I have no reason to be thrown off by Surf
but I still am. Time and time again Chance the Rapper
has told his fans that the Social Experiment's Surf
project is not the rapidly successful rapper's first studio album. He has made it more than clear that Surf
is the brainchild of Nico Segal, the friendly face of The Social Experiment better known as Donnie Trumpet. I should have known not to take the ensemble of features Chance has been putting out as a sign of things to come, but I couldn't resist. Every beat that Chancelor Bennett stepped on was given his enticing flare and positivity, even on the most somber of tracks. In the end, this is not Chance's album, but that doesnt matter as Surf
finds itself its own story and is a downright theatrical album that doesn't let itself hide in Chances shadow.
While the Social Experiment sets out to create their own identity, the album opens up familiarly with ambient gospel vocals setting up a simplified piano beat for Chance to introduce himself on, very reminiscent of his last inviting mixtape Acid Rap
. This continues with "Slip Slide," a track boasting Nico's playful horns and clever mixing that brings in the first of a pack of features to breathe life into the record. Busta Rhymes enters with his sharp flow that fits in place with the upbeat tempo. The track comes and goes without Chance even shouting out a single adlib, and that's alright; we wont hear from him for a few tracks in fact.
The album breaks itself down as it moves along. Instrumental interludes echo Nico's soft horns to settle down the album and reestablish itself. These tracks are surrounded by both Chance's familiar groovy, stripped down tracks as well as faster, chorus focused songs like "Wanna Be Cool." While at times these more radio friendly tracks come across as a bit forcefully poppy, all of the recordings sport some sincere lyricism with enough range in the topics to keep the album fresh. "Who are you to tell me that I can't love you the way mothers love daughters," Chance responds to NoName Gypsy's impressive vocal performance. The subject matter is uplifting and soulful with a very distinct spirituality that shines across the albums entirety. Even the Versace thug himself, Migos shows a softer side on "Familiar."
However, even after recognizing that Surf
is the Social Experiment's own individual album and not trying to coast off of Chance's following, there is still one troubling fact that I cant shake: every track in which Chance is the focus sits far above the other songs on the album. That's not to say the other recordings are boring, in fact "Go" and "Pass the Vibes" shine as a pair of funky dance and groove tracks that add something that Chance simply can't; but still, every time Chano gets to do what he does best just hits the spot. There's a reason he has seen so much rapid success; the kid's got talent. His unique sense of rhythm that he uses to create smooth flows with intelligent lyricism leads to brilliant tracks. The album's single "Sunday Candy" is all the evidence needed to show this. It's a good thing that the album doesn't hide underneath Chance, but maybe it should have been a bit more recognizing of the chemistry at hand.
It really is tough to resist wanting to hear Chance on every track, but after getting over the initial realization that this isn't his album, letting Surf
be what it is trying to be creates a much more enjoyable experience. After all, the album is much more than another Chance the Rapper mixtape; it's a well crafted album that uses the wide variety of talent to create some seriously fun and cool tracks. The album can shine without even noticing Chance's absence, but when he does come out, boy is it good.