In the year and a half since he released his breakout mixtape, Acid Rap, Chance the Rapper has charted a remarkable course. Forgoing signing with a major label, the Chicago rapper has remained independent, all the while steadily vaulting himself to the upper echelons of the hip-hop universe through rigorous touring and a steady dose of choice guest spots on songs from high-profile artists — Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne and Skrillex.
Still, his own musical output — which now includes a slow-burning satirical song “No Better Blues” — has been relatively quiet since Acid Rap. Soon that’s all about to change: in an exclusive interview with Billboard, Chance reveals that he and his band, the Social Experiment, have been slaving away in an L.A. studio, receiving help and support from the likes of Frank Ocean and Rick Rubin and recording with everyone from Migos to J. Cole for a series of projects they plan to release over the coming months.
The first such project, entitled Surf, highlights his trumpet player Nico Segal (better known as Donnie Trumpet), and will be released for free online by year’s end. According to Chance, it’s his most prominent showing since Acid Rap.
Always one to indulge his wildest musical fantasies — see a cover of the Arthur theme song, “Wonderful Everyday” — Chance also divulged how he’s drumming up a new live show for 2015 that borders on musical theater, and is heavily inspired by The Lion King musical. “My new shows are almost like watching a movie. It’s like going to a play or something,” he explains in a no-holds-barred interview that touches on his steadfast insistence to remain independent, his musical future, and how he’s over performing Acid Rap.
In “No Better Blues” you say you hate, well, virtually everything from “handshakes, pancakes” to “optimistic smirks on the face of children.”
That piece was in a stream of songs that I was writing for these projects that I’m working on. I’m working on several projects between the band: we’re all doing our own solo projects with production and vocals from everybody. One of the nights we were just bringing up songs and going through it, and at the time when I wrote it, I had just released “Arthur” and there was a lot of backlash. I think when it first came out it wasn’t fully realized. When I say “it” I mean the reviews on it. I think people weren’t able to really understand where I was coming from or really articulate what they were trying to say about the song. So it was a lot of quick snap judgments. And not that they were negative or off base, but everything I was reading at the time was people saying they hated something. Whether it was that they were hating the monotony or repetitiveness of the music they were hearing and trying to put my music in contrast, I dunno. I was just wrapped up in this idea that anybody could dislike a song that was positive. And positivity is something that’s almost a joke at this point. So I think certain people couldn’t really understand it.
So from that you decided to write a song about everything you supposedly hate?
I was talking with the guys trying to make a song about things that I actually hate, and then it became more of a satirical thing where it was to a point where I was like, “I’m going to write about things I couldn’t possibly hate.” At a certain point I realized the best way to write it would be to attack it from a standpoint where it’s not necessarily obvious satire. Yet some people still seem to think you were actually being serious and are all depressed.
I wanted there to be a certain level of confusion about it, because they are things that people might find themselves saying on a regular basis that they hate. Like the war or the government. It was just poking fun at saying that you hate anything. There’s so much positivity in the world and your day-to-day life that to go as far as to say that you hate something or you wish it didn’t exist and all the bad things in the world happen to you and only you, it’s a joke. It’s not real to have that much hate in your heart.
Seeing as this came out on a random night, is it safe to say you have a lot of songs backlogged and are just waiting for the time to release them?
Yeah. Well that’s the thing — everybody’s got their own things going. [Producer/bandmate] Peter [Cottontale]’s been working on a lot of scoring for films, [producer/bandmate] Nate [Fox] has been doing a lot of work with Hollywood Records and doing production for a lot of different artists, [bandmate] Donnie [Trumpet], we’re working the hardest on his project because it’s the closest to release.
And you’ll be on that?
Yeah. Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment is the first group project to drop and the first thing that I’ll be heavily involved in since Acid Rap. And I have my own stuff that I’ve been working on and I’ve been producing for other artists and writing for other artists and writing with other artists. So all that shit is an influence. There’s so many different genres being covered and being created every time we start on something. I’m just so much more focused on creating an atmosphere with each song. I’m working on each song as a project in itself.
You mentioned you’ve been working with other artists. Care to indulge further?
We’re working really closely with Francis Starlite from Francis and the Lights. He’s been a really been a big help on Surf. Damn, I’m saying these things like people know it. Surf is the first project, which is coming out before the end of 2014. It’s the first Social Experiment project. It’s a big step for all of us all putting our heads together and letting Nico [Segal, a.k.a Donnie Trumpet] hold the reigns and carry it. There’s a lot of great instrumentation. A lot of input from cool writers. I’m already saying too much.
