In the summer of 2013, between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, I heard my first Chance the Rapper track. I was in a friend’s room, listening to music, when one of my friends jumped on YouTube and pulled up the music video for “Juice,” one of the most popular songs on Chance’s second mixtape “Acid Rap.” I didn’t like it at all. I was confused. I could barely understand what he was saying and wondered why he kept yelling “ah!” throughout the song. But some part of my brain was intrigued; I had never heard anything like it before. So, I filed it away. By the time sophomore year started, I couldn’t get enough of him.
Despite widespread underground success and acclaim, Chance, at the time of my discovery, was still relatively unknown in mainstream circles. I couldn’t have been happier with that. I delighted in showing off my underground find to my friends (with mixed reviews), and the words, “Who? Never heard of him,” were music to my ears. Exposing people to new music has always been something I’ve loved to do, and I took every opportunity I could.
As usually happens with incredibly talented individuals (and rightly so), over time they get famous. As most people already know, this is what happened with Chance. After a major endorsement from Kanye at a concert in 2015 where he called Chance “one of the most talented young new artists,” Chance has since skyrocketed to the top of the mainstream consciousness (a feature on the opening track of Kanye’s most recent album, “The Life of Pablo” didn’t hurt too much either). Suddenly, everyone knew him; riding this new wave of recognition, he released his third mixtape, “Coloring Book,” for free in 2016, to massive success.
I didn’t really like “Coloring Book,” and I didn’t really like the new Chance.
Call it selfish, call it close-minded, but I didn’t like the mainstream identity into which Chance had stepped. His charisma, wordplay and energy are unparalleled. But the magic that drew me to him as a sophomore in high school was gone. The new Chance was sanitized, no longer the gritty, acid-dropping stoner that I had grown to love. I know that every artist needs to evolve, and that it was foolish of me to believe that Chance would remain the same as he was three years ago. And yet, some part of me is still holding out for another “Acid Rap.”
Few have deserved fame more than Chance. Through it all, he has remained incredibly humble, and still releases all of his music for free. He has remained an independent artist despite the incredible economic advantages of being signed. He buys back concert tickets by the hundreds from scalper websites so his fans don’t have to shell out exorbitant amounts of money to see him perform. On Sept. 24, he held what was perhaps his crowning achievement, his “Magnificent Coloring Day,” a festival of his creation that sold out the 44,000-seat U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, with Lil Wayne, Young Thug, 2 Chainz, Tyler the Creator and Alicia Keys performing — to name a few. He is an artist in the best sense of the word, always innovating, always evolving, and he’s finally being internationally recognized because of it. But I miss the old Chance.
Email Thomas Lange at [email protected]
Check out the rest of the Arts Issue here.