Save Money, The Social Experiment, Donnie Trumpet, Nico Segal, Chance the Rapper. These names, some of which characterize the same people, also characterize a particular sound which is making itself prominent in the hip-hop scene, a sound that we are hearing on recent releases from artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Mick Jenkins, and sound which is arguably more organic than much of the other hip hop music hitting the shelves these days. We first heard Nico Segal, who goes by the moniker of Donnie Trumpet on his eponymous EP back in 2013 and were able to surface the complexities of his trumpet-playing abilities; somewhat of a soft warmup. But just like much of everything else that products of The Save Money Crew create, the new project Surf falls right out of bounds as one of the most whacky but refreshingly pleasant things you have heard in a while. Right in time for the summer, the album was released for free on iTunes and can be heard in the background of many Snapchat videos while people taking them appear to be doing something mysterious or deep in thought. So what is the buzz? For one, the soulful capabilities of the instrumentation blend exceptionally well with Chance the Rapper’s spoken word style of rapping, probably better than any other because of the deliberate delivery of each word (this can be heard best on the opening track). The jazz band is light and fun in nature; a wonderful blend of world fusion, beach sound, house/dance and neo-soul, but also provides an earthy feel when need be, like for example on the breakout track “Warm Enough”, feat. fellow Chicagoan MC Noname Gypsy and J. Cole. In fact, the track is nothing more or less than a spoken word piece brilliantly disguised within the entire piece and provides somewhat of a core essence to the entire project. The two instrumentals, “Nothing Came to Me” and “Something Came to Me”, play off of each other in a supreme way, somewhat of a night and day type of reflection where one side presents the eerie and frustrated and the other, the contentment and relief, however both reflecting the likes of those such as Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, a woven homage in a way. If this album was not already innovative enough, it is chock-full of amazing feature artists, including B.o.B, Busta Rhymes, BJ the Chicago Kid, Janelle Monae, J. Cole, Big Sean, Jeremih, Saba, King Louie, Erykah Badu, Jesse Boykins III and even Migos. This assortment of features bring the added depth and versatility to the project, sort of a “just-when-you-thought-you-heard-it-all” reminder to listeners. There are also many messages that are intended to be delivered on this project. In particular, the track “Wanna Be Cool” represents the epitome of after school anti-bullying campaign, but knowing this group of musicians they ironically had to pull a “cool guy” to be on the track, and employed none other than Big Sean to do the job. Over instrumental backing that sounds like an episode of the children’s show Arthur, you can hear Big Sean rapping lyrics such as “I mean back before I could afford a faux fur/I was off of that debt, me and my mama/Hand-me-downs was the only time I got designer man. The importance of this message pulls at the inner Black middle school child in all of us and tugs at the heartstrings with all of its might and maybe even at the conscious of us still as adults. All and all, The Social Experiment and Chance the Rapper have set the bar remarkably high for originality standards to be heard on any other release for a long while. And for them, this was probably less than intentional in every way possible.
Best Track: “Warm Enough” ft. Noname Gypsy and J Cole
Best Production: “Slip Slide” ft. Busta Rhymes, BJ The Chicago Kid, B.o.B, Janelle Monáe
Video: “Nothing Came to Me”