Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment - Surf Review

Few would argue against the fading importance of geographic hotspots that once ruled Hip-Hop. The cosmic shift, solely due to the Internet, has deteriorated that locational prided rappers once dabbled in, with every new head hailing from the World Wide Web. As human as we are still artists need to sprout up somewhere and there's no greater city fostering that than Chicago, the 2010's pioneering hub for Hip-Hop. Much like New York in the early 90's saw Gangsta Rap compete against the D.A.I.S.Y Age, Chi town is doing the same with Drill and Juke. The former's meddling sonically and lyrically in their dire situations, the latter's attempting to improve it. This is largely what makes Surf, Donnie Trumpet & The Social Expierment's free album, interesting. It arises a full bloom flower out of the city streets, surrounded by grime, violence, and despair, yet capable of making 2015's best, and brightest, summer album. Surf sparks life in a brittle place, it adventures to be weird, experimental, outrageous, and positive at nearly every turn. The Social Experiment, as its namesake implies, ventures into the unknown, a progressive statement that to best give back to the community one must be part of the community itself, placing Chance The Rapper on the same plateau as the Soundcloud rapper that bookends the album.

This declaration is distinctly made upon first hearing Busta Rhymes abruptly insert himself on 'Slip Slide,' despite his name not being mentioned in the title. In fact, all features here, surprising as they are complementary, aren't mentioned beforehand. This list includes J Cole, Noname Gypsy, B.O.B., and Migos amongst others, an absurd assortment that somehow all fit in place. The biggest discrepancy between Social Experiment's endearing sound and feature typicality is with Quavo of Migos and fellow Chicago Drill artist King Louie on 'Familiar.' The commitment to their experimentation hits its pinnacle here, as goofy flutes, xylophones, and trumpets parade around not just Chance but the two grizzled, autotune-influenced features without a hitch. The same summer brandishing throughout Surf sparks life in these features, like Big Sean on 'Wanna Be Cool' who assumes a self-depreciating view of his childhood, something drastically different than the braggadocios nature he's now consumed with, or J Cole who professes his love in poetic fashion on 'Warm Enough,' the heartfelt honesty permeating the troubles of said relationship. What makes Surf sound like a momentous occasion is this overindulgence in human effort, with each working cog, and there are dozens of them, benefiting the whole to beam through the positive sides of life.

This does work to its disadvantage at times though. Without much to draw comparisons towards the initial direction is that of Chance's Acid Rap, an album similar in sound but bubbling with hardships. The summit of his incongruity came on 'Pusha Man,' where a three-part epic unraveled your typical Chicago day, culminating in gunshots. Surf, apart from an oddly somber refrain at the conclusion of 'Slip Slide,' is a largely joyous affair, so much so it tends to discount pressing issues. Needless to say it doesn't need to, but with its obsessive joy comes a one-dimensional palate, as songs tend to stand out on their own sonically. This sound though, taken in pieces, is excellent. As apparent, the commandeering instrument is that of Donnie Trumpet's trumpet, capable of arousing two distant decades and mating Hip-Hop's past with its future. The beat structure on many tracks, like 'Just Wait' and 'Windows,' are vibrant and sporadic, emphasizing alternative means to carry the track. The former begins with a jubilant trumpet solo before devolving into a hollowed bass-driven beat with warped vocals, while the latter starts off mellow and serene as it escalates to a jungle romp complete with hand claps, background vocals, and tribal drums.

Possibly the oddest comparison you can find thus far is that of Big Boi's Got Purp Vol.2, a collective album featuring the new cast of the Dungeon Family. The album, while not reaching a wide audience, offered up a who's who for members of the group, allowing them their moment in the spotlight. Here it's the same thing. There are a remarkable 57 people who worked on Surf, each one, whether their name is in the liner notes or not, plays a prominent role in its creation. In many instances this leads to expose's that offer a taste more than a fully-fleshed out song. 'Caretaker' allows D.R.A.M. to accentuate his buttery smooth chops, while 'SmthnthtIwnt' features Saba pouring his verbose lyricism on the 90 second affair. It's an effort that can be commended as in the ever-changing landscape of Hip-Hop getting these many people to work on a single project is a strong testament to its message. The excessive work of everyone involved comes to a head on 'Sunday Candy,' the album's lead single. A whopping 14 people have a part in the song, and it shows. Each part, each instrument, is lead by an aspiring expert, people who lend their craft to the piano, the trombone, the voice, etc. When they all come together the jam band session retorts to a happy-go-lucky form of escapism. 

The utopian approach Surf, and all of The Social Experiment, employs is a welcomed change in a genre obsessed with realism. Tracks like 'Pass The Vibes' execute a romantic trip down the pier with nothing more than a xylophone and melody, resenting the nostalgic addendum for a future vision of the life everyone wants to live. Not everything goes over well though. Shockingly, 'Rememory' featuring Erykah Badu is one of the weaker tracks here, as is Donnie Trumpet's two instrumental segues, thanks not to a talentless musician but rather the emptiness in which he encompasses, the Rap equivalent of two three+ minute acoustic monologues. But when all artists are on point, and many here are, things go off without a hitch. Everyone comes together to efficaciously convert whatever sound they provide to the heart of the pure, pristine, and positive. If 'Familiar' can be as good as it is, much like Jamie xx's 'Good Times,' then anything musically is possible when you never take it too seriously. The most oft-putting thing here is its cover, a flaring misrepresentation of the colorful music contained within. Surf details a world where, when Janelle Monae (yes, she's on this) is put on the same pedestal as Sima Cunningham, everyone wins. The group, the listeners, the society.

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