Donnie Trumpet: The Architect of Chicago’s “Upbeat Uprising”?
At a pivotal time in his career, last year Donnie Trumpet, 21, received his big break: to record an album with Chance the Rapper, under a band that takes his name: Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment.
"The vibe is strong, extremely strong," Donnie tells me down the phone from Chicago.
Surf is the latest project to showcase Trumpet's hot hand as an architect of Chicago's alternative hip-hop movement, first as a member of indie collective Kids These Days, then as a solo producer and touring horn player for R&B star Frank Ocean.
The day after Kids These Days broke up, in early summer of 2013, Trumpet (a stage name he picked up in high school that matched his horn-playing persona) hit the road with Ocean on his California Live tour, after a demanding audition process. The reward was to travel the globe and play songs he loved.
But Trumpet longed for the camaraderie he'd established with his fellow KTD members, who started jamming together in their early teens.
"How can I describe it nicely?" Trumpet says of the Ocean tour. "Frank was very much my boss; I was very much his employee."
As fate would have it, Trumpet got a call shortly after, from another upstart he'd met in the Chicago scene: Chance The Rapper, who was putting together a touring band following the success of his Acid Rap mixtape.
Trumpet likens the band's first outing to "going to war,” as the entirety of the Social Experiment and Chance’s management crammed onto one bus and had to deal with little sleep and little pay—all while getting to know one other.
But the group, consisting of "people who can get along in any situation with no sleep and no food after being on a bus for 17 hours," remained upbeat. Their fraternity grew over the course of a subsequent European tour, festival run, and college tour.
A long way from Chicago's well-documented Drill sound, the music Trumpet and his collaborators make is steeped in nostalgic, wide-eyed optimism, like Social Experiment's cover of the Arthur theme song, "Wonderful Everyday." It takes cues from the group's hometown, putting a positive spin on Chicago blues while borrowing from juke's schizophrenic percussion, and tied together by Chance’s unique voice.
"Chicago is home to so many styles, I think it really describes my own hodgepodge ideas in music," says Trumpet. "Everything exists vibrantly in Chicago."
To date, the unsigned group has released six free singles to SoundCloud, directly to Chance's massive social media following.
“[The Social Experiment] feels very free because we just like making music, and his reach allows us to have our music heard by thousands of people," says Trumpet, citing "I Am Very Very Lonely," a syrupy, tongue-in-cheek track that references Spanish folk song “La Cucaracha,” as an example.
“Chance said, 'If I catch myself singing this tomorrow, I'm putting it out,’” Trumpet recalls. “And of course, he was singing it the next day, and that's what happened. We just put it out."
The song has garnered over 4 million plays since its April release.
Looking ahead to Surf, the Social Experiment's much-hyped debut, and which they recently teased in a video featuring Cara Delevingne, the Chicago native is excited to share his curatorial voice with the world on such a large stage.
"That's the whole thing with the Social Experiment," says Trumpet. "Put all these amazing people in the same room and see what happens." For this project, he brought together artists from different worlds, like alt singer Francis Starlite, and Chicago rapper Joey Purp, while "learning to let people shine."
"My goal is to expand people's musical tastebuds to make them try musical spinach," he says. "I want everybody to be like, 'How did they do this?!'"
Love Chicago music? Check out Green Label Live in Chicago on 02/22 featuring Casey Veggies and Flat White, as well as Rae Sremmurd.