Chance the Rapper, Experimentalist

Singing Coldplay, covering Kanye, and refusing to sell his music, this Chicago MC is the unlikeliest star of 2013.

In July, Chance the Rapper made it on to the Billboard Top 100 chart, a big accomplishment for any young artist. But it was the last thing the 20-year-old Chicagoan wanted. One of the year’s most exciting, groundbreaking hip-hop releases, Chance’s Acid Rap mixtape was meant to be free. Not “free if you have a Samsung Galaxy S III.” or even “pay what you want.” Chance has fought fiercely to keep Acid Rap available free online—accruing none of the sales figures that Billboard tracks—but it ended up at #63 anyway via bootleg sales on iTunes and Amazon before it was taken down.

Chance doesn’t need the charts with the volume of hype he’s garnered, receiving rapper-of-the-year honors from Spin and album-of-the-year nods from Rolling Stone, Stereogum, and countless indie blogs—as well as a request to feature on a Justin Bieber track.

The Chicago MC’s voice takes some getting used to. He doesn’t come across menacing or especially smooth, sounding more like Gilbert Gottfried than Gucci Mane. But Chance plays this as a strength. The brash, nasal tones make his off-kilter flow sound even more jarring. When Chance shows up on a track, there’s no mistaking his voice for anyone else’s.

Chance also stands out for his material disregard in a hip-hop year largely concerned with affluence. Jay-Z compares himself to entrepreneur Tom Ford; Kanye West isn’t satisfied with his service at “French-ass restaurants”; and Drake started from the bottom (but now he’s here, so it’s all good). Chance doesn’t constantly name-drop his favorite designers or brag about how much his jewelry is worth. That’s not where he comes from. The 20-year-old raps about what he knows.

“Raps just made me anxious, and acid made me crazy,” he says in the first verse of Acid Rap’s “Good Ass Intro.” As the mixtape’s title implies, Chance’s life swirls with drug use. It’s a theme he carries through every track to reveal bits and pieces of his autobiography—sometimes in lines like “Put Visine in my eyes so my grandma would fucking hug me” on “Coco Butter Kisses,” other times in drawn-out narratives. On “Acid Rain,” he drops acid and takes a nostalgic walk in the rain, asking “God to show his face.”

This boundary-testing extends beyond the pharmaceutical for the artist whose Social Experiment Tour arrives in Seattle this week. Chance is just as unpredictable in his live sets. Lately he’s taken to covering Coldplay’s hit “Fix You,” singing the entire song. He’s even broken out Kanye’s The College Dropout single “All Falls Down” on occasion.

Chance is still a growing artist. Part of his appeal is that his music feels wild, unhinged, and awesomely reckless. Time will tell if the rapper is at his creative peak, or if all that experimentation will lead to further ascent. Either way, it’s probably a good idea to catch him now. With DJ Rashad and Spinn. Showbox SoDo, 1700 First Ave. S., 652-0444, $20 adv./$25 DOS. 8 p.m. Sun., Dec. 15.

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