Picking one song from Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment's ebullient new album to talk about is no easy task. Surf is so layered, so textured and such a vibrant body of work that singling out one song feels almost like you're not doing the entire album justice.
The group consists of Donnie Trumpet, a.k.a. Nico Segal, trumpeter, bandleader, producer and sometimes percussionist; keyboardist and producer Peter "Peter Cottontale" Wilkins; producer and engineer Nate Fox; drummer Greg "Stix" Landfair Jr.; and, most famously, Chancellor "Chance The Rapper" Bennett. Surf is an expansive group effort that combines live instrumentation and drum machines — as well as sung, rapped and sing-rapped vocals — into a lush, nearly hour-long musical experience in which Donnie's trumpet provides the linchpin. And, though it features the talents of Busta Rhymes, Big Sean and, of course, Chance, Surf is only a rap album in the loosest sense. On iTunes, it's categorized as "pop." In this instance, that just means music that's intended to have broad, genre-blurring appeal. Surf is definitely pop, but more precisely a rap-, neo-soul- and jazz-inflected version of it.
Yes, it's hard to pick a favorite on a fun record that features surprise appearances from Janelle Monae and newcomer D.R.A.M., but today "Familiar" is the one that's doing it for me. In the song, we find Chance, alongside King Louie and Migos' Quavo, addressing the timeworn topic of groupies. A rap cliche, for sure, but their approach here is comical enough to make a cynical rap fan forget just how familiar the subject matter is.
"Familiar" is their way of saying, "We've seen your kind before, you're not original" to those who would assume that good looks are enough to impress this discerning trio. For his verse, Chance uses reincarnation as a metaphor in his dismissal of superficiality: "We met in a life where we were both cats / Our owners were neighbors, have fun with that / What's funnier is yours had eight different cats / The same shade of black and I'm blind as a bat."
And, while Chance gets abstract, fellow Chicagoan King Louie gets personal, bringing family into the fray: "If your mama say you special then your mama ain't the truest / With her lyin' ass / With her fine ass / With her giant ass / She regular, too." Perhaps the most surprising guest appearance comes from Quavo, whom we're more accustomed to hearing over the synth and piano trap sounds of producers Zaytoven and Metroboomin. Instead, in "Familiar" we get his sing-song warble over muted horn riffs and handclaps, as he recognizes all-too-familiar faces from video shoots. Like the album as a whole, it's counter-intuitively charming. Looks like the Social Experiment is a success.
The self-released Surf is available now, for free download.
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