Like any good squad, the DJBooth writers are a tight-knit bunch who occasionally yell at each other. People have been known to walk out of rooms over rap related debates, and whenever an argument pops up that we can't seem to settle internally, we've got no choice but to take it public and let the people decide.
With Drake and Chance the Rapper both releasing brand new albums you'd think that we'd be debating Views versus Coloring Book, but often it's the present that makes you look at the past. So instead, an early morning discussion over which breakthrough album had more impact, So Far Gone or Acid Rap, turned into a debate which turned into a rift so deep it could only be settled with a feature article.
Pick your side, let the battle begin.
Acid Rap (Lucas)
Whenever I dive into an internet rabbit hole, I emerge with a new level of respect for whatever it is I researched until 5 A.M. Drake is no different. When I checked out the early days of the OVO Blog I thought it would be great for some cheesy pictures, but I actually ended up gaining a real appreciation for how So Far Gone launched Drake from minor celebrity into superstardom. In the span of a year he went from recording in Toronto to partying with LeBron and Kanye, and it was So Far Gone that served as the catalyst. It’s a story you don’t often see unfolding in real time as the OVO blog allows us to see, but it’s one you’ve heard time and time again.
A rapper releases a free project, blows up, signs to a major label and becomes a superstar.
So Far Gone turned an ambitious young man destined for superstardom into a superstar. Yawn. Here’s a better story:
A rapper releases a free project, blows up, refuses to sign with a major label, still works with all of their artists anyway, along with the lesser known ones he grew up with and rewrites the rules for artists on the rise.
Drake was a carefully coordinated brand from the beginning, but Chance wanted us to reach out and grab him through his music. So Far Gone may have impacted an entire industry, may have shown rappers that if they wanted to be as successful as Drake they needed to sing too, but did it change lives? Did it inspire any sort of real change at all? If you want to talk about real impact and influence look at Chance.
Through Acid Rap alone, Chance became a beacon of hope and a voice in a city that desperately needed it. That's why while So Far Gone's feature list looks more like Houston and Atlanta (and Vegas), Acid Rap is absolutely over-flowing with Chicago energy and spirit. Acid Rap alone built a platform for Chance that he's used for hosting open mics for young Chicago and helped him to raise over $100,000 for the homeless.
Chance may not have inspired copycat sounds - How could you copy him anyway? - but he inspired artists to keep doing it their own way. Drake played by their rules and won. Chance won by refusing to play. Acid Rap put him in the position to put up a Drake-like resume of collaborations, endorsements and SNL appearances, and he's doing it all without the major label machine behind him. Acid Rap was Chance breaking through the ceiling for an indie artist and rebuilding it into a skyscraper.
Though Chance is doing some amazing things right now, Drake is still the more popular artist by a wide margin, but don't mistake fame for impact. So Far Gone is a chapter in Drake’s story, but with Coloring Book's ink still drying, Acid Rap is still Chance’s story and that story sounds a whole lot like Drake’s on paper but with one big difference; he’s writing his story all by himself.
So Far Gone (Yoh)
So Far Gone. Seven years have gone by since the 2009 release that spun rap off its axis. This was the mixtape that redefined the idea of the potential of a free release. “Successful” was on the radio, “Best I Ever Had” charted number two on the Billboard Hot 100, and they were on a mixtape.
I remember when the idea of a mixtape was like Jeezy’s Trap Or Die, Wayne’s Dedication II and Royce Da 5’9’s Bar Exam, projects that were more about raising anticipation and promotion than artistry. A few original songs mixed with “freestyles” over production from songs that had commercially splashed into the mainstream. While you had Blu’s Below The Heavens and J. Cole’s Warm Up beginning to blur the lines between mixtapes and albums, Drake's arrival made it very clear that you could succeed by releasing a free mixtape with album quality. It was so hot the labels had to re-release the thing as a stripped down EP just to collect any coins they could. That was a sign the times were changing. Drake changed them.
The content had a huge impact on mainstream rap music. Kanye had already been the David to defeat gangster rap's Goliath, ushering in a new age. Drake adopted the vulnerability from 808’s and Heartbreaks and turned it into an aesthetic that surpassed Kanye’s experimental release. He could sing without being drowned in Auto-Tune, a voice that was soft, not robotic. Women swooned. With his heart wrapped around the microphone, it was like being a fly on the wall of his most intimate thoughts. You had the Joe Buddens and the Kid Cudis who were raw with emotion, but Drake kicked open this door of openness that has influenced both rappers and singers. Rapping alongside Lil Wayne, on-par with someone who donned the title of “Greatest Alive,” it made Drake both a romantic and lyricist. He was giving us the best of both worlds by being both R. Kelly and Jay Z.
I don’t think Future could sing “Turn On The Lights” and find success without a song like “Best I Ever Had.” Donald Glover would have had a hard time transitioning into rap without So Far Gone opening ears and eyes to a rapper who can wear his emotions through both singing and rapping. Even Acid Rap was likely influenced by how So Far Gone introduced the idea that a free release could be bigger than a retail album. It wasn’t completely groundbreaking in content or sound, but the way it was received shook the very ground every rapper walked on. Those attuned knew nothing would be the same.
So Far Gone ushered in a change that impacted everything. I’ll say Acid Rap changed Chance’s life, but So Far Gone changed hip-hop.