealing itself to be better than it was the last time.
Update, 1:43 p.m. May 6. The original version of this post didn't identify the singer who opens and closes "Acid Rap." Her name is Lili K., and her name has been added above.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times