An Ode to Acid Rap
2013 music streaming was a lawless place. Spotify was just finding its footing, Apple Music didn’t even exist, and sites like Soundcloud and DatPiff had enormous followings that listened to hours and hours of music for free. This was a time when the best option to listen to a specific song was to look it up on YouTube and let the music video play (shoutout VEVO) or purchase it on iTunes or any other digital download site. Needless to say, times have changed, but remnants from the early-2010s internet still poke their head out every so often. Opportunistic artists are re-releasing their old mixtapes and singles on the more popular streaming sites of today. Projects like Drake’s Care Package and Mac Miller’s Macadelic are two of the more recent re-releases that have ended up on Spotify and Apple Music, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Is it a great way to give fans access to the music that they fell in love with so long ago, while also providing the artists a chance to make money off of their classics. Win-win. The most popular of these re-releases is also one of the first, Chance The Rapper’s timeless 2013 mixtape Acid Rap.
Acid Rap might hold the record for “Got Me Into Rap” claims. It was accessible for nearly everyone, massively popular, and really good. The 54-minute project is filled front-to-back with incredible songs and has an impressive list of features, while never having a true low moment. Ask 13 people their favorite track and you could easily get 13 different answers (14 if you count the hidden track, “Paranoia”). Production on the tape is well above what would be expected of any sophomore independent project, featuring horns sections and melodic beats that create a strong backing track to Chance’s endearing vocals. Subject matters on the project include love, drugs, family, gun violence, feelings of loneliness, political statements, reliance on others, and any other thing that was on the mind of the talented 19-year old from Chicago. It was critically and publicly well-received with an 86/100 on Metacritic and actually charted on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Charts off of bootleg iTunes and Amazon downloads. Downloaded over 10 million times on DatPiff and streamed well over 15 million times on SoundCloud, it’s difficult to find a rap fan between the ages 18-30 that hasn’t listened to Acid Rap. It’s a generation-defining collection of music, and by all standards a classic and one of the most important projects of the 2010s.
All the statistics and accolades aside, what has solidified Acid Rap as one of the greats is the impact it had on its target audience. The back end of Millenials and beginning of Gen Z’s were in middle school, high school, and college in 2013, and Chance made music that perfectly spoke to that group. “Favorite Song” was a quotable jam that references the influencer culture well before it was most relevant, “Pusha Man/Paranoia” contrasts the lifestyle of a careless teenager with the grim realities that come with gun and gang violence, “Cocoa Butter Kisses” is about balancing bad habits and not wanting to disappoint your family, the list goes on and on. We listened to Acid Rap because we were living through what Chance was talking about. Granted, most of us didn’t live in South-Side Chicago, but we all live in the same post-traumatic age and have experienced the subject matters in different ways.
The most poignant song on the tape is “Acid Rain”, a 3 minute and 36 second-long track that is just Chance doing his sing/rap delivery, no hook to be found. He talks about the acid that helped him create the project, missing the freedoms of childhood, witnessing his childhood friend be murdered, his desire to avoid the violence he is surrounded by, dreaming of fame and being jealous of others who have already attained it, remembering his days trying to crack into the music industry, and struggling and reconnecting with religion. It’s haunting, it’s beautiful, and it’s the highest point of an incredible work of music. The song is so noteworthy it ended up on former president Barack Obama’s 2016 summer playlist a full three years after originally being released.
Nowadays, going back to the mixtape is a combination of nostalgia and admiration. Listening to the project as research for this piece took me back to a much simpler time, but it reminded me how much has changed in the almost seven years since the first time I had ever heard Acid Rap. Just like the rest of us, Chance has grown up. He’s no longer the upcoming next big thing in rap, but rather one of the more notable and famous members of the music industry. The man who once said “Bang bang bang, skeet skeet skeet/She do that thing for three retweets” now shows up on daytime talk shows and hosted SNL last year. Despite his moniker, he has become so much more than just a rapper. In the past few years, we have watched Chance evolve into a social activist, commercial actor, huge proponent of the number “3”, and a go-to ambassador for Chicago. His artistic direction has strayed away from the style that made Acid Rap so special, but this helps the legend of the mixtape grow.
Listening to music now, nothing sounds like the 2013 release. Not even the most talented of artists can match the sincerity, individuality, and enjoyability that a teenaged Chance the Rapper intertwined into Acid Rap. It’s a masterpiece made by a novice, and there will never be anything quite like it again. My recommendation would be the next time you have a long car ride or any other task where music is badly needed, throw it on and let the memories flood over you. It’s cathartic, and will remind you just how much we’ve all changed since the first time the mixtape was released on DatPiff. Just like the first lines of the tape say, Acid Rap is even better than it was the last time.