Ride the wave: Surf album review
Surf is an eclectic mix of smooth instrumentation, catchy melodies and inventive guest appearances
Artist: Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
Release Date: May 28
Social media erupted the night of May 28, harkening the release of Chance the Rapper’s album, Surf. There was only one problem: it wasn’t his album.
Technically, Surf is an album from Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, a Chicago-based band that produces a unique blend of live instrumentation.
The quartet is made up of Chance the Rapper, Peter Cottontale, Nate Fox and Donnie Trumpet.
Chance the Rapper’s meteoric rise into rap stardom began back in 2013 with his critically acclaimed mixtape, Acid Rap. Chance made his name by implementing new styles to a rapidly homogenizing rap genre. He did this by adding in scratchy, bluesy vocals to his songs, and rapping over beats and melodies that no mainstream rap star dared touch.
The success of the mixtape gave the band a large residual buzz and it’s because of this that many people make the mistake of calling Surf a Chance the Rapper album.
The band brought together by the rapper totes a very unique blend of live brass instrumentation with synthesized keyboards and other electronic instruments. This combined with the hypnotizing raps and vocals from Chance makes for a completely one-of-a-kind listening experience.
One of the main goals of The Social Experiment is to release music absolutely free of charge. They’ve kept that promise in Surf.
After frantically searching for the right link to take you to the download page on iTunes, you’ll find a 16 song album running a little less than one hour long. The first song: “Miracle,” begins with harmonized vocals and instruments somewhat reminiscent of an orchestra warming up.
The song progresses into a slow, lulling hum with softer sounds. The music abruptly stops and reemerges with a rhymed monologue from Chance. “Miracle” is the quintessential song on Surf. It gives listeners a true taste of what the album has in store: smooth live-instrumentation mixed with synthesized rhythms and lyrics that aren’t exactly rapped, but aren’t exactly sung either. Surf is an anomaly in every aspect and it comes together to form something very special.
Instrumentation is a big aspect of Surf; in fact, a few songs are just instrumentation.
The standout of one of these songs is “Just Wait.” The song starts off with running synthesized horns. The melody is quite similar to something your younger self might have heard playing Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog on your Nintendo. The song progresses and you hear a few lyrics that in many respects complement the instrumentation, but they’re in no way the main focus of the song.
While the instrumentation surely sets the album apart, Surf is packed with guest features that create musical scenarios that no one would even consider in their wildest dreams.
The song “Slip Slide” has instrumentation similar to that of a New Orleans funeral procession with heavy trumpet and drum sounds. Then, out of nowhere: Busta Rhymes.
Imagine a New Orleans Funeral with Busta Rhymes and B.o.B. rapping the eulogy, featuring vocal support from BJ The Chicago Kid and Janelle Monae. You’ve just visualized what “Slip Slide” sounds like.
Perhaps the craziest thing about these collaborations is, no matter how weird the idea sounds, it works. Every time.
Some collaborations are more mundane, like J. Cole and Nonamegypsy in “Warm Enough,” or Big Sean, Jeremih and Kyle in “Wanna be Cool,” while others come straight out of left-field, such as the before-mentioned features on “Slip Slide,” and “Familiar” – a song sounding like a weird mix between sitcom theme song and GAP commercial, featuring some bars from King Louie, and Quavo from the Atlanta trio Migos.
While every song on the album brings something different, “Wanna Be Cool,” “Go” and “Sunday Candy” really perfect the Surf formula of instrumentation, features and overall song progression.
All three of these songs offer up something great and something different. Whether it be the overall message in “Wanna Be Cool,” which challenges our beliefs on what defines being ‘cool,’ to stellar vocals from Jesse Boykins III on “Go,” to the carefree, feel-good nature of “Sunday Candy,” all of these songs offer something great and memorable.
The eclectic nature of Surf shouldn’t sound all that great if you think about it, but for whatever reason it just connects. Surf is unlike anything else out, because it simply can’t be placed in a box. Song-by-song and as an album as a whole, Surf is a truly unique entity.
The biggest injustice one can commit against Surf is limiting it to a certain genre. Fans who had hoped it would be a rap album with a psychedelic Chance flair, such as in Acid Rap, would be mistaken. Surf is far from a regular old rap album. It’s far from a regular anything album.
Surf has the opportunity to set a precedent for artists of all genres to break out of the mold and try something new, whether that is collaborating with artists of other genres or introducing styles and sounds that aren’t commonly found in their respective genres.
James Battle is the arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org