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Chance The Rapper at Vocalo: “You Can’t Thrive Without Community”

Written by on July 20, 2022

Chance on Chicago, his Upbringing and the Importance of Community

Photo by Morgan Ciocca / Vocalo Radio, Chicago Public Media

Chance the Rapper is one of the more high profile entertainers who continues to make a home in the Chicago Area, after many of his contemporaries and predecessors have decamped for Los Angeles or New York City. Vocalo host Bekoe asked Chance about why the artist, who could live anywhere in the world, chose to stay.

Bekoe: As we all know, Chicago like you stated is a large city, third largest market.  You’ve moved, but you came back, and you stay here. You’re here, putting the work in on the community side, on the activist side, helping, doing what you can to help with schools, doing what you can to get people to the polls.

Ayana Contreras: You had that really amazing Juneteenth celebration at the DuSable [Museum].

Bekoe: Yeah, Juneteenth barbecue.

Chance the Rapper: That was the one!  That was some radical greatness.

Bekoe: My brother was there too… enjoyed it. When a lot of artists finally get to their bag, they leave, but you Chance, you stayed, you’re here. What keeps you here?

Chance the Rapper: I’m going to be honest, a big part of it is that my resources are here. Like my family, my grandma, my aunts. All my family lives here, and I got two kids. All my wife’s family lives here too. It is what’s familiar to me and it is what’s … It’s just what I love. When I travel, there’s places that I have a good time in. I love L.A, I love New Orleans, I love Atlanta. You got to say Atlanta twice.

Nudia Hernandez: ATL.

Bekoe: That’s why I’m like, “Me too.”

Chance the Rapper: It’s a very Black city. I think when I go to those places I get to enjoy them as a visitor. I’ve only lived in one other place and it was Los Angeles. It got bad. I think I’m meant to live in Chicago, I’m meant to stay here. I want to die in Chicago, when I’m much older, obviously. It feels like where I’m supposed to be. I also don’t knock anybody else from moving, because everybody’s circumstances are different.

There are some people that move for safety. There are some people that move, because that is really what their job demands. Like, my job probably does demand it, but I have gotten to a place where I can make most things happen from home, and if I travel I just go for two days. I think I’m very much so a Chicago product. I really went to day camp every year. I went to high school, didn’t go to college. I’ve never lived anywhere else really other than L.A. And like I said, I’m not going back there.

Bekoe: You’re not the first artist I’ve heard say L.A. changed him. It could be a positive, it could be a negative.

Chance the Rapper: It could be a lot of different things.

Bekoe: I know somebody that went to L.A and came back with blonde hair.

Chance the Rapper: That’s what I’m saying. L.A will blonde you up, be careful.

Nudia Hernandez: I recently moved to Chicago and it was for this job. It’s been such an honor to be here in Vocalo. Listening to you and Ayana, and you reading from her book about your childhood.

Chance the Rapper: Yeah.

Nudia Hernandez: And you said you were a bad kid. Right?

Chance the Rapper: Yeah.

Nudia Hernandez: So, did you ever think this would ever happen? Because I Googled … I want to ask you if this is true, someone said that before Obama was Obama, and Chance was Chance, you had told President Obama, “I want to be a rapper.” And he said, “Word.” Is that real?

Chance the Rapper: Yeah. That happened. My dad used to work for Barack when he ran for congress, which was a long time ago, I was a kid. He lost [the primary election for the 1st Congressional District of Illinois in 2000], but my dad was his campaign manager. This was years and years, and years, I was a little kid.

Nudia Hernandez: Is this when you were bad? Is this the bad stint?

Chance the Rapper: I don’t think I was bad.

Ayana Contreras: Who’s bad?

Chance the Rapper: Yeah. Who’s bad?

Bekoe: He was a kid.

Chance the Rapper: We’re all human. Right? So, when you’re a kid, the way that you look at adults is like they are perfect, and they’ve never been in your situation. I think for some adults in jobs where they have to work with kids, they give kids the space to be kids until their humanity kicks in and they have to be like, “I’m tired of this.” Or, “I got to call your parents.”

I was a kid that used to just wear on people’s patience, I think. So, over time, I would just get labeled as bad. Like I said, I never got kicked out, or had to transfer schools, or anything. Teachers would be dealing with me for like four to eight years. So, I would just get a reputation for being bad. I forget what it’s called, but there is a scientific term for a means getting to an end, and ends brings to a means. I forget the word for it, but it was just a cycle of things.

I feel like if I hadn’t had certain people in my life, like certain dean of disciplines: shout out to Ms. Moody, or Ms.[Ayana] Contreras. A lot of teachers were coming to me, and they’d be like, “You know, everybody thinks you’re bad. But I know you’re not bad, you’re just bored. Just stop being bored. Just try.”

Bekoe: You just had a big imagination.

Ayana Contreras: Well, here’s the thing … When Coloring Book came out, it was really fitting, because I was like, “He’s one of those kids who was always coloring outside the lines.” Because the whole purpose of education is to teach you how to color in the lines and fit into the program. I mean, I was the same way, where it’s like, you’re asking, “Why are these lines this? Can we do some other lines? What if I add my own lines?” I think that’s really what we’re getting down to. What is good and what is bad? The well behaved? What do they say? The well behaved seldom change the world.

