Oh hey, did you know Surf dropped?
Last Thursday was more monumental than the birth of Sweet Baby Jesus for me. It was more important and way less awkward than losing my virginity. It was a big, big deal. Finally, FINALLY, after years months of waiting...Surf.
Needless to say I was excited. It took me a few minutes to compose myself enough to pen a 1 Listen Review. Now that I’ve had a few days of listening to it non stop, switching up my favorite song every two seconds - right now it’s "Go" but "Pass The Vibes" is slowly gunning for the title - it’s time to really get to know the every detail of the album's creation. And I mean every absurdly detailed detail.
One of the craziest parts of the "1 Listen" experience was trying to figure out who was who because Nico and company left the features off the tracklist, but as soon as I realized all the liner notes were actually available (hit the get info button and look under composers in iTunes) I knew I had to dive in. As I learned from FHD and TPAB, the best way to get to know an album is to know everyone involved, not just the main players, especially on an album like this that's so intentionally collaborative.
So I got to stalking. Here’s what I learned.
"Damn, I'm saying these things like people know it. Surf is the first project, which is coming out before the end of 2014. It's the first Social Experiment project. It's a big step for all of us all putting our heads together and letting Nico [Segal, a.k.a Donnie Trumpet] hold the reigns and carry it. There's a lot of great instrumentation. A lot of input from cool writers. I'm already saying too much." - Chance's Billboard interview, October of 2015
By The Numbers:
Total Number of Artists credited: 57 (counting bands as one artist)
Nico Segal - 16 credits
Nate Fox -14 credits
Peter Cottontale - 14 credits
Chance The Rapper - 9 credits
Amanda Bailey is a violinist and “full-time classical musician” who also seems to love the shit out of hip-hop. Here she is doing a cool rendition of “Clint Eastwood.” Also I agree with this.
Chance The Rapper
He only has nine credits, which is a relatively small amount when you consider how much of focus he received. Chance is more like a host here, someone who steps in occasionally to help the album keep some continuity and tie together loose ends.
Eryn Allen Kane
Apparently, she’s first voice you hear on the album. Real talk, Eryn is one of my favorite up-and-coming artists right now. Her voice is pure magic. I’m pretty much her biggest fan; you know other than Prince. Yeah, she has a song with Prince and a few credits on Surf; she wins May. You have to heard "Have Mercy" off her forthcoming debut, the Aviary EP. My excitement for her debut project is reaching Surf levels.
Jeff is a guitarist. Not only has he played for some guy named Stevie Wonder, but he also has a shoutout on Cole’s “Note To Self.” He's shouted out right after Social Experiment, which I have to believe is no accident. He also has some stuff of his own. Oh also when researching stalking his Instagram, I found this picture of Kanye and Puff in the studio together. So basically because of Surf we learned Kanye and Puffy are working together; the gift that keeps on giving.
He’s also part of a dope band called…..
The Step Kids
Jeff’s bandmates also getting some love in the liner notes. Peep thier non-Surf related material too.
Like Lane, Macie was part of Kids These Days and is now a part of Marrow. She rocks and is absolutely magnificent live.
You probably know him better as AllDayRecess. He’s an integral part of this experiment and has been for sometime; his name can be found throughout the history books of SaveMoney. Also, he produced my favorite Chance song ever, “Juice,” so I owe him a beer or something.
Nico is Donnie Trumpet's legal name, but how dope would it have been if his name was actually Donnie Trumpet? I'm pretty sure he can make that happen legally. Let's make it happen Nico.
Like Nate, Peter is another SOX producer who has been part of the movement since the start. He’s produced on Acid Rap, 10 Day , and has worked with a bunch of other Surf contributors. Guys like Nate and Peter are just as important to Surf as Donnie and Chance but they probably won’t get the credit the deserve because producers.
According to the aforementioned Amanda Bailey, Amanda and Victoria Lee are responsible for the first “sounds” we hear. Other than that, I'm not quite sure who she is. Doesn't seem to be an artist-artist. Interesting…
Well shit, I had never heard of Ady Suleiman before, but I have now. He’s a singer/rapper from the UK who has a really dope style. From the sound of his stuff, it's no surprise he fit right with this crew. There is a lot of life and color to his music. He also appears later on in Surf but we'll get to that.
Y’all know who B.o.B is, right? Honestly, this was the first time I’ve thought about him in a hot minute. Sounded like the B.o.B we all wanted to hear six years ago.
BJ the Chicago Kid
I sincerely hope you know about BJ the Chicago Kid. Can we talk for a minute about everything he touches turns to gold? The man is one of the best hook-makers in the game. Granted, he doesn’t provide a hook here, but knowing he’s on the record is comforting to the soul.
