What We Know • The Social Experiment's Sixth Man
From the beginning, The Social Experiment has been inclusive by design, lending the name to include anyone contributing their talents to a track helmed by one of the group's founding members. Their contagiously collaborative mindset has seen dozens of major label artists forgo feature credit while working alongside acts that wouldn't otherwise have been on their radar, including some of Chicago's best kept secrets. Until now, The Social Experiment has best been separated by it's touring roster (Chance, Donnie, Peter, Stix & Nate) and the extended family of collaborators. However, with one member of that extended family seeing an emerging roll both on stage & in the studio it began to catch our interest. Especially when you consider who he is.
For those who aren't familiar with Francis & The Lights, a little background is in order.
Information in general, let alone first hand accounts, is pretty limited compared to artists of a similar acclaim. A New York-Native, Francis Farewell Starlite is the frontman for Francis & The Lights. Between a handful old interviews, he's noted as being equally reserved and hard working, opting never to talk much about himself while practicing meticulously on the task at hand. On his suspiciously scarce Wikipedia page you'll see he's worked and/or toured alongside the likes of Drake, MGMT, Das Racist and La Roux as well as scored a film in 2012. Other than that all you'll learn is the '& The Lights' extension, refers not to his backing band, but rather the lights from computer screens and stages that he's surrounded by while making music. While the Tumblr that serves as his official website gives peaks into the life of Starlite, the majority of his moves remain a mystery. The fact there's undoubtedly more to the story than is out there only further perpetuates the allure.
I was first put on to Francis & The Lights in 2013 while having a conversation with Vic Mensa in my living room. "Wait, you've never heard of Francis & The Lights?", instantly grabbing the nearest laptop to pull up the "Darling, It's Alright" video. I was in all around awe - the vocals, the production, the lighting, the dancing - everything was so awesome. Since I've been hooked, keeping his four EPs, all released between 2007-2013, in regular rotation. However, since then Francis hadn't released a single solo song, until last week.
The new release came on the heels of the Chance The Rapper's Coloring Book album, one Francis had a heavy impact on. In addition to providing the foundation of one of the project's best songs in "Summer Friends", he's also credited on "All We Got" featuring Kanye West and "Same Drugs". While many were surprised to see the collaboration, those who have paid close attention to The Social Experiment over the years knew this wasn't the first time Chance and Francis had worked together.
The 2014-2015 Surf sessions saw the Francis join forces with The Social Experiment for the first time on record. By the time the album released in May of last year, Francis had left his mark on "Windows", "Just Wait", "Go" and "Something Came To Me". Additionally, Francis provided the storyline for the "Nothing Came To Me" video that stared Cara Delevingne, Surf 's first visual teaser.
Starlite's contributions outside of the studio, continued on the Coloring Book rollout. Last week, Chance posted a video on Instagram showing the two working together on the set-design for the Magnificent Coloring World event, an interactive listening experience centered around the new album. Making use of the fact he's known by name rather than face by most, Francis even went as far as to partake in the event himself - volunteering as a vendor passing out candy at one of the event's "Sunday Candy"-themed booths.
Chance recently discussed the topic with Zane Lowe in their Beats 1 interview, explaining what Francis and the Lights meant to him and the creation of Coloring Book. Around the 10 minute mark of the interview Chance describes the unique sound and influence Francis's 'prismizer' effect had on the project and how it's gotten the attention of Kanye, Frank Ocean and Bon Iver. Often mistaken as autotune, it focuses on harmony and sounds like futuristic choir (check out Kanye's appearance on "All We Got" as reference).
When discussing upcoming touring plans with Zane, Chance joyfully explains that Francis has played the last few shows with him (52 minute mark). Visibly excited at the thought of a full tour with Starlite as part of the SoX band, he quickly brings himself back to reality stating Francis has his own album on the way and might not be able to do it. If Starlite does maintain his roll in the touring roster this is big news. While we've seen other frequent collaborators like Jamila Woods, Teddy Jackson & Jack Red join the SoX on stage on several occasions, it would be the first time fans have seen the Social Experiment incorporate a new member into the full set since bassist Jeff Gitelman's brief time touring with the band a couple years back. But let's agree on this; if Chance is excited, there's a good. . . probability. . . that you should be too. Knowing these guys, odds are they've got more up their sleeve than they're letting on. In the meantime, fans can continue enjoying Coloring Book, and look forward to finally hearing what else Francis has been working on these days.