Chance The Rapper At Vocalo: “You Can’t Thrive Without Community”
Written by Vocalo Radio on July 20, 2022
Chance on YOUmedia, Key Collaborators and The Early Years
Vocalo host Ayana Contreras first met Chance while serving as an adult mentor at the YOUmedia space at the Harold Washington Library. At the time, Chance was a student at Jones College Prep participating in the youth programming, particularly in the Lyricist Lounge run by a mentor named Brother Mike Hawkins. YOUmedia was one of the spaces where Chance and his collaborators began to build crucial friendships as well as an artistic community.
Chance credits Ayana Contreras as one of his early mentors during his time at YOUmedia, when he was in high school. This was their first meeting in 10 years, and Contreras showed him his story as written in her book, ‘Energy Never Dies.’ They both cried and embraced.
Photo by Morgan Ciocca / Vocalo Radio, Chicago Public Media.
During Chance’s visit to Vocalo, Ayana shared that in the years since their time at YOUmedia, she’s watched Chance and his collaborators (among them fellow rappers Noname and Saba) “just building yourselves into really remarkable human beings, artists, all of that… I’m really proud of all the things that you’ve accomplished.” After Brother Mike’s untimely death in 2014, Chance helped organize the Open Mike initiative through Chance’s non-profit, SocialWorks, providing a similar space for Chicago teens.
The next Open Mike for teens will take place Saturday July 23 at 4 p.m., at 2240 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
Ayana Contreras: [We mentors] knew one of the things about that space: it was a safe space for you. You could just work out your stuff among yourselves, with people who were supporting you, 100%.
Chance the Rapper: And I appreciate it. Thank you for being in our lives in those formative years. Outside of the library, the kind of influence that you and Brother Mike [Hawkins], God rest his soul. The people in our lives and the things that you were putting us onto, the kind of confidence that you were building in us as 14 and 15 year olds, we weren’t getting it anywhere else. I know we wouldn’t be the adults that we are, that we’re trying to be, at least with you guys’ influence.
Ayana Contreras: All of us adults, we wanted you to be the very best version of yourself, and whatever you were at school, whatever you were on the block, you could leave that there.
Chance the Rapper: At the door, yeah.
Ayana Contreras: And be you.
Chance the Rapper: Yeah. It was the one space where I felt like we had the safe space to be kids, but also we were respected as autonomous adults. I love that, Mike used to always call us young creators, and used to say, we weren’t working on becoming rappers, or becoming poets, but we were already rappers and poets, and writers and authors. Having that, and having that little bit of pressure to try your hardest, but also the room to know that you are growing in it, like you say, like honing our craft and becoming more refined artists, was the whole theme of the library.
Ayana Contreras: That’s exactly it. The other thing that I loved about that space was that you all were able to interact with people like yourselves, like-minded people from all over the city. So, there was this cross-pollination thing that happened. Like Saba from the West Side. All of you were able to connect and make these real relationships that now, they’ve borne so much fruit.
Chance the Rapper: For real. What’s so crazy is, I’m starting to really put it together in my head. I’ve been seeing so many people from this time in my life that really grew me and created what is Chance the Rapper now.
Bekoe: Can I ask you who are some of those people?
Chance the Rapper: Yeah. That I’ve been seeing recently, or just people that came out of the library recently. I’ve been talking on the phone a lot to Fatimah… To Noname.
Ayana Contreras: Yes.
Chance the Rapper: We haven’t got to see each other probably in over a year, but we’ve been having a lot more phone calls and just check-ins. Raymond Abercrombie, obviously Saba. I’ve spent a lot of time with Saba recently, and everybody in Pivot, Lucky, obviously Vic [Mensa]. Me and Vic have been working a lot lately.
I’ve just been trying to, when I see people, which has been a lot lately, just spend some time kicking it, talking… just get updated, because [there’s always] some connection in our lives and things that we can work on together, or things that we’re going through at the same time. That was a very clean ecosystem of us being able to have adults around us that we could talk to. Having the space to, I’m sure there are so many people that work through trauma through the poetry there.
It was very deep. The stuff that all of us were writing about and going through was a lot for a 14 year old. It’s not that other kids aren’t going through the same thing. They just might not have the outlet, or the space to become better at communicating those ideas.