Jazz, baby. Jazz. It’s probably one of the most generally respected genres in the music world. You don’t often catch music people hating on jazz. If you pop up the idea to go enjoy some live jazz the reaction is overwhelmingly positive. Jazz is quality music, it’s got soul, and the energy it brings connects emotionally with listeners. That’s what good music can do, right? It’s like going to see a Nas or Deltron concert and showing up to see a four-to-six piece band running the beats and rhythms. To be jazzy is to create some quality, well-thought out musical performances that make your soul dance, man.
Cue The Social Experiment, aka ‘SoX’: Peter Cottontale (@RealCottontale), Nate Fox (@alldayrecess), Donnie Trumpet (@DonnieTrumpet), Chance the Rapper (@chancetherapper), and Stix (@stixjams). They are a group that hails from Chicago and is currently in LA creating their first EP, SURF.
This crew of young, talented characters is led by Donnie Trumpet and driven by the success of Chance the Rapper; the band was born out of Chance’s 2013 tour, ‘The Social Experiment’. Chance brought along a group of his music-making peeps to back him up during the tour. YES, a 20-year-old rapper had the musical intuition to replace a lone DJ with a four-to-six piece band for a 3-month tour. And yes, they killed it.
The tour was an enormous success, and the chemistry between Chance and ‘his band’ was musically delicious. SoX is gaining attention not for the potential they have as famous people ($$$$), but also (and mostly) because of the meticulous drive they have to make quality music together.
Donnie Trumpet (aka Nico Segal) is leading this group through their musical journey with his jazzy trumpet. Peep this seven track SoundCloud playlist Donnie put up of songs he’s been a part of. I suggest listening to it while reading the rest of this piece.
Donnie Trumpet is fucking talented. There is something big happening with this so-called experiment, something very admirable about these soldiers of the SaveMoney Army. The world is at the fingertips of these celebrities and the doors are open for them to run wild. Yet and still, you can feel the genuine desire they have to prioritize making music through a creative lens, a lens that bridges a strong emotional drive directly with an audience that shares this connection (consciously or subconsciously?) and appreciates quality art down to their bonesssss.
These dudes’ hard work has paid off, lady luck has played her part, and they are famous now. But perhaps most impressively, they are putting egos aside and not letting fame, riches, bitches, and success perverse this goal of producing something they’re not only proud of, but that will push contemporary music (fuck it let’s call it hip-hop) to creative depths it hasn’t been to before. It’s very admirable, man. And their music? Well, people are getting to enjoy the shit out of it.
“Put your ego aside.” We hear this phrase a lot, and we also know that it can be hard to do. Tell Drake, Paul McCartney, and Tyga to put their egos aside (editor’s note: don’t tell Tyga anything. Trust me, nobody cares). As an artist, there’s gotta be some benefit to putting your ego aside (there’s also gotta be some benefit to pushing your ego to the front as well). I’m not too sure exactly what that benefit is (that’s a whole nother conversation, tell us what you think about it), but it has to do something or else we would not hear the phrase so often.
The story behind SoX has to start with Chance The Rapper putting his ego aside. He did so for the benefit of a band and the quality of the music they can produce. The overwhelming success that Chance received following the release of 2013’s Acid Rap did things for him that artists on the verge only dream of. He can sign with any record label out there, do the famous musician thing, be a moneymaking frontman, put his family on, and live. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. We see this all the time in the music industry. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
But not only has Chance put off making buku money with the quickness, but now he’s putting himself in the back seat! In 2014 we saw a switch from Chance the Rapper & The Social Experiment, to simply The Social Experiment, to Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment. But I thought this is the Chance The Rapper show!! But I thought this is all because of Chance! But without Chance, we aren’t talking about any of this! He is fully aware of his frontman position in the eye of the public, but he’s putting that persona aside, fighting his ego in the process, and letting the quality of the music drive how this band presents itself. That’s jazzy and admirable, man.
