Written by DeRa Brinson
This Sonic Breakdown will cover Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s album Surf. This was my introduction to Donnie Trumpet; I have heard several projects from Chance the Rapper, who is an essential part of the group. It will be presented as usual, with a breakdown of each track followed by a conclusion on the album as a whole. This was album was recommended by reader Jason.
The album begins with sounds that evoke a spiritual experience combined with a hint of neo soul. This is accomplished through the angelic background singers’ harmony and the airy production. The horns lend a cinematic and polished quality, adding to the gospedelic atmosphere. “Gospedelic” is term meaning the combination of soul, gospel, and R & B, as coined by Raphael Saadiq. The beat really kicks in as Chance the Rapper begins to flow in a traditional style. The piano and bass guitar add to the neo soul feel. The theme of the song is appreciating the miracles around us that occur all the time, from “momma singing” to “snow is melting.” It is reminding us to appreciate all the wonders of the world from the biggest to the smallest. This is a nice message and sound for our embarkation of this album.
A marching band sound is used for the production by way of the drum line and horns. Busta Rhymes has the first verse, and his rapping style is perfect for this type of high-energy beat. Busta agrees with the chorus of being able to stand on his own for what he believes in and not allowing his future to be determined by someone else. B.o.B has the second verse, and the line “Nas was looking at Me, pockets was lookin’ through me” highlights the sentiment of how music can resonate with listeners as if the artist is speaking directly to them, like B.o.B. felt Nas was addressing him when he was hurting financially. B.o.B and Busta both do the production justice. A New Orleans jazz style is sprinkled throughout, adding to the celebratory atmosphere. Chance sings the outro over a softer, more ominous tone, expressing it is not easy to stand up for your beliefs, rather it is easier to sit down and do nothing. He is basically alluding to the saying “It is better to die on your feet standing for what you believe in then to die on your knees for nothing.”
A dark tone carried over from the previous track is present here. Noname Gypsy sings the hook with so much eeriness juxtaposed against her rapping in a clear direct tone, allowing more depth. She has a poetic cadence and quality to her singing voice that pushes the neo soul vibe forward. Chance is on the second verse, and J. Cole is on the third verse. The concept is a love song and determining the amount of love one has for another or if that love is enough. J. Cole sounds like this song could have been a bonus track on his 2014 Forest Hills Drive album due to how easily he navigates the vibe.
“Nothing Came to Me”
A jazz-inspired trumpet begins to play, creating an atmosphere of fear, questioning, and acceptance, all through instrumentation. The sonic properties give off a cinematic aura. The track allows for interpretation that I believe begins with something sneaky going on, which is followed by the understanding or discovery of the underhanded deed. A brief feeling of anger and frustration is exhibited until a wave of relief or clarity occurs. The clarity occurs when the idea of how to handle the situation develops. The track ends with a sense of joy in knowing a plan is in progress. The title suggests that Donnie was allowing the instrument to lead or direct this song, and this is the result because nothing came to him.
“Wanna Be Cool”
A glee-club atmosphere is first heard through the harmonizing of several voices comprising the beat. The other layers of the production, like the piano, come into play as Chance and Jeremiah sing the chorus, “I don’t wanna be cool.” A Harry Belafonte/ Michael Jackson upbeat, happy vibe can be felt. Jeremiah adds to the polished aspects of the chorus, contributing to the Jackson comparison. Big Sean has the first verse, speaking on his upbringing before he became famous. Kyle uses a somewhat condescending tone about the hypocrisy in what is considered cool or not cool, in the framework that it isn’t needed.
A more introspective tone is used here to bring us back from the high feeling of the last song. The theme presented here is that of being weary of following people, particularly entertainers or celebrities, and taking things at face value. Chance seems to be pushing the concept of fact checking and formulating your own opinions as opposed to just being a follower. Toward the end of the track, an African or tribal vibe is absorbed through the use of African drums.