Chance the Rapper: Oohhhhhh.

Chance the Rapper and Ayana Contreras with his “5 Day” mixtape — which Chance made after a five-day suspension in 2011, before his famed 10-day suspension and corresponding mixtape in 2012. Ayana has kept it ever since. “That’s my handwriting!” Chance exclaimed upon seeing the CD, which reads “#10DayComingSoon.”
Photo by Morgan Ciocca / Vocalo Radio, Chicago Public Media

Chance On The Role Of His Father In His Success

Bekoe: If your father didn’t fuel your artistic ways, do you feel like you’d be where you are right now?

Chance the Rapper: No. Not at all. My dad manages me. My dad still works for me. My dad still stays up till 3:00 am trying to figure out routing for my shows, or for putting out emails and calls or flying places. It’s one of a kind. I don’t know really any artists that have that. What’s way more common that I see is momagers. Shout out to Coi Leray’s mom. She’s extremely hardworking. I see how they move, Gucci and his mom, or so many different people. 

I’ve seen a lot of situations where a mother can, in an industry that she might be completely unfamiliar with, become a giant, and have their child be respected and represented exactly how they need to be, but you very rarely see it with the dads in my industry, at least. Maybe more sports fathers, but music fathers, you don’t see it as often.

I could say for sure, without my dad … It doesn’t even just come down to the music. How I present myself, how I carry myself, I try and act like my dad when it comes to making sure I say thank you for stuff, making sure that I hold the door for people, making sure that I remember people, making sure that … Also just the stuff that I’m not willing to do.

I feel like I’m still unsigned, because I remember when I was in Sony’s Offices, and they locked the door and brought a contract, and told me that they were going to give me 250K that day, I almost did that stuff. My dad called me, I felt like he had a camera in the room or something. He’s like, “What you doing?” “I’m not saying none.” I was like, “I’m not signing none of this. There’s a contract sitting in front of me.” He was like, “All right. I’ll see you when you get back.”

I just waited till they got back and left. I feel like there are so many moments that I could think of, whether it was my dad actually being there, or somebody doing something that brought something out of me that made me act how my dad would, or respond how my father would, that I know for a fact I wouldn’t be, even where I’m sitting right at this moment, if it wasn’t for him being in my life. 

Chance on Plans For New Releases

Chance the Rapper and Nudia Hernandez outside the Vocalo studio.
Photo by Morgan Ciocca / Vocalo Radio, Chicago Public Media

Team Vocalo wrapped up their conversation with Chance the Rapper by asking the artist about his plans for another album. Chance has not released an album since 2019’s The Big Day. That recording was technically his debut studio album, as his previous releases (including 10 Day, Acid Rap and the Grammy-award winning Coloring Book) are classified as mixtapes because they were only officially available to stream or to acquire as a free download.

In particular, his 2017 Grammy nods (he was nominated for 7 Grammys and won 3, including the award for Best Rap Album) resonated across the industry because previously, recordings that were streaming-only were not qualified for consideration. Perhaps it’s fitting that the maverick artist’s most recent releases have continued to tinker with format.

Bekoe: So, Chance, are we going to get the album tomorrow?

Chance the Rapper: Tomorrow?! I feel like I have these thoughts and ideas that I have to let percolate and become the most streamlined versions of themselves. I can only do that by taking time to write them and produce them the way that they need to be. Then on top of that making sure that the visual representation, in terms of the artwork, the physical piece of it is streamlined and clear.

Then also making sure that the film part of it, the music video is streamlined and clear, and that they’re all one working thing, because sometimes my ideas are too lofty to just be heard. You know what I’m saying? Sometimes you got to see them, sometimes you got to feel them, sometimes you got to be in the same room as them.

I have been trying to not think about the project that I’m working on as an album, or as this finite thing that will be eventually done. “Okay. We got all 16 tracks.” It’s more like, “How can I get across everything I’m trying to get across with this piece of art?”

So, with “Child of God” I needed to not only have the song, but also have the music video, and have the painting, and have the lyrics be on the screen, and have it open at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and have it be exhibited at EXPO, and have it be played on Late Night, and then have billboards for it.

The idea behind “Child of God” is so lofty and heavy, that somebody might not get it on their first play. So, I got to keep making it accessible to them, more and more accessible, more and more understandable. I’m thinking that that might have to be how I do each one of my songs. So, there’s a small possibility that we might get all the pieces before it’s an album. You know what I’m saying?

What we have to look forward to is: I do have a bunch of stuff in the tank. I got two pieces, paintings that are finished that haven’t been released yet. And I have a ton of songs recorded. So, in that in-between time, really I guess what listeners are waiting for from me is to put them together in the most accessible way possible. That way they can get the art how they’re supposed to.

Check out Vocalo’s full conversation with Chance The Rapper below:

Stay up-to-date with Chance the Rapper on Twitter and Instagram.

Written by Ayana Contreras

Photography by Morgan Ciocca

Video Edited by Bekoe, Shot by Jayvon Ambrose

Interview conducted by Bekoe, Ayana Contreras and Nudia Hernandez

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