A few years removed from Acid Rap’s 2013 debut as a free mixtape, it’s surprisingly easy to hear impending greatness in Chance the Rapper. This hindsight comes, of course, well after the BET, Soul Train, and NAACP Image awards for best new artist, the Best Rap Album Grammy, hosting Saturday Night Live, the noted influence on rap demigod Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, the friendship with the Obama family, the Kit Kat endorsement, and so on. But it’s here, across 13 genre-melding tracks (14, if you count the second half of “Pusha Man”), on the follow-up to 2012's debut 10 Day.
In the moment, Chance the Rapper’s aesthetics—a distinct singing voice stretched in all directions over a jazzy confluence of choir melodies, R&B guitar lines, vintage soul samples, trap drums, golden-era hip-hop beats, and Chicago juke music—were something of an outlier within his city's emerging drill music scene. “I dropped 10 Day the same year Chief Keef started blowing up,” Chance told Apple Music’s Nadeska. “All the labels came into Chicago and the drill movement came up and it was a lot of pressure. Also around that time was when Chief Keef worked with Ye, so there was a big question of, 'Yo, you're the dude that super loves Ye, you’re quote-unquote “conscious rap.” You should be doing this stuff.' So I just had a lot of pressure to bring something.”
Chance would inevitably link with Kanye, but most who found their way to Acid Rap were looking for an alternative to drill. Which is not to say that Chance didn’t acknowledge the plight of his hometown. Topically, the second half of the album’s “Pusha Man” (colloquially known as “Paranoia”) is one of the most affecting songs of the period, with Chance singing, “Everybody dies in the summer/Wanna say goodbye?/Tell 'em while it’s spring.” Elsewhere, he uses his melodic croak to reminisce on the simple joys of childhood (“Cocoa Butter Kisses”), the man he’s becoming (“Lost”), and problems within his relationship (“Acid Rain”).
Acid Rap’s guests are mostly voices just left of hip-hop center (Childish Gambino, Action Bronson, Ab-Soul), but Chance also made it a point to include Chicago speed-rap legend Twista and to introduce listeners to the young genius of Noname. So who then, by way of this 13-song conflation of sounds and voices, could have have known that Chance the Rapper would go on to become one of the most celebrated voices in hip-hop and a force of pop culture in his own right? The answer, simply enough, is anyone who would have listened.