This features a slow, deep bass rumble with a piano that brings back that neo soul/R & B D’Angelo “How does it feel” type of atmosphere. D.R.A.M sings in a melodic croon that adds so much emotion to the one condensed verse of this short song. He is informing a particular woman that he can provide and take care of her needs regardless of her relationship conditions.
The album oscillates back to a high-energy song that is pushed by the trumpet. This is a very uplifting track that inspires you to move or dance before it begins to settle down and switches for Chance the Rapper’s verse.
A very free, jovial song by way of the playful bohemian production while remaining well polished and thought out. This is a song where Chance’s lack of singing ability adds to the uplifting lightheartedness. The flute adds to this feeling as Chance uses a playful tone to express his views. King Louie is on the second verse, and Quavo is on the final verse. All three are discussing females that are familiar to them because they are so much like all of the other girls, acting the same due to the pressure of society matched with the lack of desire for uniqueness or individuality. No individual verse stood out in particular.
A dreamy production is found on this song. Saba is the only vocalist, and he adds some aggression to the track’s only verse. He paints the imagery of how he wants the world to be and the people like his grandmother and uncle that have helped him formulate the desire to want more than superficial things.
There are sections that remind me of songs on Passion Pit’s album Manners mixed with vocals from a Ciara or Janet Jackson song, but when combined altogether with the additional production layers, this provides a whole different sound than those songs. Mike Golden expresses in the first verse that he has to go make things happen for himself, but that doesn’t mean his motive is to be malicious to the people he is around now. The chorus is light with a hint of somberness. Joey Purp finishes the song’s last verse, which is directed toward a woman that he is informing about the fame game. An electric guitar solo completes the track.
This is the most sensual song on the album, with Jamila Woods singing the chorus, providing more depth and breadth to the track. She is asking difficult, even unanswerable, philosophical questions to evoke contemplation of things bigger then ourselves. This is very interesting and a brave approach to that concept that happens to work.
“Something Came to Me”
The idea or realization of the plan from “nothing came to me” is now in a position to come into fruition. The plan is not only coming together but is successful, and the tone is celebratory with a hint of resistance, knowing that more work needs to be done. This is the interpretation I concluded from the instrumentation.
Chance showcases his story-telling ability with a tale about how a recently divorced man deals with the life transition of dealing with the kids, heartbreak, and court cases. Ady Suleiman’s voice pours the heartache directly in your ears over the sullen production of the chorus. The singing on the end of the song by Erykah Badu is just truly beautiful in a neo soul/jazz feel that is so sonically pleasing and adds warmth. She provides the reassurance with her tone and lyrics, helping allow for closure and security.
An infectious production that entices you to clap and nod your head. Reminds me of Sundays with my grandma after service listening to classic Motown, blues, or jazz as we ate lunch together. A very happy, up-tempo sound that has so many genre pieces in it, from jazz, reggae, and gospel, to provide an uplifting, nostalgic environment.
“Pass the Vibes”
The initial guitar feeling has a more relaxed Red Hot Chili Peppers “Under the Bridge” aura until the reggae influences of the song take over. A folk and blues infusion is filtered in as well. Eric Butler’s singing detracted from vibe of the song for me, but I can see the vision they were trying to accomplish. The guitar chords that carry the album to its completion leave you in a positive reflective state.
Upon listening to the album the first time, I didn’t get the connection of the album as a whole. With more time to absorb and internalize the album, I saw a recurrent theme of not conforming to what society deems is correct, but formulating your own opinions and views of the world. Sometimes the lack of singing skills of Chance the Rapper is endearing while on other tracks it seems to hold back the production or quality of the album. I like the silly or joking quality of his voice matched with his word play. I like that the chances taken and experimentation on this project are expanding the parameters of hip-hop. I believe that this is a viable avenue to explore that can be improved upon by having less features to help add more cohesion or continuity to the album as a whole and flushing out a clearer direction. Check next week for our review of Rapsody’s re-released album Beauty and the Beast.