A year ago, Chance the Rapper released a concept mixtape he’d been working on for more than a year, 10 Day. The mixtape was inspired by a 10-day suspension he got from his high school for smoking weed, and while that sounds a bit excessive, he took the suspension as a motivating reason to work on some music and dissect his high school experience. He explains, “10 Day was a super introspective tape about what I was going through. It was based off shit that happened before I got suspended and while I was out of school.”
It takes courage for a new artist to introduce themselves to the world with a concept album, but Chance felt it important to create something cohesive that could stand alone. But what’s great about the tape is that, while it’s about the high school experience, Chance never quite brands himself as a high school MC, like say, Casey Veggies or Mac Miller did, and maybe that’s because his high school experience wasn’t as rowdy as Casey or Mac’s. Instead, he takes a more self-aware, mood-driven approach to the record. He knew early on that an artist’s subject matter is what distinguishes him, so he was careful not to identify too strongly with the school-kid persona. “With my music, it’s more about the emotion and the tone of emotions,” Chance says.
He’s not quick to identify himself as any one thing, and in listening to the mixtape it becomes clear that he’s not just one thing; he’s an amalgamation of ideas and influences. Not to draw the easy comparison, but most of the tracks on the debut mixtape are reminiscent of a young Kanye, at least in their production, soulfully lacing Chance’s lyrics that are filled with a concise mix of aggression, depression, and introspection.
But where Kanye was direct and confident, even in his mixtape days, Chance is a bit more childish in his assumptions and understanding of the world around him. Which makes sense – he’s only 19 years old, trying to not only find his footing as an adult but also as a left-of-center hip-hop artist who doesn’t seem to be obsessed with pop superstardom.
He’s also definitely a weirdo. On 10 Day‘s highlight track “Brain Cells” before hitting the 1-minute mark Chance rhymes matador with minotaur with metaphor with metamorphosis with Animorph, and somehow pulls it off without sounding forced or making you ask yourself what just happened until your fifth or sixth listen. His influences are just as weird as his wordplay – on one song he shouts out Boston-based alt rock outfit, The Pixies, and interpolates Beirut’s “Nantes” twice over the course of the tape.
But in today’s diverse scene, Chance has had no trouble finding fans who’ve quickly learned to love his style and a litany of like-minded artists who have not only endorsed him but have asked to work with him. In the past few months alone, he’s made notable appearances on tracks with Joey Bada$$, Childish Gambino, Hoodie Allen, and Sir Michael Rocks.
His popularity with competing artists might come from his skill, but also probably from his supportive and collaborative attitude, a byproduct of emerging from Chicago’s hip-hop scene, one that’s as divergent and polarizing as it is complementary and mutually inspiring. Excited, he says, “The hip-hop movement in Chicago is super dope now. There’s a bunch of different acts and people within this huge community that’s brewing right now. We got major album releases like Keef’s joint, which sold 50 racks first week. You got myself. You got Kids These Days playing Bonnaroo. Everybody’s doing great shit right now, and they’re doing their own thing.”
Still, Chance decided to leave the bubble of Chicago’s burgeoning scene to shoot the first video from his upcoming Acid Rap project, for a single called “Juice.” In the video, Chance charmingly dances through Times Square and flexes his vocal dexterity over a melodic keyboard loop. He chose Times Square in an effort to “broaden the horizon for what a Chicago rapper is right now and what a non-Chicago rapper is. I feel like shooting it in Times Square represented a lot for people who have never seen it or have never even seen New York. It’s definitely a symbol of hope and success for so many people.”
“Juice” is the ideal mission statement for Chance, who’s growing past his post-high school persona and is exploring something bigger with his music, and it seems like with the leak of Acid Rap‘s second single, “Acid Rain,” the mixtape will showcase his continued exploration. But don’t expect him to stray too far. The tape’s latest leak, the video for “Good Ass Intro,” is a re-imagining of predecessor Kanye’s “Intro” from his Freshman Adjustment 2 mixtape, which Chance stumbled upon last year. “The way that the hook goes, John Legend goes, ‘ooh, ooh, ooh,’ and sings that shit over and over again and Kanye is on top of him, rapping this eight bar verse, but the whole thing is a cappella. It’s super hot as fuck,” Chance exclaims.
“I sang the bottom vocals, then I rap over myself, then I got my boy Peter (Cottontale) to play keys on it – he put these gospel keys to it and that shit came out super dope,” he continues. “But I think the dopest part of the record is that we decided to put some juke drums on it-which is like an electronic, hip-hop sound that started in Chicago and was really popular when I was growing up in the 1990s. That was just something that I thought was really important for people to hear, being the intro.”
As Chance continues to traverse and reinterpret Chicago’s recent and distant musical past-jumping from juke to early Kanye mixtapes-he’s sure to continue putting his own spin on his influences and reinvent himself as a modern rapper. Meanwhile, his next opus is expected to arrive in mid-April, with Acid Rap. He’s in a new position, as a much larger fan base will be anticipating the project, but he doesn’t seem to be worried. Assuredly, he says, “I know that the music is good. I know a lot of people definitely like the music, and I’m looking forward to playing my music around the country and work with whoever I want to work with.”