A Cigarette Break With Chance The Rapper
A few weeks after the release of his Internet-halting sophomore mixtape Acid Rap, Chance The Rapper stopped by XXL's New York offices to kick it with the staff. What was supposed to be a casual hangout turned into a fan-out session, as the XXL staffers just couldn't stop telling the Chicago wunderkind how much they loved the new mixtape. After listening to our gushing for long enough, Chance—who's become somewhat iconic for smoking cigarettes, even naming a song on his new project "Chain Smoker"—needed a little breather, so he stepped outside for a smoke. Naturally, one of our reporters followed Chance outside and proceeded to interview him about music, drugs, cigarettes and baseball.—Abrea Armstrong
XXL: You reference your mom a lot on the tape. How does she take to the drug references in your music?
Chance The Rapper: The first time I got in trouble for some weed shit, I was on the side of my crib with my boy Justin and my little brother Taylor. Our parents had left the crib and we were on the side of the house smoking weed. I just remember right when I passed it to my little brother we heard "Got ya'll asses! Get inside the house!" We turned around and my mom was standing there pointing at us. We got in mad trouble. I can see as a parent you don't want your kids to make any mistakes, especially mistakes you already made, so obviously she wasn't happy. But that's not the only person I am. Music can kind of make you one-dimensional. People see what's on the surface and what you rap about and they make their decision on who you are from there. The drugs are mad prevalent in the music, but you know, my mom is proud of me for a lot of other shit I've done.
Did your parents approve of your decision to become a rapper?
I made the decision that I was going to make rap music in like fourth grade, so it's been something I was saying for a long time. They became supportive over time. When I first told them I wanted to be a rapper they weren't like "Hell nah." It was more like "Alright, sure, but you do this shit now and maybe eventually after college you can do what you want to do." I think they expected me to grow and expand my mind and eventually figure out another path. I did all of those things except music was something that was addicting for me and I got a lot of joy out of it and a lot of love back from people. So it's what I'll be doing for a long time.
Back to the drugs for a minute. Do you think you'd be just as good of a rapper without them?
Definitely. I think that's a common misconception about Acid Rap. It's not like a molly mixtape or a kush mixtape where I rapped a bunch of stuff on a certain drug as an experiment of what would happen when you make music on that drug. It was just something that I was doing while I was recording and acid is an exploration drug and something that makes you want to ask questions and figure shit out. I just used acid as something to compare it to. It's easy for people to get caught up in the drug aspect because so many people have never done acid or don't know shit about it.
What about your relationship with cigarettes?
Man, cigarettes are not a cool thing. I never want to push that on to people. It's just been a big part of my life, reluctantly, because I've been addicted to cigarettes for a long time. I think there's something super poetic about cigarettes. I asked a question one time like, "Why do you toss the filter?" It's like the only part of the cigarette that's saving you, but we toss it at the end. It's a weird question. I'm not going to expound on that.
A lot of people have noticed your dance movies in your music videos. Where does that come from?
One of the first times I ever performed in front of a big group of people was at my kindergarten graduation. I did like a Michael Jackson impersonation as like a five year old. I had the suit and blazer, the glove and the fedora, and I just performed a whole Michael Jackson song. I'm sure it was "Smooth Criminal". That used to my shit as a kid. It still is. I'm pretty sure it was that. I can't really remember it that well 'cause I was so young, but from there I think I just did a lot of talent shows and I just used to dance a lot. That's what music is supposed to do. It's supposed to make you want to dance.
Would you like to direct your own videos?
Definitely, eventually. I work a lot with Austin Vesely, who's a great filmmaker from Chicago. He's one of my closest boys and we did my first three videos and "Juice" together. I'm very involved in the process of writing treatments and setting up angles and working back and forth with him. It's a big part of the music. My favorite artist in the world is Michael Jackson, and he revolutionized the music video aspect of music. It's always been a big thing for me. Luckily I have a lot of time to experiment with shit.