Chance the Rapper has grown into his influence and fame at amazing speed, especially considering his decision to reject all label interest for artistic independence. But Chance did not do this alone.
Chance the Rapper’s growth is closely intertwined with the rise of his band, The Social Experiment. The Social Experiment consists of Nico Segal (the artist formerly known as Donnie Trumpet), vocalist Chancelor Bennett (Chance the Rapper), keyboardist Peter Wilkins (Peter Cottontale), drummer Greg Landfair Jr (Stix), and the producer who brings it all together: Nate Fox.
In its embryonic stages, the Social Experiment was a self-contained group of creatives similar to the likes of other new age collectives like Brockhampton or Pivot Gang, another group from Chicago. Nowadays, The Social Experiment of old has ballooned into a much larger sphere of influence, including international tours and Grammy awards. In an age dominated by rappers and hot beats, successful bands like The Social Experiment are few and far between – but that’s exactly what makes them so special.
This is the story behind one of the most distinctive bands in hip hop history: The Social Experiment.
A Close Encounter with the Social Experiment
I met Nate Fox once.
Before we go any farther, this isn’t nearly as glamorous of a story as it sounds: but it’s got plenty of allegory!
I used to work at a movie theater, and it was a random Tuesday night so the theater was empty. A man and a woman walked up to buy tickets and order some of our, admittedly stale, popcorn. The woman was wearing one of those classic black “Sox” hoodies that the band is known for, and I had just spent what most of my meager earnings on a ticket to the Social Experiment Tour.
So naturally, being the stan I was, I mentioned something about the sweater and was told that her male counterpart was in the band. I looked at him and racked my brain, but couldn’t figure out who he was.
Then it dawned on me after he walked away. That was none other than Nate Fox. This was the guy behind some of my favorite Chance songs in “Juice” and “Chain Smoker,” so naturally I freaked out and had a starstruck moment, we’ve all been there. Later, I was able to briefly talk to him again on his way out. What a day for a stan like me!
Nate Fox is perhaps our greatest contemporary producer/arranger.
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) May 29, 2016
My tangential anecdote holds the root of something very indicative of The Social Experiment in its early stages: a group thrust forward by ravenous fans of their front-man, Chance the Rapper. And their plan worked worked – soon to follow were features with Justin Bieber, Kit Kat commercials, solo albums and solo tracks, spots on late night, Grammy wins, and electrifying Grammy performances.
As we gear up for the second half of 2018, fans are abuzz with excitement over the possibility of new Chance projects – he recently teased a 7-track Kanye produced album and the release of his long-awaited Childish Gambino collaboration in an interview with Peter Rosenberg – now is the perfect time to take stock of some of the diverse work both Chance and his Social Experiment bandmates have produced.
The Rise of Donnie Trumpet, The Social Experiment, and Chance the Rapper
There’s only one way to truly understand the collective rise of Donnie Trumpet, Chance the Rapper, and the rest of the Social Experiment – by tracking the product of the experiment: the music.
A Curated “Social Experiment” Playlist & Playlist Guide
This playlist exists as a collection of a few of the most vital Social Experiment related tracks, and to provide the necessary context a full playlist guide is featured below. So click play and read along, unpacking the context behind each song to build credence to the myth of The Social Experiment. I invite you to become a test subject, part of the collaborative effort attempting to complete the experiment.
Origin Stories of the Social Experiment
The Social Experiment were collaborators before they ever declared themselves bandmates. This section of tracks explores some of the early foundation, the tracks foreshadowing the promise of palpable magnetism the friends would enjoy.
|"Long Time II"||Chance the Rapper||This was the first time that three members of what would eventually become the Social Experiment came together. Chance’s raw and on edge rapping cadence was paired with Nico Segal’s equally captivating trumpetering over a Peter Cottontale and THEM People beat. The track was just a taste of impending music.|
|"Wasting Time"||Kids These Days||Kids These Days was a regional collective of musicians formed in 2009. Donnie Trumpet was a founding member of the – unfortunately – split band, whose members came together as a regional alternative to Chicago’s music scene. “Wasting Time” is Chance’s only guest spot with the band, and also features other prominent #Savemoney member Vic Mensa (a founding member of Kids These Days).|
|"Juice"||Chance the Rapper||“Juice” was the first time Nate Fox received credits to a Chance song. “Juice” was released as a single and introductory piece to Chance’s smash career altering mixtape Acid Rap. Over a well-placed sample from Donny Hathaway’s live version of “Jealous Guy” offering up a reverent nod to Chicago’s music legacy, Chance delivers what still stands as one of his most intoxicating and iconic musical moments.|
Chance the Rapper and the Formation of the Social Experiment
After releasing Acid Rap, Chance found himself staring at a mountain of success building on his name. His solution, climb it with his friends. So, he launched The Social Experiment tour becoming a household name off the strength of his mixtape and live performances. This next wave of tracks chronicles the early releases of the band released in this era of their burgeoning success.
