Before the Grammys, The Voice, the festivals, fans and followers, there was a kid from Chicago with a dream and an idea. Ten years removed from his seminal sophomore mixtape, Acid Rap, Chance the Rapper has realized the dreams and ideas that began with a release on April 30, 2013.
From lyrics to production, it is a highly relatable coming-of-age story soaked in LSD. It has honesty and vulnerability underscored by local musical styles from blues to juke. It ranges from the mundane anxiety of being caught smoking by one’s grandma to the deep-seated mistrust of fireworks having grown up adjacent to gunshots. It’s uplifting and authentic: a love letter to Chicago.
It was also released without the help of a major label before today’s streaming era, which offers slightly more autonomy for artists. Acid Rap set a precedent for how young friends could come together and make something game-changing in business and art. And for a brief moment when the powers that be had loosened their grip, Chance the Rapper made history.
Buoyed by standout singles like “Good *ss Intro,” and the Nate Fox-produced “Juice,” numerous blog cosigns and a legendary SXSW run, the secret was out. On release day, fans packed a line along Dearborn Avenue outside clothing boutique Jugrnaut that was four to five people wide and snaked around an entire city block. Acid Rap is the album that crashed Fake Shore Drive, put Chicago back on the map, and created a cultural flashpoint that still resonates today.
Months before the release, I had moved in with a music producer named Peter Wilkins, better known as Peter CottonTale, while covering the local music scene for the Chicago Sun-Times. CottonTale, who would later become Chance the Rapper’s music director and stand next to him onstage at the Grammys, had been working on a new project. For weeks, it seemed, everyone had been buzzing about the release of local artist Chance the Rapper’s free mixtape and he was largely behind the controls.
As Peter and I drove down Interstate 90/94 toward the city, we popped in the disc with Acid Rap scrawled across in Sharpie, the files just downloaded from DatPiff less than an hour earlier. As the first notes of the intro hit, we rolled the windows down and soaked up that first listen, almost giggling at how good it had turned out.
Chance the Rapper’s team had kept the lid on Acid Rap until April 30. This was still the thick of the blog era, the time loosely defined as the years between 2011-2015 when music blogs helped usher in a new era of artists. The lead single, “Juice,” created a buzz that hasn’t been seen in the city since. Ten years later, it still hasn’t. Acid Rap remains the measuring stick for making it out of Chicago.
“Man, that time was really special and I’m not sure any of us really realized how much back then,” said Wilkins with a laugh. “The moment of putting that CD in, I think the moment is magical when the music really evolved like a lot of the community. I mean really, I have memories associated with Acid Rap from before Acid Rap even came out. Like streetwear stores with long lines and not even me playing shows but a buzz about something that was going to happen in my social circle before I even produced a song. I think that magic happened because loosely we were just evolving as a community.”
Chicago, which had long looked to the coasts for distribution, had embraced a new democratized technology to get its sound out: mixtapes. Local artists seized upon the advent of social media, YouTube and online marketplaces for downloadable music featuring free tapes. Most notably, Chief Keef had burst onto the national scene with a new sound called Drill. His single “Don’t Like” caught rapper Kanye West’s attention and spawned a remix, which increased the national focus on Chicago.
But while Drill was blowing up in the Second City, another side began making noise without the shock value of guns and opps.
The first morning after I moved in with Wilkins in January 2013, I heard something coming from the room next to mine. I had arrived in time to catch the last few months of Acid Rap up close.
Back in the cramped apartment, fast-paced juke drums started and stopped, rewound and played again, paused and blended with thoughtfully laid keys. I carefully stepped out of my room, trying to figure out the mysterious beat. I didn’t want to interrupt, but it was exciting, different and unlike anything I’d heard.
Inside, Peter sat craning over a dated desktop computer, the tower purring between his feet while he arranged, rearranged and redid a complicated lead-in; his eyes barely left the screen. Looking at his watch, he gathered loose clothes from around his room and tossed them into a bag while the latest edition of the track saved and bounced.
Finally, I knocked on the door. I had to know. The music stopped suddenly and he opened the door with a bag slung over his shoulder.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Nothing, just a side thing,” Wilkins said before walking out the door and leaving with the local band Mathien.
That night, opening for Rockie Fresh at the Bottom Lounge, Chance the Rapper came out to that beat: the first time anyone heard the opening track to Acid Rap, “Good A– Intro.” The bouncing opening gave way to the debut of a Chance the Rapper evolution: his stage performance with the MC Hammer-esque dance before arriving at center stage for a mic drop. A few months later, that single would lead the project into history.
“I met Peter when I was working on 10 Day and I met him at a program at Columbia College. I invited him to come to the studio and we made ‘Hey Ma,’ ‘Long Time 2,’ and ‘Brain Cells’ in that first session,” Chance the Rapper told Andscape. “I remember thinking he understands me so well and he’s so incredibly gifted at making beats and producing and arranging and playing these instruments and I hadn’t met someone like that before. We were probably like 18 or 19 at the time.”