The first real surprise of the album. At first I wasn’t even sure it was him, that’s how unexpected it was. I’m actually super impressed with this, some of the best sterioid-era Busta work. After songs like "Look At Me Now" and songs with hashtags in the name I did not expect him on Surf.
Honestly, I didn’t know she was on this record until I checked the liner notes. It’s pretty cool how they kept the feature list covered. If I was an artist and had Janelle Monae and her amazing hair featured on my album I’d be shouting it from the rooftops. SOX? They are just like, “Oh yeah, by the way, Janelle Monae.”
According to his Twitter Rob is a guitarist/bassist. That’s all I could really find. He has nothing Tweeted about Surf. Man, if I recorded on Surf I would tweet to the high heavens about it.
I thought I detected the gooey, funky stylings of The O’Mys. I should have guessed they’d be on here as they’ve worked with this SOX crew before. They even have an EP with Donnie and released an EP of their own earlier this year which is still in my personal rotation. You should fuck with them.
Also Credited But Previously Mentioned: Chance The Rapper, Jeff Gittleman, Nate Fox, Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale, Stix.
A photo posted by Nate Fox (@alldayrecess) on Oct 7, 2014 at 2:22pm PDT
I really don’t know C-Sick as well as I should, but I think this should be a surprise because he strikes more as a trappy, more traditional kind of producer. Time to dig back in his discography and find out. It’s interesting that he has produced a ton for King Louie who appears later on “Familiar.”
You know who he is so I won't waste much time, but it’s important to note that The Social Experiment played on Forest Hills Drive. Did they record his part here during the FHD sessions?
Knox Fortune is yet another talented producer and engineer who calls the Windy City home. Though he wasn’t credited directly, he also co-produced Vic Mensa’s "Have U Eva."
Though I couldn’t place her name on the first listen, I knew I knew her. Turns out it was Noname Gypsy who is a frequent collaborator with Chance (see "Lost” off Acid Rap) and a few other Windy City emcees she's "Comfortable" with. She's also working with Donnie on an album of her own. I Iove her verse more with every listen.
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned: Chance The Rapper, Eryn Allen Kane, Jeff Gittleman, Nate Fox, Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale
"Nothing Came To Me"
Another former Kids These Days member, JP rocks the shit out of the trombone. Minus Vic Mensa, every single member of Kids These Days appears on Surf. I guess this is as close to Traphouse Rock 2 as I’ll ever get. Also, this is JP’s first appearance, but it’s most definitely not his last. He'll finish with a ton of credits.
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned : Nico Segal
"Wanna Be Cool"
I’m gonna go ahead and assume you know Big Sean. I thought his verse was alright. Not bad, but per usual didn’t really do much for me.
Like a few Surf contributors before (and a few yet to come), Cam Osteen is a producer who has worked with Chance and company in the past (see "Suitcase"). It’s really interesting to see how many former SaveMoney collaborators are involved with this album. At this point it’d be quicker to list the ones who don’t appear on Surf. Oh, and by the way, Cam has produced for T-Pain so he wins at life.
He wasn't easy to find, but I did it. Definitely uncovered a gem here. Jack is a singer/singer who has a real fresh sound. In addition to the release of Surf, Jack also got married this weekend. Congrats!
When I first heard Jeremih on this track I thought back to the “Planes (Remix).” Should have known he’d show up here too. Honestly, I'm not the biggest fan of his vocal style, but it fits very well here.
In addition to appearing on Surf, Kiara was a contestant on American Idol and even sang at Obama's birthday party, but more importantly, she’s on Surf. I know all of thisfrom this video. She’s got a great voice.
I had never heard of Kyle before Surf, but I’m going to have to check him out because his voice is so interesting. He has a little E-40 to him.
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned: Chance The Rapper, Eryn Allen Kane, Jeff Gittleman, Nate Fox, Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale
I knew Jamila was featured on "Questions," but had no idea she was also on "Windows"; her voice was so familiar and I couldn’t place it. Turns out she’s half of the really dope duo M&O (formerly Milo & Otis), who have been featured on DJBooth multiple times.
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The last former Kids These Days member to appear on the album. He’s also a part of Marrow and can both sing and play guitar. Honestly I’m surprised he’s not featured more, he’s crazy talented. Guess I'll just go listen to "Doo-Wah."
Carrol is the dummer for Marrow. I should have known this earlier becuase I literally just saw Marrow live; thye've got a great thing going on. Fun fact: there’s an opera singer by the same name.
Well shit, Raury? Nice. Raury's so hot right now, he’s on of the most talked about up-and-comers in the game. I'm going to have to go back and listen very carefully because I still can't quite pick out his voice.
