Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment dropped the much-anticipated "SURF" for free. Did it live up to the hype?
After a long wait, SURF is finally here. The debut LP from The Social Experiment (aka SOX) is billed as Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment despite the fact that the band’s biggest star is obviously Chance The Rapper. The album features, although they aren’t listed on the iTunes version of the free album, the likes of J. Cole, Big Sean, B.o.B, Busta Rhymes, and tons more, making SURF one of the year’s most star-studded affairs.
If the album’s labeling proves one thing it’s this: The Social Experiment are more concerned with the music than their own names. The members egos are shrunk enough to allow for 16 heads to contribute writing to a track, not mention them as features, and release the whole thing for free. The Social Experiment is just that: a social experiment in the hip hop world.
That’s the mindset that lead the collective to starting an open mic night. It’s the mindset that lead them to record a cover of the Arthur theme song. It’s the ability to write music and understand that it’s better suited for someone else’s voice. It’s a loss of ego, and it isn’t a coincidence that “ego death” is a very real thing one experiences on an acid trip, and lest we forget Chance exploded onto the scene via Acid Rap.
It’s quite refreshing to have an up-and-coming hip hop personality who’s more interested in creating music with his friends and impacting his community than anything else. Chance and his gang are creating their own lane and staying the course amongst a culture that revers the opposite of everything they stand for. It’s clear that SOX isn’t really interested in exclusively making rap music for fans of rap music, but instead, do something that is completely their own. That’s why they’ll release short films and instrumental world-beat jazz cuts, but also feature King Louie and Quavo from Migos on a track. In terms of progressing hip hop, Chance and the crew have done more in their short tenure than most OGs might do with a full career.
The great moments on SURF are rooted in youthful energy. Whether it’s the angsty interlude rap by Saba or the PSA “Wanna Be Cool,” these young men are experimenting with a ton of different sounds to create something completely unique.
From the soulful kick-off of “Miracle,” it’s clear that a cinematic approach has been taken to SURF. The multidimensional track goes through as many styles as most albums can conquer, and it plays out organically, like it’s Donnie, Chance, and the rest of the SOX making music in their parents' basement.
It’s about as dense as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, but maintains a much more lighthearted status. Instead of suicidal thoughts via poem, you get Donnie Trumpet’s blissful horn playing. On “Nothing Came to Me,” the horn player channels his inner Miles Davis with an intro that is definitely evoking some of Davis’ Bitches Brew genius. Trumpet takes the lead on a handful of instrumental tracks that break up the 16-track LP nicely.
While the group aren’t pigeonholing themselves into the modern rap sound, the rap element of the album is not to be understated. There are bars everywhere, and the features will rival any project released in the past decade. Busta Rhymes absolutely annihilates things on “Slip Slide” over a beat that sounds ready for the festival circuit.
“Please get to turning on the fan cause it’s warm
While I build just a little 'bout the man I was born to be
This whole planet belongs to me
We all feel the same so it belongs to we
We talkin’ all night but this is my birth right
Please can you get to bringin’ the crown to me?
Yea I know you all for it
You’ll only be deemed worthy if you stand tall for it
When you and your men were sitting, yeah, I know you all saw it!”
If you didn’t think B.o.B could follow up a verse that strong, you’re wrong. The ATLien does just fine against Busta’s tongue-twisting feature and the track is all around super strong. Listening to the album without knowing the features, how it’s intended to be heard, is exhilarating in its surprise, which is made even more apparent on the following track “Warm Enough.”
Cole comes correct with the new class of hip-hop all-stars, proving his role as a solidified member of the rap scene. Everyone from Erykah Badu to Raury also offer vocals for the collective betterment of the LP.
The messages from the album are clear and cohesive. The Social Experiment are on a mission to bring consciousness to the rap scene, as demonstrated by the back-to-back offering of “Wanna Be Cool” and then “Window.” The first is a super-positive call for you to BE YOURSELF, and although it can almost sound like it belongs in the end credits of a Nickolodean show, it’s a great message for anyone who might be dealing with high school pressure or adolescent stress. “Window” reminds you to always question everything, including Chance The Rapper, who repeats, “Don’t you look up to me, don’t trust a word I say.”
All in all, SURF is a tasty treat of progressivism and positivity within hip-hop culture. The album bounces around between modern flavors with a marching band vibe (“Slip Slide,” “Wanna Be Cool,” “Sunday Candy”), down-tempo soul offerings (“Caretaker,” “Warm Enough,” “Windows,” “Pass The Vibes”), dance beats (“Go,” “Questions”) and jazzy interludes (“Nothing Came to Me,” “Just Wait,” “Something Came to Me”). It isn’t the traditional recipe for success, but it’s 2015 and the music industry is crazy. The Social Experiment, Donnie Trumpet, Chance The Rapper, Peter Cottontale, Greg Landfair Jr., Nate Fox, and the rest of the 40-or-so writers who had a part in SURF have proven that art is best served with a dead ego.