We become trapped in the prisons we create for ourselves. When we do the same thing, again and again and over and over, it can be hard to change, to break out of the mold. Rock and roll is two guitars, bass and a drum. Rap music is a poet on a microphone with a DJ spinning records. Verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus. It’s all the same. We love it, we listen to it, and we get comfort from the format. Things don’t change that much. Until they do.
I recently turned 53 years old, and I fall victim to the comfort of things familiar. Food that I like, that I have eaten time and time again. The warm sound of a gentle acoustic guitar with a bass and a snare drum being caressed with a brush. Embracing tastes and sounds that are new can be challenging for an old fart like me.
In my younger, more adventurous and curious days, I used to try to find new music a lot. Now that my head is bald and my beard is gray, I find that I am perfectly happy listening to music I have listened to throughout my life. Revolver by The Beatles. Paul Simon’s Graceland. Bob Dylan’s first album. I am a prisoner.
Sometimes though, I still find ways to discover something new, and sometimes something new is discovered for me. New music my daughters are listening to. A review in the newspaper. A performance on television.
A few years ago, I began to hear the name “Chance the Rapper” a lot. For a long time, I kept Chance at arms length. He sounded like someone pretending to be an artist. Maybe he was a satirical act of some kind. I went back to Dylan and The Beatles. Then I heard Chance’s name again and again, and then I heard “Sunday Candy,” and then everything changed.
Upon first hearing “Sunday Candy,” I thought Chance was singing about romance after church. How foolish I was. Recorded with his childhood friends, the musical collective Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, “Sunday Candy” is a celebration of everything that is sacred and holy to Chance, and that celebration is sincere, jubilant and full of experimentation and creativity and pure bright, shiny unabashed joy.
This particular Hip-Hop song, this most lovely of examples of this young art form, does not start with a drum beat as one might expect, but rather with only a piano. Chance’s voice comes in quiet, like he is bringing you in on something so deeply personal. Come here…you’ve got to hear this.
“She could say in her voice, in her way that she love me
With her eyes, with her smile, with her belt, with her hands, with her money.
I am the thesis of her prayers, her nieces and her nephews
are just pieces of the layers.
Only ones she love as much as me is Jesus Christ and Taylor
I got a future so I’m singing for my grandma.
You singing too, but your grandma ain’t my grandma.
Mine’s hand made, pan fried, sun dried, southside,
and beat the devil by a landslide.
Praying with her hands tied, president of my fan club, Santa
Something told me I should bring my butt to church”
The piano is soon accompanied by sparse percussion, and then….and then trumpets and trombones playing a chunky arpeggio. Did I say this was a Hip-Hop song?
The ingenuity is not only in the instrumentation, but also…maybe especially, in the way Chance raps this song. His pronunciation at times sounds like he is joking around, speaking informally and with familiarity, until he sounds like he is formally documenting a moment in time with clarity and reflection. At times he emphasizes words with vocal hiccups and squeaks, at times he barely moves his jaw and sounds like he is whispering in our ear. This is truly a remarkable vocal performance.
Vocalist Jamila Woods then sings the chorus. Beautifully. Is she singing as a surrogate for Chance? Are these the words of Jesus? Is she personifying the church? Maybe a little of all three.
“You gotta move it slowly
Take and eat my body like it’s holy
I’ve been waiting for you for the whole week
I’ve been praying for you you’re my Sunday candy”
Blessings then rain down. The tempo changes as the percussion picks up and from the background and we are encouraged to come inside, inside the church, because it is only raining outside.
Chance continues to rap about church, family food, music and the joy, peace and salvation he finds in God. He and Jamila sing together. A chorus of voices joins them. This is community. This is celebration. This is holiness. This is joy.
I still like to listen to Bob Dylan and The Beatles, but Chance the Rapper belongs right next to them. There is no prison here. “Sunday Candy” is an operatic statement of faith and ethos. It is a boundary pushing exploration of instrumentation and vocalization.
Free yourself. Put down the old LP’s and 8 track tapes and listen to something that is truly fun, creative, sincere and optimistic. I’m glad I broke out of the prison. I’m glad I listening to Chance.
Written by C. Bennett, E. Kane, Franco Davis, J. Red, J. Woods, J. Floyd, M. Stewart, N. Fox, N. Segal, Patrick Paige, P. Cottontale, Sima Cunningham, Stix
Performed by Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment
Released November 24, 2015