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned: BJ the Chicago Kid, C SICK, Chance The Rapper, Eryn Allen Kane, Jack Red, Lane Beckstrom, Macie Stewart, Nate Fox, Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned: Peter Cottontale
Dustin is an LA-based guitarist.
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned: Cameron Osteen, Carter Lang, Chance The Rapper, Francis Farewell Starlite, JP Floyd, Nate Fox, Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale
IIan Kidron is a part of the "electro-house and dance music group" The Pot Belleez. It should be noted that they have a song with B.o.B. I wonder if that’s how B.o.B. got connected to "Slip Slide, or maybe it’s how IIan got connected to "Familiar."
Is it bad I didn’t know who King Louie was? I knew I heard the name, but I had never heard any material from the OVO signee. I think it’s because he’s not exactly my style, but that’s what makes Surf so great. One minute you have a dude from an Australian-Irish electro group and the next you have King L.
Still tripping that these guys got Quavo of house of Migos on the project. Migos?!?!
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned: Chance The Rapper, Dustin Green, Jack Red, JP Floyd, Nate Fox, Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale
Um, I think this is her. If it is I’m kind of interested in her story. She doesn't seem to be a singer like the rest of these folks, more of an actress. I wonder what she did on the track.
Another tricky one. Is this him?
No disrespect to anybody else on "SmthnthtIwnt" (or all of Surf for that matter) but Saba stole the damn show; what an incredible verse! I’m not saying that just because I interviewed him either. I should expect nothing less from yet another talented rapper from the Chi. His appearance is even more dope because he’s part of another Chicago collection known as Pivot Gang. Most of the time we want to pit groups from the same city against each other, but its all love in the City of Win.
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned: Jeff Gittleman, Nate Fox, Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale
Jesse Boykins III
Chicago is unreal. So much damn talent. Case in point, Jesse Boykins III,who is a really amazing, unique R&B singer. I saw him live a few months ago and he’s the coolest. Also, you can buy his most recent album, Love Apparatus, via DJBooth. #shamlessplug.
Man, I had know idea this was Joey Purp. The same artist who ate this beat like groceries. For those that don’t know, Joey is another SaveMoney emcee and he’s awesome. I’m sensing a theme here - awesome people are on Surf.
I have to say, I’m really fucking with Mike’s contribution. It’s all the more dope when you hear his stuff with Mike Golden & Friends. It’s literally nothing like Surf. Shit, it’s not even hip-hop. Dude is crazy versatile, there's a lot of life in his vocals.
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned: Amanda Bailey, Eryn Allen Kane, Francis Farewell Starlite, Jeff Gittleman, Lane Beckstrom, Macie Stewart, Nate Fox ,Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale
This tune and the next don't have any new faces.
Credited but Previously Mentioned: Dustin Green, Jamila Woods, Nate Fox, Nico Segal
"Something Came To Me"
Credited but Previously Mentioned: Francis Farewell Starlite, Nate Fox, Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale
Erykah Badu!!!!!!! A LEGEND!!!!!! What a co-sign!
UPDATE: "...there were some stem and title changes, like “Rememory” was originally called “Tell Me” and didn’t originally have Erykah on there, and there was a big drum break that was super raw and we all vibe out to and there was a trumpet solo, but that got changed to her verse at some point. That was really the biggest one. There were all these things she recorded over the part that was a horn section, and I played new keys with her voice towards the very end, really late in the process when a lot of stuff was already done. It was kind of out of nowhere and really transformed that section. We kept certain elements of that original section, but it was really all about those chords that I changed right there." - Vice interview
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned : AdySuleiman,Chance The Rapper, Dustin Green, Nate Fox, Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale
No idea. Help!
Fun fact. In addition to being an artist in her own right, Sima is also the sister of Liam Cunningham, who you may remember from earlier was in Kids These Days and is featured on "Windows." She's also in a band with another former Kids These Days member and Surf contributor Macie Stewart; peep Homme.
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned: Chance The Rapper, Eryn Allen Kane, Jack Red, Jamila Woods, JP Floyd, Macie Stewart, Nate Fox, Nico Segal, Peter Cottontale, Stix
"Pass The Vibes"
I have no idea who he is. Nate Fox reached out, Eric is a singer/songwriter and producer, who has worked with SoX and co. in both Chicago and Los Angeles. (There is also a surf instructor named Eric Butler, which is is either a coincidence or the illuminati. Probably a coincidence. But also totally probably illuminati.)
Thaddeus is an artist/vibraphone player which is so fitting for a song about "Vibes." Contrary to popular belief he does have vibes for you. Also, when was the last time you heard a vibraphone on a hip-hop album?!
Also Credited but Previously Mentioned: JP Floyd, Nate Fox, Nico Segal
People who contributed in some way, shape or form to Surf but didn't make it into the album liner notes.