Who else have you been working with? We see your Instagram where you’re meeting tons of the biggest names in music.
Well, we worked with Migos. We worked with J. Cole. We did some work with Emily King just last week. Somebody who helped us out a lot with just getting into the project was Rick Rubin. And Frank Ocean. There’s been a lot of just people in the studio watching us work almost like a house band. People come in just to watch us jam out.
That’s wild you worked with Frank, considering you shouted him out on Acid Rap‘s “Chain Smoker.”
That’s the thing. There are certain people that I never would have dreamed that I’d end up in the same room as at this point in my life.
Like Kanye West, whom you met at Made in America.
It was different with ‘Ye because I haven’t really sat down in a studio setting with him. I met him on some really quick shit.
Have you gotten in the studio with Pharrell? I saw via your Instagram you met him recently.
Uh huh. Uh, I uh, that’s the thing [laughs]. I don’t want to make this about necessarily who I’ve worked with.
I feel you. Let’s get back then to your upcoming projects. It seems you’re in no rush to release the next official Chance the Rapper project.
Well, that’s the whole thing. For one, obviously, I’m in a band. The band has been backing me on a lot of the shows, so when you go to a Chance the Rapper show it’s billed as a Chance the Rapper show, and even though you bought a ticket for a Chance the Rapper show, you end up going to a Social Experiment concert, you know? And you get the full experience of the musicality of four seasoned players. It’s something different. It’s something new. It’s a bit of theater. It’s a culmination of going to all these dope concerts and seeing cool Broadway plays. A lot of influence has come from The Lion King musical. You could probably tell if you listen to “Arthur.” We’ve been trying to take in all these cool, different outside cultural experiences and make that into a free listenable project. That’s the new thing.
So you view yourself almost as a leader of a band?
Well, it’s not like I owe them because they are the curators of Acid Rap and #10Day and have been my boys since Day One, but because I need them to make the great music I want to make. I’m not so focused on making a radio hit. I’m more focused on making great pieces. I think of “No Better Blues” as a piece and “Arthur” as a piece. In my mind, I never really have to drop a project. I never really feel inclined to.
It’s almost as if you feel it’s equally effective to put out 10 songs over 10 months as opposed to one 10-track album.
Yeah. That’s the cool thing: I can do whatever I want. And I’ve got to really flex that unlimited capability of an independent artist. I can do whatever videos I want, I can play whatever shows I want, I can release when I want, talk how I want, freely about any subject. I have a certain responsibility and I feel like conforming to the mixtape to mixtape to album rule would just defeat the whole purpose of not signing [with a major label]. It’s also really about being a starving artist.
You feel like a starving artist? You’re selling out major venues.
I’m not a chain-buying-ass n–ga. I’m still a very frugal person. But everything that does get spent is a reinvestment into my own music. Which is why I own a bus and print all my own merchandise and run my own website and do my own releases and partner with really cool helpful companies like SoundCloud. ‘Cause I think a lot of people have the same idea of music and where it’s going and the direction it’s moving and a lot of people understand that music is going to surpass the industry. It existed before the industry and it’ll exist afterwards.
So after this college tour you’re currently on, what are the touring plans for next year?
We have an idea for what we want to do next year following [the release] of Surf and [another project entitled] SOX and everything else that is to come. We’ve been really, really focused on The Lion King musical and stage design and use of props in the theater setting and trying to make a very cool musical-kinda thing. Like musical theater. So we’re working on that. It’s still in the development process. I’m really excited; the band’s really excited. But the way the show goes right now we’ve made it a little more refreshing. We’ve been playing newer records like “Paradise” and “Gold” and “No Better Blues” and “Windows.” Just shit that people haven’t really heard and giving them a new experience.
You’re clearly tired of performing Acid Rap.
I’m definitely tired of playing Acid Rap. I’m definitely tired of playing “Juice.” I’m in a place where I want to give people that… I want to have a giant room full of kids screaming but I want a certain order to it. I love throwing the raw energy around and being neurotic and sporadic on stage and freaking people out and using all my energy. But when there are cool and calm three-song medleys that play out like a play, that’s the shit I’m into. I’m finally learning how to work like a choir director.