Chance the Rapper
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“I don’t make songs for free, I make them for freedom // Don’t believe in kings, believe in the kingdom,” says Chance the Rapper on the song “Blessings.” The song is featured on his newest project, Coloring Book. “Lil’ Chano” has been writing, recording, and producing music since high school, and only 23 years old today, he has already released 8 projects, a mix of individual works and joint mixtapes.
Chancellor Jonathan Bennett was born on April 16, 1993, in the West Chatham neighborhood of Chicago. He was surrounded by hip-hop culture his entire childhood, and was raised very religiously. He took his first steps as a musician early, when he performed at talent shows all the way from preschool to High School. He started a group called Instrumentality with one of his friends, and made his first individual rap debut with his album 10 Days.
In an interview with Pitchfork, Bennett revealed that the album was actually written during a 10-day suspension he served in high school for smoking weed.
“…I got suspended a lot, but senior year I got suspended for smoking weed right before spring break, which was sick because I had three weeks in a row off. I wasn’t really good at high school or getting good grades and shit, and at that point, I wasn’t going to graduate. I was looking at my life and just like, ‘Who am I supposed to be?'” He said in the interview.
The three weeks he had off from school he dedicated to writing his first ideas for the album, which he edited and adjusted for another year before releasing it on the music-sharing website DatPiff. The album blew up, garnering almost half a million downloads and introducing thousands of fans to the new Chicago emcee.
He was named as one of the “10 New Chicago Rappers To Watch Out For” in 2012 by the magazine Complex after releasing 10 Days. A year later he released his second project, Acid Rap, for free on streaming services such as YouTube, SoundCloud, and DatPiff.
“I never wanted to sell my music,” said Chance the Rapper told Vanity Fair, “because I thought putting a price on it put a limit on it and inhibited me from making a connection.”
In the same interview, Chano revealed that it was after releasing his second album, Acid Rap, that he looked at signing with a label. He met with two big rap agents, but then later decided that he would refrain from signing with either of them because he felt that it would limit what he could do with his music.
That independance from labels and his insistence to make all of his music for no cost has helped Bennett become one of today’s most popular and influential rappers.
“I like how he’s independant because he can keep pushing the music industry to the limit,” said Erica Boerth, Senior. “Music is supposed to be free and creative and I love how he does what he wants.”
It was after Acid Rap that Chano from the 79th became known by everyone in the hip-hop industry. The album featured names like Childish Gambino, Vic Mensa, and Ab-soul, and debuted at 63rd on Billboard’s top 100. It was listed as a top-50 album of the year in multiple magazines including Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and Complex, and helped him earn the title of Spin’s Rapper of the Year and a diamond certification from DatPiff. He was also included in advertisements for the attempted reboot of the social media site MySpace, alongside other rappers like Mac Miller, Pharrell, and Schoolboy Q.
Metacritic rated the mixtape at an average score of 86 by 21 critics. That score indicates “universal acclaim.”
After the extremely successful album was released, Chance moved to Los Angeles, away from Chicago for the first time. However, the change of scenery did not last long for Bennett, as he moved back to Chicago after just six months in the City of Angels.
“Chicago is a beautiful city—the architecture, the food, everything in the city is awesome,” Bennett said to Vanity Fair.
The next year, in 2014, the popular magazine XXL revealed its annual freshman class of rappers, which featured Chance the Rapper alongside Ty Dolla $ign, Rich Homie Quan, Vic Mensa, and Kevin Gates, among others. Chano was also listed as #7 on Forbes “30 under 30” music list.
The next big thing by Chance was a collaborative album called Surf. The album was not technically a product of Bennett’s, but instead was created by the group Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment. Chance does not have vocals on all of the songs, and is not credited on any. The album also features uncredited vocals and verses from the likes of Big Sean, J Cole, Jeremih, and many others. Before the album’s release, the songs “Sunday Candy,” and “Nothing Came to Me,” were released as singles. “Sunday Candy” is an ode to Bennett’s grandmother, presented in a gospel-like style.
“I got a feature so I’m singing for my grandma / You singing too, but your grandma ain’t my grandma / Mine’s is handmade, pan-fried, sun-dried / Southside, and beat the devil by a landslide / Praying with her hands tied, president of my fan club, sayin’ t’ her / Something told me I should bring my butt to church,” sings Chance the Rapper in the hit single “Sunday Candy.”
Surf was released for free download on iTunes, racking up over 600,000 downloads in the first week alone, and over ten million individual song downloads total. It was also ranked as one of the top albums in 2015 in the magazines Pitchfork and Stereogum. Metacritic rated it at 86, which is good for “universal acclaim.”
Shortly after Surf was released, Chano from the 79th and Lil B released a joint mixtape called Free Based Freestyles Mixtape.
One of the biggest moments of Bennett’s career came in February of 2016 with the release of legendary rapper Kanye West’s newest album, The Life of Pablo. Chance was featured on the opening track, another gospel-style piece titled “Ultralight Beam.” Bennett uses his verse to talk about God, his relationship with his wife and daughter, and his mission to lead all artists to being independant and free of labels and restrictions.
“You can feel the lyrics, the spirit coming in braille / Tubman of the underground, come and follow the trail,” Chance raps on the song. The lyrics talk about how his words and lyrics are so powerful that you can feel them without hearing them, much like Braille, a writing and reading system for the visually impaired. Chance has also stated that “The Tubman line refers to my own leadership of all other artists towards independence and freedom.”