Artwork matters, too! Personally, I dig the Surf artwork, reminds me of Shel Silverstein- others have theories too- and I was curious about the artist behind it was. Give all credit and praise to Elijah Maura, who also did the liner art for Oddisee's new album. Pretty cool to find a link between two of my favoritee albums of the year.
Chance and The Social Experiment's long-time video and visual director, Vesely directed "Sunday Candy" (along with Chance and choreographer Ian Eastwood, there's another name) as well as this short documentary about touring with SoX.
In an interview from 2014, Chance mentions Frank Ocean as someone who "helped us get into the album," but Ocean doesn't appear anywhere on the album. I wonder how much and what exactly Frank did. Chance also mentions someone else...
Literally in the same breath in that same interview, Chance name drops Rick Rubin alongside Frank Ocean. Again, Rick Rubin isn't offcially credited, but it sounds like he did more than just sit on the couch.
The credits weren't officially listed, but I've read that Nate Fox is typically the group's engineer, along with I believe Peter Cottontale, but I couldn't say if they mixed the project as well, and on an album with this many instruments, a good mix is crucial. Engineers and mixers never get enough credit - right Ali?
UPDATE: "A good majority was recorded at the Chicago Recording Company with engineer Jeff Lane, and a multitude of assistant engineers (including myself). Super stoked to have watched this album happen, SoX are some of the most professional, talented, and genuine people I've ever plugged mics in for." - via Reddit
We know from the Fader profile that a lot of Surf was recorded at a shared home in L.A., along with Nate Fox's studio in West Hollywood, dubbed the Fox Hole (which would also be a great name for a strip club) and that a decent chuck was done in Chicago, including Chicago Recording Company with engineer Jeff Lane. Anywhere else?
UPDATE: "The mixing process for this record was ridiculous. There was multiple different studios all around the world that we had worked and a couple different people who were working on it. Really it started coming together when I told Nate he’d be working on it more than anyone else and that we were going to take it to somebody together after we worked on it. We had a bunch of weeks in LA when no one was here, and we would just mix songs and work on songs and that’s when it started taking shape. Some people sent things, and then we’d have sessions with them in different places or multiple sessions. Like, we had a couple days locked in the studio at CRC with BJ The Chicago Kid." - Vice interview
Album Title Meaning
Surf is an odd title for a group who grew up in the surf-less Chicago (although I guess Chance did paddle out in that). Chano explained in his Breakfast Club interview:
"Surf originally was a play about wanting to live in L.A. and living in Chicago. Obviously there's no surf culture in Chicago like there is in L.A., but we were making a lot of wavy music. It was an ironic play on the word and the idea of surfing and that being a part of the culture. It kept growing, changing and evolving, and we brought it to the collective and it's changed a lot and morphed into what it is. It has all around good vibes."
Yo! Check out this picture of an early Surf tracklist. What happened to about half these songs? Will they resurface on another SoX project? Were they renamed and placed on the project? The next Chance solo album? Locked away in the Fox Hole's vault? All I know is that I need to hear "Pasta Night" like I've never needed to hear anything.
For the past few weeks I’ve been wondering just what it is about Surf that drove me to the brink of insanity and for the past few days I’ve been wondering what it is about this album that makes it special. I’ve never fanboyed like this over anything. Why this?
In my early days of DJBooth as a music scout, it was my job to go off the beaten path and find the next great thing; at least that was my goal. Now I didn’t discover any of these artists, I didn’t do anything for their success, I’m not saying “I knew them first," I want no applause or credit, but I will say that I recognized a growing group of young artists from Chicago - from producers to rappers to directors to singers to trumpeters - who had a gift, who were special. Kids these Days was my gateway into the immense and overwhelming talent that was coming out of Chicago, but they were just the tip of the iceberg. After Kids These Days led me to Vic who led me to Chance who led me to SaveMoney who led me to producers like Peter and Nate. When I would hear a new artists from Chicago like M&O or Marrow, and even ones that weren't on surf like Mick Jenkins, I would pay close attention because I knew they would be great; dopeness by association.
Looking through these liner notes is both a trip down Memory Lane and a look into the future. It gives me a list of artists I already knew were talented and a list of brand new ones to check out. It’s an explosion of the pressure cooker of talent that is Chicago. Each person, from Chance and Donnie to the names so far off the path even an internet stalker like myself couldn't find, had so much to do with the cohesive, rich feel of Surf.
"Surf is Nico's project. He was working on it when we decided to be The Social Experiment, so we decided that his project should be first." - Chance the Rapper, Fader interview
Now that I’ve dug in, now that I know who is who, there's nothing left to do but ride the wave and enjoy.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth. Additional reporting by Nathan S, aka @RefinedHype.]