|"Save Yourself First"||The Social Experiment||The Social Experiment was introduced to the world as Chance’s touring band. But in the aftermath of the Acid Rap the group released a series of loosies on Chance’s soundcloud. This series kicked off with a simple remix of Chance’s additional verse on the James Blake song “Life Round Here.” The track also stands as an early moment the group attracted and worked with bigger non hip-hop musical talents.|
|"Home Studio (Back Up in this Bitch)"||The Social Experiment||This is another one of the 6 Social Experiment loosies released before the release of their album. It also reminded us they definitely were not leaving the studio despite being on tour.|
|"I Am Very Very Lonely"||The Social Experiment||Third in the series, and one of the most interesting, this song is quite literally an ode to being alone. Not the sad, Marvin’s Room in my feelings kind of alone, but the “I don’t have any plans, so I guess I’m going to try and figure out what to watch and eat pizza alone.” We’ve all been there, and here is your anthem for the next time.|
|"Wonderful Everyday"||The Social Experiment||This song is a cover of an integral part of many of our generation’s childhoods. Most will remember it as the theme song to the children’s show Arthur, but it is titled “Believe in Yourself” and was recorded by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. This version features Jessie Ware, frequent Chance collaborator Eryn Allen Kane, and was our first introduction to Francis and the Lights.|
|"No Better Blues"||The Social Experiment||“No Better Blues” features some of the most interesting lyricism of this string of releases. The track was offered by Chance as either a sad song or a satirical and thus happy song, ultimately being up to the interpretation of the fans, and subsequently Genius.|
|"Sunday Candy"||The Social Experiment||This singular track launched the Social Experiment from Chance’s backing band and group responsible for a flurry of loosies into a full-on ensemble capable of creating warm and inviting hits. “Sunday Candy” was the first single from Surf and the first of many Chance songs equally suited to be played on the way to church or in crowded dorm rooms full of singing friends.|
Riding the Wave: Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment
Surf is credited as being created by “Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment.” Chance spoke about how important it was to Nico Segal’s own individual legacy to release this album under his own name and not by using Chance’s name. The album is really Segal’s project, but inspired and created under the collective efforts of The Social Experiment. This next section is going to select two moments from Surf representative of the group’s dynamic.
|"Warm Enough"||The Social Experiment||One of the most immediately rewarding and different aspects of Surf was to not release the features on each song on the track titles. The track “Slip Slide” features its fair share of surprises by featuring Busta Rhymes, BOB, Janelle Monae, and BJ the Chicago Kid. However, “Warm Enough” takes the cake in this regard with its dexterous Noname verse and then unexpected J Cole appearance with a searing verse about his own inadequacies. Witnessing Twitter come aglow as the world got to the J Cole verse on “Warm Enough” will forever be one of my favorite social media moments.|
|"Windows"||The Social Experiment||“Windows” is a standout from Surf, but, even more noteworthy is the live version paired with Drake’s “Feel No Ways” in this BBC Radio Live Lounge video. One of the long-observed hallmarks of The Social Experiment is the band’s otherworldly ability to turn hip-hop into vibrant live pieces, a skill fully evidenced in their ability to blend these two songs in a live setting.|
Coloring Outside the Lines with Chance the Rapper
After Surf the world’s appetite for Chance only grew, not taking long for people to begin clamoring for another Chance solo work. Chance labeled Coloring Book his third mixtape, a free release landing on Apple Music first (supposedly for $500,000) but eventually being available everywhere. The work forced the Grammy’s to reevaluate their music viewership process by recognizing, for the first time, music not sold commercially. Coloring Book continued the growing ethos of The Social Experiment, just less directly. As Chance grew his bandmates did as well, there are 8 tracks on Coloring Book with “The Social Experiment” labeled as producers and another 2 tracks with production credits to an individual member of the band. But if Surf was a springboard project employing big names to achieve great results, Coloring Book was a cannon launching The Social Experiment into larger spheres of influence through work with names as big as Kanye, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, and Young Thug.
