Review: Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s Surf

I haven’t written a review in a while and I realize now that it’s because an album has not excited me this much in approximately the same amount of time, installing a black hole where my motivation to write once lived. The inspiration came flooding back with the first few notes of Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s Surf. Admittedly, I am bit late to listen to the album since its release in June of this year. It has been moving down my ever-growing list of “Music to Explore ASAP” and, only upon my recent vacation, did I finally get around to listening. Now I may have to throw out the list because I cannot fathom a moment wherein I am compelled to listen to something else.

I laid by a lake in a structure that sheltered me from the outside storm while allowing me to enjoy the ambiance of the rain pounding overhead. I listened to the record and the deluge at once, which heightened the smoothness of “Sunday Candy” in a way so perfect that I am certain will neither translate to this review nor ever be replicated. This is the ultimate vacation album, with its diverse influences – soul, jazz, hip-hop, transcendence – and incredibly light-hearted feel. Surf is fluid and polished, complimenting the jazzy timbres of the brass perfectly.

Although most people may stumble upon Surf due to their love of Chance the Rapper, I am reluctant to credit him entirely with the mastery that exists in these 16 tracks. My props are directed to the collective. The group consists of Nico Segal (aka Donnie Trumpet), Peter “Cottontale” Wilkins, Nate Fox, Greg “Stix” Landfair Jr., and Chancelor Bennett. The group is Chance’s touring band and you can definitely hear his influence, although the sound is different from his latest, Acid Rap. A refreshing mix of collaborators with names both big and small also appear – Saba, Joey Purp, King Louie, Noname Gypsy, Jamila Woods as well as Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes and Quavo from Migos and J. Cole. It isn’t the rap that characterizes this album, though; Donnie’s trumpet creates the unique sound, delicately inserting flavours of marching bands, funk or jazz whenever possible.

The album opens with “Miracle”, a lush track that introduces the multidimensional nature of what is to come. Conceptually, the album is cohesive in its exploration of positive human experiences. Each song touches on a different aspect of love for life. “Wanna Be Cool” proclaims “I don’t wanna be cool / I just wanna be me” and in the even more groovy “Pass the Vibes”’s chorus consists of “I want to play the vibraphone” – sentiments my entire heart agrees with. Surf is free of the egoism and misogyny that damages so many hip hop albums. It is a triumph of effervescence. “Windows” might be my favourite on the album, but I can’t (and won’t) commit. The duet of Chance’s “Don’t you look up to me / Don’t trust a word I say” and the muted trumpet is tender and beautifully vague, like some of my favourite poetry. “Sunday Candy” is also a contender for my favourite track with Jamila Woods lighting up the song in a way so rare that I can’t think of an apt comparison.

There are not enough positive words available in the English language to adequately express how much I think everyone should listen to this album.

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Hilary Johnston
Hilary Johnston is a writer, event manager and musician from Toronto.
Hilary Johnston