Acid Rap was made by close friends, frequent collaborators and new and old friends in dirty basements, cobwebbed attics and friends with studios, far from the kind of setup his peers in the industry were enjoying. It was also a big deal before the first song hit the internet. That was unheard of for an independent artist at that time. Thinking about it now feels almost impossible with short attention spans, streaming and playlisting.
The execution of the project was led by Chance the Rapper and Pat Corcoran, known as Pat The Manager, who blazed a path for acts without label backing. A perfect storm of precurrent social media, blog-era hype and the ability to push a narrative made possible by the collective resources of the duo allowed for the success of Acid Rap. It provided a necessary counterweight to the heaviness of rapper Kendrick Lamar and the insightfulness of rapper J. Cole, allowing the kind of exploration central to an acid trip. In Chance the Rapper, listeners got something in between.
Chance the Rapper was fast becoming a prominent member of what was being described as the Chicago Renaissance. Acid Rap helped kick it off.
The community created by the collaborations and connections made the collection special. Stitching together a patchwork of people from all sides of the city and outside created a cheering section that grew as the project neared. With Acid Rap, Chance the Rapper set the path toward the Grammys four years later.
“I’ve learned a lot of the importance of community from, honestly, watching my dad. Building a team and working with people outside of one space is the best way to create a wave and Acid Rap was so inclusive of everybody,” said Chance the Rapper. “Chicago is, to a certain extent, very tribal. So when people make albums, they usually make it with their camp. With Acid Rap, we were just building a camp and I’m still building that camp, like, still connecting with all the same people that worked on Acid Rap, and new people and connecting those people.”
Chance the Rapper’s father, Ken Bennett, is an accomplished local politician who worked for President Barack Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He’s made a career building coalitions and it’s likely a trait his eldest son picked up on. Therefore, it was no surprise that by mid-April 2013, the city was rooting for Chance the Rapper. He was the latest in a long line of local artists leaning into Chicago music’s deep lineage.
“We were all figuring out how to work together more efficiently,” said Wilkins, whom Chance the Rapper described as “indispensable.” “Some of us had been working together for years, and some of us had only known each other for a couple of months, but I think it was exciting to see a community working, unified for something.
“I think the talent in our eyes was immeasurable because we didn’t have a cap,” he continued. “We were just doing music. Chance had an idea, and we executed the idea. Or we built on top of something inspired by something happening in the room at that time or on earth or in Chicago at that time.”
The album arrived when Twitter was relatively new, YouTube had just gained a foothold, and Instagram was still nascent.
Bridging real-life experiences with the growing digital divide was the backdrop by which many of us coalesced around this album’s release. Many met or got to know one another at Chance the Rapper or Chance the Rapper-adjacent events. Journalists, writers, photographers, videographers, marketers, promoters, soon-to-be influencers: in a time before they broke through, Acid Rap was where we came together.
“I still get work today from Acid Rap,” said producer Cam O’bi, who worked on several tracks, most notably “Cocoa Butter Kisses.” “Chicago at that time just had everything from the musicians to the artists to the behind-the-scenes people all working towards a common goal and that community that came together, I like to call it a cohort, had everyone genuinely cheering for each other.”
Often viewed as one of the last important mixtapes of the blog era, it combined a musicality beyond its years with easily relatable lyrics that crossed racial and socioeconomic boundaries.
“I think it’s a unique project, a vulnerable project, an honest project that cost me time, experimenting, and courage to make,” said Chance the Rapper.
Locally-based artists such as Vic Mensa, Saba, Noname, Alex Wiley, Eryn Allen Kane, Lili K, Kiara Lanier and more essentially stepped out to a national audience. And veterans Ab-Soul, Action Bronson, BJ The Chicago Kid and Twista rounded out a list that accurately pointed to the past, present and future.
For Mensa, featured on “Tweakin” and “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” the relationship with Chance the Rapper has come full circle. Back in 2011-2012, as the front man for the band Kids These Days, Mensa used to bring Chance the Rapper onstage in front of his first crowds. Mensa later began a solo career, and the pair operated independently for years. But since the coronavirus pandemic hit, the duo and the rest of their friends and colleagues known as SaveMoney have been working again in the studio and even threw a music festival in Ghana with 50,000-plus attendees.
“At the time when Chance was making Acid Rap, I was making Innanetape and we were collectively in an incredibly creative and eclectic moment in our lives when success had yet to be obtained and the goal of making music was strictly to be as honest and critically self-expressive as possible,” said Mensa. “Chance was doing acid and I was doing mushrooms and the flows and the off-the-wall cadences were so unique and new.”
Listen to tracks such as the Mensa-assisted “Tweakin,” and the influences are pretty evident. They blocked off hours at whatever studios they could find, turning the sessions into psychedelic explorations. “Cocoa Butter Kisses” emerged from one of these sessions and was the first connection to O’bi.
