Last night Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment—the band he plays in with Chance the Rapper, Nate Fox, and Peter Cottontale—dropped their highly anticipated album Surf for free via iTunes. Chance is the most prominent member of the Social Experiment, which served as his backing band when he toured on his fantastic 2013 mixtape Acid Rap, and while his distinctly coiled raps, yips, and tender coos are all over Surf, the album is fronted by Donnie Trumpet, aka former Kids These Days trumpet player Nico Segal.
Segal’s vibrant, fluid playing is the glue for Surf, which is packed with guest vocalists and rappers: Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu, and Jeremih are among the big names on the bill; King Louie and Migos member Quavo hold things down on “Familiar”; Noname Gypsy and J. Cole drop verses on “Warm Enough”; and Pivot Gang’s Saba, who has been on a tear since last year’s Comfort Zone, chews up “SmthnthtIwnt” largely on his own. In a Billboard interview last year Chance talked about the influence of the Lion King musical, and there’s a strong theatrical pulse to the flow of Surf. It’s not just that these tracks sound huge—like they should be performed on a stage with a moving set design similar to the one the band rolled out in the “Sunday Candy” video—but that the album sports a loose narrative structure; the songs fit together but are distinctly different from each other. That much is obvious from just a brief cursory listen.
I was a couple miles from home when I opened Twitter on my phone and noticed the #Surf tag lighting up my timeline last night. In the many recent instances in which a pop artist has dropped a surprise album, I’ve generally experienced the initial rush of excitement from the confines of my apartment, crouched over my computer and combing through a flood of hot or lukewarm takes. I watched 30-second previews of the video portion of Beyonce’s self-titled album around the same time I noticed the news hit Twitter; I happened to be sitting in front of my laptop when I got the news that Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly came out a week early, and started listening on Spotify before snapping it up on iTunes; and though I wasn’t by my computer when I found out about Drake’s If You’re Reading This is To Late, a couple hours later I plopped down on the butt imprint on my “office” chair to get plugged in.
I didn’t want to repeat the same pattern with Surf, and I didn’t want to wait to hear it till I was home, so I jumped to the iTunes store on my phone and downloaded Surf—it’s the only album I’ve downloaded straight onto my year-old (ish) iPhone that wasn’t forced onto the device by U2 or Apple. But I didn’t have a pair of headphones on me, so last night I cranked the volume on my phone’s speakers to 11 and blasted Surf as loud as I could.
Anyone who has tried to use a cup to amplify a cell phone’s speakers during a party already knows that an iPhone won’t quite cut through anything that could be described as a “din,” so I spent much of my walk home up Milwaukee Avenue awkwardly holding my phone up to my ear—first the left ear, then the right. It wasn’t the ideal circumstance for listening to Surf: the gorgeous textures and subtle tone changes often got drowned out by bustling Blue Line trains, revving motorcycle engines, and crowds filtering out of bars.
But I didn’t care too much about the quality of the sound, or how silly I looked running to cross the street while angling the tail-end of my phone toward one of my ears. I did it because I just wanted to hear Surf, and I wanted to do it without feeling the desire to immediately comment on it (though I did, later, but straining to listen to the album the way I did made it difficult to type). Music is likely an important part of life to anyone who has ever been in a similar position of wanting nothing more than to listen to something right now. In my case, I wouldn’t mind if I spent less of my life in front of my computer, especially as the days get longer and the temperatures coax me outside. And with the weather as lovely as it was last night, and with the sun-rising warmth of Surf bursting out of those tiny speakers, it felt like what I’d been looking forward to since winter put me in its vice grip so many months ago. It felt like summer.