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Chicago’s Second Chance

Chance the Rapper

Hey ma.  Hey mama Jan;  God just gave me another chance.   Rod just gave me another line;  probably gave me another fan. 7-7-3, oh, since Kanye was a three-old.”

Chance warbles nasally to the crowd as if it is first grade story time, and the audience chants with him, lyric for lyric, “Hey Ma” doubling as a cult hymn.

As Chance lets the story unfold, his lips pucker and droplets from his forehead splash over the audience like the first April shower. The audience roars in echoed waves.  This is beginning to feel like a religious experience.

During song transitions, 20-somethings stretched their backs and sipped on their Bud Lights.  Obey snapbacks, an abundance of skin-clenching, black jeans and Nike high tops flooded the darkened venue.  At Chance the Rapper’s sold out show in November, the Metro in Wrigleyville, looked like the fall/winter collection at Urban Outfitters.

“TURNNNNNT UPPPPP!”  someone screamed over the crowd.

“ACID RAP, YEAH B- – – -!” yelled another.

In the crowd, two fans crouched down behind their friends  to conceal themselves from security.  One pulled out a water bottle filled with alcohol he had hidden in his crotch and began to drink it. He took two final swigs and passed it, then turned his glassed-over eyes up to the large screen with Chance’s face projected on it.

Chicagoan Chance the Rapper is only 19, but he may be what the Chicago rap scene has been missing for a while.  From the beginning of his career, Chance performed at public venues rather than in his friends’ moldy basements.Now, streetwear clothing stores, like Chicag0-based Leaders, have Chance perform in their stores, and Chance has attracted national recognition at CMJ, an annual indie music festival in NYC.  Chance played a sold-out  Lollapalooza after show with Childish Gambino and other venues with Schoolboy Q, Rockie Fresh, Chief Keef, Kelsey, and The O’mys, He is on the docket for 2013’s South By Southwest showcase.

Chancelor Bennett, known as Chance the Rapper, was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side at 79th Street and Princeton.  Chance started rapping around age 11 shortly after Kanye West‘s College Dropout debuted. At a young age, Chance knew he was going to rap, and the genesis of Chance’s rap career can be dated as far back as the fifth grade.

“A girl in the fifth grade gave me College Dropout and my mom threw it away because it was the dirty version, but she ended up buying me the clean version.  We were able to play it in the car and s- – -.  Basically, she was my real introduction into hip hop and like we used to listen to Michael Jackson when I was a shorty.”

Chance’s first album, 10Day has a rebellious feel to it.  10Day originally was supposed to be a side project to pass the 10 days of school suspension, that to him felt like an eternity. After the suspension Chance had a decision to make, and decided school wasn’t for him. Instead he focused his time on pursuing rap.

In his songs, Chance raps about family, school and a craving to travel back to that familiar place of youth and rebellion in ways that many of his 20-something listeners identify with.

Driving to Leaders on Wells Street, Chance reaches for the volume knob and slowly amplifies the silence in-between puffs of smoke.  He levels out the bass, leans his seat back, almost into the back seat.  He tilts his Leaders’ snapback down and leans his head back.  He drags the end of his cigarette and flicks it out onto the Expressway.  Pat Corcoran, Chance’s manager,  gently sings along in the driver’s seat and accelerates.

The car races down I-90-94 West, driving dangerously close to bumpers of eager drivers attempting to get home just a minute faster. The car swerves in and out of traffic, Chance begins to speak of streetwear clothing stores such as Leaders and Juggernaut, but keeps his voice to a soft whisper, so the journalist in the back seat wouldn’t hear much.  Uncomfortable tension took the car by storm, and even coughing or breathing felt like a nuisance.  Swerve some more. Pull a U-turn.  Forward. Reverse. Forward, yet again.

“Dammit, I missed the exit again,” Corcoran mumbles.

Finally, there is a glimmer of hope in the form of a parking spot and a place to sit. Chance mingles for a few minutes with his crew inside the Leaders store, and then parks himself on a cherry wood bench in front of customized Nikes.

“Yeah, I got suspended from Jones College Prep my senior year… I was smoking weed off campus and it was right before school started in the little alley behind the 7/11 on State… I just remember one morning I was down there and saw a cop behind, following me… and yeah after that I got 10 days off of school,” Chance explained. “Not everyone has to go to school to be someone.”

Regardless of Chance’s personal views of education, he frequently spends time visiting high schools and colleges, like Columbia College Chicago, to encourage students to stay in school.

The tracks on 10Day intertwine the theme of nostalgia, like lingering memories of lost friends and childhood as a whole. While Chance’s new record, AcidRap, leaves the listener with a feeling of accomplishment and maturity following on 10Day,  and Chance’s life after his first success.

The 10Day track,“Hey Ma” changed with each studio visit, slowly evolving into a deeper meaning than what he originally intended it to be.

“My grandma actually got really sick.  She had a stroke and had to have emergency surgery to get this plaque removed from her carotid arteries and it was it was really an intense surgery and they basically told her that she had a 50/50 chance that she would die on the table. So a few weeks before the album dropped, we actually got into the studio and I decided I wanted to take ‘Hey Ma’ and change the beat over.  It came out more about moms and just became a different song after that, but it still had an uppy tone to it,”

Musicians, and especially rappers, have a reputation for spending their weekends binging on drugs and alcohol. Now, Chance says his mother can’t stop him from using drugs because he is an adult.

“She probably feels like any mother would, ya know?  She doesn’t like it or approve of it, but I’m 19.  I’m going to be 20 next year and ya know, like, it’s not something she endorses or encourages, but she’s also not like…you know… I’m not a crazy drugged-out guy…I just make music and s- – -,” Chance said laughing. “I really don’t know how my mom feels about my drug use.”

Chance’s concept for 10Day and lyrical structure is characteristic of Kanye’s previous albums, but more specifically College Dropout.  Kanye was Chance’s age when College Dropout was in production and similar themes like getting into trouble or avoiding school are shared between them.   Odd Future’s fame achieved at a vulnerable age is representative of what Chance’s future looks like.  Chance’s lyrics on Acid Rap tend to be grittier and more mature stylistically, but still incorporate general rebellious themes such as drug use.  As Chance enters this world of acid-filled experimentation and lyrical inspiration, he will be measured against artists like  Kanye West.

Without hesitation, Chance describes his own sound as nothing fancy.  “It’s rap music…I like describing my music is being just rap. But, I branch out into other genres.  People try to put you into categories like hip hop or hardcore rap or trap.  I don’t like to [be put in a category].”

At the Metro, the DJ quiets the beat.  The audience finishes the almost an entire verse of “F- – – You Tahm Bout,” chanting in unison. The floor rattles while the rainbow colored, disco lights make their last rounds around the room before burning out.

“Y’all great Chicago!”

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