‘The Social Experiment’ (SOX) is the future of bands. In a world where music is increasingly moving from the guitar rack to the laptop, the concept of “band” is becoming outdated. Kids these days are more likely to choose Ableton or FL Studio over Fender and Pearl. Yet here is a band that sits comfortably in-between both sides of the spectrum. They are a group made up of musicians who have their fingers reaching deep into the contemporary hip hop scene, coming to you from a passionate background in soul, jazz and funk music. The core members of SOX are Donnie Trumpet, Chance The Rapper, Peter Cottontale (Producer and Keyboardist), Greg Landfair Jr. (Drummer), and Nate Fox (Producer), as well as an impressive total of fifty-seven contributors including Busta Rhymes, Janelle Monaé, Erykah Badu, J. Cole, and up-and-coming favourite Raury, to name a few.
A lot of the hype building up to this release was because people saw it as a new Chance the Rapper album. Which makes sense since he’s the main vocalist (and we all know they always get the most fame); not to mention he promoted the shit out of it on his social media accounts; and, of course, he’s the most famous in the group. However, a majority of the concept and most of the composition came from the trumpeter Nico Segal, AKA Donnie Trumpet. As a fan of jazz, and an ex-horn player myself, it makes me pretty happy to see such a big project being led by a trumpet player in this day and age because it shows that instruments like this aren’t completely outdated and can still have important roles in modern music.
Trumpet enthusiasm aside, Chance the Rapper still plays a crucial role in Surf. He only features on nine out of the impressive sixteen tracks, but to me it almost feels as if he is the narrator of the greater story being told throughout. Often he will be the first or the last vocalist on a track, just popping in to give his part of the story and then allowing other featuring artists to reinforce this message. The way that this is constructed works fantastically in tying the album together as a whole, without question defining it as and “album” and not a “mixtape”.
My two favourite songs are the polar opposite tracks Sunday Candy and Windows. Sunday Candy is definitely the most mainstream, single-worthy track that appears on Surf, but that’s not a bad thing at all. It’s a beautiful song that mixes elements of pop, gospel and hip hop combined with some of Chance’s best lyrics and an amazing chorus sung by Jamila Woods. Despite being the least “alternate”-sounding part of the album it still has depth musically. Filled with beats, rhythms, and layers continually changing between being really thick and complex then breaking to a much thinner texture to place the focal point on Jamila’s melody. Windows is completely opposite in the way that it is one of the slower, more relaxed, quieter songs. It has a strong soul vibe and reminds me of the first piece SOX ever did together which was a heavenly cover of the Arthur theme song [LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTkmSKzT3xM]. The fact that there are two very different tracks on the same album that are equally beautiful in their own way is a testament to just how talented the team who produced Surf are.
One of the only issues I have with this album is that there isn’t strong “single power”. Like I already mentioned, Sunday Candy is pretty much the only song that feels like it could be played on the radio and be attractive to larger audiences. Many of the other songs are clearly tailored to appeal to “real” appreciators of music than your average radio junkie. They released Sunday Candy with a great music video [LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4ooH8frBWg] that landed a largely positive response that will lead to many people checking out the rest of the album. But in my opinion, many will disappointed because they’ll get something different to what they expected. Then again, maybe that’s a good thing, and I think it’s something that SOX probably know and don’t really care about.
Personally, I loved this album. It’s something very different to a lot of other music being put out today, but still modern enough to work. Surf is superb for listening to all the way through, but still has enough great tracks to have favourites you can play separately. The Social Experiment and all it’s contributors have succeeded in creating a largely enjoyable and technically interesting fresh breath of air.
Written by Sam Pfister