“I remember it used to be kind of hard for Chance to get beats back then, people were taxing him,” said Mensa. “So we had done the verses for ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’ and couldn’t use the beat. So I called Peezy [owner of LPZ Studios] and he linked us up with Cam. He brought those drums and that real natural, good-feeling sound that makes it what it is.”
Acid Rap established Chance the Rapper, not as a household name but someone destined to find their way there.
After the project was released, he seemed to be a darling of the blog world — collaborations with James Blake, Lil Wayne, Jeremih and others. In the 3 ½ years between Acid Rap and Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper was just about everywhere.
They were doing it on their own. And it was working. Stress can produce cracks, though.
“There’s always little things that come up when releasing a project like that, especially when you’re young and independent and everything,” said Acid Rap engineer Elton “L10” Chueng. The project was his first full-length to mix and master. “I stayed up almost the whole night the night before finishing it and then it still leaked like an hour before. But when it came out, I noticed the back cover with the credits was missing.”
Without that back cover, the world might never know who had a hand in creating the project. Credit is a huge premium for anyone early in their career, and Chueng knew that. He took it upon himself to upload the back artwork to Wikipedia. But the instance is one of many that have changed feelings over the years.
Everyone who discussed Acid Rap brought up two themes that made the project memorable for a decade: nostalgia and community. The nostalgia of orange Nickelodeon cassette tapes, eating fruit snacks and playing in the street with friends was amplified by the sheer number of people who helped make it happen, most from Chance the Rapper’s hometown and his immediate periphery.
Unlike Drake, Kendrick or J. Cole, Chance the Rapper still lived like a 19-year-old from Chicago. Peter, some friends and I rented a house on the North Side that became a studio, hangout, rehearsal space and party venue depending on the day. There were clubs and groupies, but Chance the Rapper seemed to feel more comfortable back then with a house party, old friends and a couch to crash on.
The problem inherent to time, of course, is that it changes things.
The excitement and feeling of endless possibilities are natural in your 20s. Today, several collaborators from the album declined to comment for this article.
“A lot of people felt like they got burned in the creation of Acid Rap, myself included,” O’bi said. “But honestly, it was new territory. I was new to the scene and was just a producer trying to get work at the time. So while it may have been frustrating how it all went down for some people, ultimately, I appreciate the time I had working on the album.”
Chance the Rapper and Corcoran are locked in a lawsuit. In November 2020, Corcoran sued his former artist for $2.5 million over unpaid expenses and commissions. Chance the Rapper responded in February 2021 by filing motions to dismiss some of Corcoran’s claims while suing the manager for breaches of contract.
As a team, Chance the Rapper and Corcoran successfully usurped the traditional music industry model and created a viable path for independent artists that survives today. People and circumstances change, but even then the music doesn’t. It’s locked into a simpler time, a time capsule of young adulthood and unabashed dreams.
“I love Acid Rap. It changed my life and it changed the lives of many, many people. I think that’s a fact. I think that everybody that was even remotely close to it was helped by the success of the project and no matter how in-depth you were into creating the music itself, it helped everybody,” Chance the Rapper said when asked about lingering feelings a decade later.
In reminiscing, many described the time before, during and after the release of Acid Rap as a pseudo or post-college experience. The music industry had become unstratified for a brief moment and in Chicago, everyone was trying to figure it out. Some did, some didn’t, and some still are.
It felt weird that so many have grown to feel differently about the project, but the community it birthed isn’t gone, it’s just changed.
For Chicago, it seemed like the perfect complement to West’s debut a decade before. The day the project came out, I wrote, “Acid Rap could well be the biggest hip-hop release to come out of the city since Kanye West’s College Dropout. Fortunately, it lacks any semblance of West’s attitude or cockiness.” That accurately sums up the project today as it did then.
The game had changed drastically since West emerged, but one thing hadn’t: the Chicago music scene.
You still can’t drive down the street to have a label meeting in the Second City. Many artists dipped to the coasts, never to be seen again. Even Chance the Rapper briefly got a place in Los Angeles, but he ultimately settled near where he grew up. Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap, and everything that came after it did a lot to change that thinking, at least for a while.
“I wanted to be the first to do it, but, almost all those things, I didn’t want to be the last. And the main one was the success of doing it independently, especially how I did it. I feel like I’ve heard and seen independent artists now that say they had to see it to know it was possible,” said Chance the Rapper. “It’s a different world out there partly due to Acid Rap. It’s more inspiration to more people.”
It allowed a subset of Chicagoans to reevaluate what was possible. It made success feel close enough that you could do it, too. The music stands up a decade later, and there is no denying the touchstone it provided a city and beyond.
“When I think of Acid Rap, I don’t think of it as much as a time in my life as a place in my life,” said Chance the Rapper. “Like a location. I remember the spaces and venues I used to be in and the people I saw. And I still live in Chicago, so it doesn’t feel far away.
“I’m still glad it still gets love and there’s people that still have those memories and attachments to it and that there’s still people discovering it. I think that’s the legacy of it. It’s something that can’t be disproven or taken away.”