Actions speak louder than words for sure. I’m sure the SoX crew have passed up on hundreds of record deals. I mean, let’s not ignore the fact that they’re living good regardless. Like, they’re gooooood on money. They’ve made hundreds of thousands already through tours, guest appearances, and endorsements. These 20-something-year-old-dudes are set uuuuuup.
Nonetheless, the amount of CASH they could bring in from signing to a major label is big, it’s big and tempting. Acid Rap, a free mixtape, debuted at No. 63 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Chance didn’t try to monetize the tape, and it still sold. He knows he’s a walking ATM. You gotta admire fighting against signing with a label. You gotta admire fighting the urge to get buku money through art.
Who knows why and how they came up to these decisions, but this probably didn’t hurt:
Lupe Fiasco x Chance The Rapper pic.twitter.com/XwwwK1K1uI
— DailyChiefers (@DailyChiefers) August 15, 2014
A casual conversation with Lupe about artistic growth and Chance’s future was full of real-life lessons and “FUCK ATLANTIC” ethos, I’m sure. Money, pressure, and expectations can damage genuine expression through art, maybe? I don’t know exactly what the money does, but we’ve all seen what it CAN do. It’s admirable to see this crew be mindful about it and push their authentic creativity to grow by minimizing the factors that can hinder it.
I don’t know these dudes personally and I don’t know what goes behind their actions and decisions. But foregoing signing with a major label says something. It says FUCK YOU and your power. It says that they’re just as aware as a lot of us listeners are to the perverse nature and effects of the major record label infrastructure. It says that they know signing with a label compromises their artistic integrity, their artistic freedom, and maybe puts a cap on the potential to grow and push the boundaries of contemporary music.
SURF the EP is driven by Donnie and it should be. SoX did not put the most famous member’s name in the front. They put the member’s name in the front that they feel is their leader. It speaks directly to how this group is looking at their art. Quality over vanity. Calidad baby, calidad. The music is king. SURF is now the Donnie Trumpet show. Nico Segal has talent and has been constantly shocking peers with his artistry. You hear artists shouting out to “Nico Genius!!” in their tracks again and again. There’s mad respect for him. He needs to be leading SoX.
“Vocals on songs nowadays means that it’s their song, but if you look at old J Dilla projects or old Madlib projects, they have projects where someone is rapping on every single song,” [Donnie Trumpet] says of the ‘tape’, which will feature cameos by Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and other Savemoney artists. “The vocals on the song aren’t always the most important thing and I kind of want people to get away from that, just listen to the music.”
“When I started playing in school, I didn’t like the songs they had us playing, ‘cause they were really fuckin’ boring,” says Nico. “What I started to do was play to the songs I loved and a lot of those were hip-hop and Latin and funk and what that taught me was that every kind of music has something beautiful for you to pay attention to. I don’t necessarily want to be the Miles Davis of hip-hop, but that is the way I think about it to a certain extent. The way I think about making music, is infusing these different styles and it becomes me.”
So, these dudes are not sacrificing their creative and artistic growth for the usual vices of the music industry. They’re Jazzy, man. It’s about the music. It’s about the collaborative effort to put sounds and feelings together. It’s about the composition and the powerful emotion behind their final product. This is big. The music industry is due for a dose of these kinds of celebrities, and the music they’re producing is going to be fucking delicious (peep this teaser for “Nothing Came to Me” and the silent film they scored it for.)
I will admit, I’m biased. I love Chicago and I watched Arthur until I was like fourteen, man. Nonetheless, their moves are admirable. I keep using that word, admirable, but only because it really is. It’s admirable to see a young group of energetic personas put the bullshit aside and prioritize collaboration, talent, and their artistic integrity to produce art that is powerful. I mean, they are in the midst of a delicious moment; livin’ it up in LA, getting critical and commercial acclaim. But they are all about the music first.
Recognize good music, support what you believe to be good music, and don’t sleep on good music. We’ll see what Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment have to offer with SURF. Tell us what you think.