|"Blessings"||Chance the Rapper||This track was the world’s introduction to “Chance 3,” Chance’s endearing label for Coloring Book. Chance performed the song with Stix on the drums, Nico on the horns, and Peter Cottontale on the keys, along with Byron Cage, Francis and the Lights, Jamila Woods, and a full choir. It quickly became another one of Chance’s “church or dorm room” songs.|
|"All We Got"||Chance the Rapper||Chance was featured on the TLOP and 2016 defining “Ultralight Beam,” and had worked extensively on other tracks for TLOP, but having Kanye featured on the intro to his own mixtape was a symbol of completion. In 4 years, he went from making music he hoped his idol would see to hosting his idol. Although this song occasionally sounds like a discordant hum of robot noises, The Social Experiment’s credit on the song signifies a moment of completion and achievement in the band’s work.|
|"Blessings (Reprise)"||Chance the Rapper||Coloring Book was the coming out party for Chance and The Social Experiment. “Blessings (Reprise)” managed to pull together the streams of talent The Social Experiment had access to, and did so on a canvas filled by some of the most prominent voices in hip-hop, from Ty$, Anderson .Paak, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Raury.|
A New Direction for the Social Experiment
In the aftermath of Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper went generally silent. In the seemingly wide void left with Chance’s silence The Social Experiment have still been active. Through new ventures, producing for other talents, and surprise releases the group reminds us what we’re missing. They have constantly left us wanting more but have not let us forget who they are and what they are most notable for. This group of songs embodies the current position The Social Experiment is in, not a prolific output but an intentional and impactful one nonetheless.
|"First World Problems"||Chance the Rapper, Daniel Caesar||The Social Experiment’s hallmark is their electrifying live performances. This unreleased song performed on Colbert evokes that legacy, but incrementally advances the narrative of the group. Working with an artist like Daniel Caesar illustrates the band as a collective collaborating with budding stars but extending this discovery beyond regional boundaries. The results are Chance at his peak lyrical form and a performance best described as hauntingly brilliant.|
|"Jubilee"||The JuJu Exchange||The JuJu Exchange is Nico Segal’s jazz band; a prominent offshoot of the Social Experiment collective. “Jubilee” is the band’s most recent single and features production from Nate Fox. As each member of the group experiments with new sounds, whether in the limelight or beyond, the results are usually joyous. “Jubilee” evokes this sense of joy with Segal’s trumpeting exuberance.|
|"Forever Always"||Peter Cottontale||Peter Cottontale had never truly released a solo track until the surprise release of “Forever Always.” The track features the rising talents of Rex Orange County, Daniel Caesar, Madison Ryann Ward and Yebba along with the well-established voice of Chance, but it is Peter Cottontale’s song. A triumphant song about love being a forever feeling, regardless of circumstances, a sentiment encompassing the ethos of The Social Experiment.|
The Social Experiment: Experiment Concluded
In its early stages, the Social Experiment was just a self-contained group of creatives. They quickly expanded their reach and grew capable of working with established and growing talent alike to continuously create well received music.
The Social Experiment of old has ballooned into a massive sphere of influence. Features with Justin Bieber, Kit Kat commercials, solo albums and solo tracks, spots on late night, Grammy wins, and electrifying Grammy performances. The Social Experiment has grown to stardom from humble beginnings, mostly on the back of its fearless leader Chance, but not without proper consideration for its less noticeable stars.
Chance is teasing a 2018 which might include him in Kanye’s recent run of 7-track albums and the release of his Childish Gambino collaboration. But understanding Chance and his discography thus far, means it is unlikely he moves into these ventures without bringing along his bandmates for the ride in some capacity.
“Forever Always”, “Jubilee,” and “First World Problems” signify the collective expansion of musical talent in each artist. This wave of the experiment is a current of musical growth running parallel to the growth of the relational bonds formed early on. These bonds hold the unique flavor of The Social Experiment; at their core these bonds tether each of the 5 together as collaborators but, more importantly, as friends.