Bennett also stated on the song that he was working on a third mixtape to follow up 10 Days and Acid Rap, and would release it for free like all of his other projects. He performed a single from the album on The Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert, named “Angels,” which talks about the violence in inner Chicago.
On May 12th, 2016, the world got what it had been waiting for for three years: Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape, which was promoted as “Chance 3.” The actual title of the album was Coloring Book, and had a track list of 14 songs. The album featured artists Kanye West, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Jeremih, Francis and the Lights, D.R.A.M., Young Thug, Lil Yachty, Saba, Justin Bieber, Towkio, Knox Fortune, Jay Electronica, Future, T-Pain, Eryn Allen Kane, Noname, Ty Dolla Sign, Raury, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Anderson .Paak. He also featured the Chicago Children’s Choir and his cousin Nicole. Alongside all of those artists, he featured one of his personal favorite singers, Kirk Franklin. Bennett has said that Franklin helped inspire him to create his gospel-like sound today.
The mixtape was first released solely to Apple Music, another example of an artist releasing their album only to the MacIntosh platform at first. Other artists to do the same were Frank Ocean, Drake, Beyonce, Future, Rihanna, and Kanye West. The album topped the Billboard 200 chart at number eight with the equivalent of 38,000 album units. Coloring Book was the first ever streaming-only album to be on the BIllboard 200. Because 1,500 streams of an album is equivalent to one album unit, this means that Chano’s third mixtape was streamed over 50 million times in its first week. Two weeks later, Bennett released the new project onto other streaming services.
While Chance had been established as one of the best and most influential rappers of our time, he had never had a chance to win one of the music industry’s most prestigious awards: a Grammy. This was because in order to win a Grammy, an album had to be sold for profit. (“He said let’s do a good ass job with Chance 3 / I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy” raps Chance on “Ultralight Beam.”) However, because of a petition started by Bennett and popular demand, the Grammys announced that streaming-only albums and artists would now be eligible to be nominated for the awards.
When the 59th Grammy nominations rolled around in late 2016, it was announced that Chancellor Jonathan Bennett had been nominated for seven of the awards, including three for Best Rap Song, because of his collaborations with Kanye West and his own song, “No Problem.” He was also nominated for Best New Artist, Best Rap Album (Coloring Book), Best Rap Performance (“No Problem”), and Best Rap/Sung Performance for his part in “Ultralight Beam.”
On February 12th, 2017, Chance the Rapper became the first streaming artist ever to win a Grammy. And he didn’t just win one, he won three. Alongside Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Album, he won Best New Artist. In his acceptance speech for Best New Artist, he thanked God multiple times, as well as his wife Kirsten, his daughter Kinsley, and the entire city of Chicago. He also stated, “I know people think that independence means you do it by yourself, but independence means freedom.”
Chance the Rapper has become a novelty item to have at awards ceremonies, in commercials, featured on albums, or at major music events in the past couple years. Back in 2013, when he was barely coming into public eye, he performed at the music festival Lollapalooza, just before being featured on Childish Gambino’s most recent album. He has performed at countless music festivals and tours, including the Bonnaroo festival with Kendrick Lamar, his own “Social Experiment” tour for his album Acid Rap, and a tour with D.R.A.M., Metro Boomin, and Towkio.
He also released a christmas music mixtape with Jeremih on Soundcloud in late 2016, just in time for the holiday season.
The Acid Rapper has also been in ads for Nike, for which he wrote an original song, Dockers, Nestle, and is the new face of the H&M campaign. He also wrote an original song for the ESPY award show titled “I Was a Rock” as a tribute to Muhammad Ali.
The rapper’s most recent tour is for his newest album, Coloring Book. He announced the tour on September 24, 2016, at a festival called the Magnificent Coloring Tour on U.S. Cellular Field, alongside artists Lil Uzi Vert, Skrillex, and Lil Wayne. The tour would start in San Diego, and move northeast to New York, down the east coast, and back west to finish in Los Angeles.
The Magnificent Coloring Day tour will be coming relatively close to Blacksburg in early June, with shows at Virginia Beach, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Greensboro, and Charlotte. Many Blacksburg High School students are looking forward to going to the event.
“I’m going, yeah” said Eli Nachlas, sophomore. “I like his music and style, and I really want to see him in person.”
However, some students are still undecided on whether they are going to take the trip to see the rapper.
“I really want to go,” said Emily Peacock, Senior. “I’m not sure if I can yet, but if I do, I would go to the concert in D.C.”
Despite his name, Chance the Rapper is more than a rapper. He is a filmmaker, when he acted in and helped create a short movie called Mr. Happy in 2015. He is a voice for the people of Chicago, winning the Outstanding Youth of the Year award in 2014, given to him by the Mayor of Chicago. He is a political activist, creating hashtags such as “#SaveChicago” and “#May23” to raise awareness for gun violence in Chicago. He met with President Obama in early 2016 to discuss My Brothers Keeper Challenge, which is a federal program that works with influential people of color to promote racial justice. He is proof that you can make it out of the “hood”, that you can be successful on your own, without needing help from a major company that will give you less freedom.
Chance the Rapper will continue giving the people want they want, making stellar music for no cost. He will continue being a role model for the youth, and will continue preaching his message over his worldwide platform.