Chance the Rapper’s video for his latest song “Angels” is a high-flying, fun-loving, inspirational, comic and cartoon-inspired romp through the streets and the skies of his native Chicago. It’s a testament to the new age boy-next-door persona that Chance seems to have thoroughly crafted for himself ever since his mainstream explosion with the critically-acclaimed 2013 mix tape, Acid Rap. And “Angels” fits perfectly with the slacker-done-good from the Midwest image that he has been able to cultivate since he first burst onto the scene.
Chance is part of a class of emcees that are making waves in Hip Hop that, 15 to 20 years ago, would have been thought to be thoroughly un-Hip Hop, along with peers including Vic Mensa, Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson. He’s become, in some ways, Hip Hop’s favorite loafer that’s loved the world over. But since the middle of 2015, it’s become clear that behind his innocent, boyish smile and go-with-the-flow demeanor exists a calculating and savvy artist, entrepreneur and philanthropist that has managed to remain independent while breaking all kinds of barriers.
First, there was the emcee being name “Chicagoan Of The Year” by Chicago Magazine in November 2015, without even having released an album that year. And with good reason. In 2015, not only did Chance serve as an executive producer and regular guest vocalist on Hip Hop, Neo Soul and Acid Jazz group The Social Experiment's Surf album, he also helped to run the “Save Chicago” anti-violence social media campaign, hosted a slew of open mic shows throughout the city, and organized a free music festival for teens in the city. The rapper showed both a social and an artistic commitment to his city in many forms in 2015.
Next, there was Chance’s historic appearance on Saturday Night Live in December 2015. Historic in the fact that he was billed as the first artist not connected to a major label to perform on the show in it’s over 40-year history. Let’s just think about that for a moment: musical juggernauts ranging from Mick Jagger to Nirvana have graced the SNL stage in the past. For an indie artist from that didn’t release a musical project in 2015 to be able to perform on one of the biggest platforms in mainstream music? That should be counted as being not only a history-making effort, but also a path that has been laid. On top of the fact that the song “Sunday Candy” performed on SNL by Chance and The Social Experiment referenced the shooting of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald by ex-Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.
But Chance the Rapper’s most savvy move to date has to be the announcement last week that he and the Chicago White Sox are close to a deal for Chance to become an official club ambassador for the team, which will pay him to be part of White Sox activities created to help the club appeal to a younger, wider demographic. And this comes after the White Sox revealed that Chance partnered with New Era to design three new White Sox hats that were made available at the team’s regular season home opener this past Friday.
So let’s just run down that list once more, shall we? Chance the Rapper has managed to carve out space as a successfully independent history-making Hip Hop artist and producer, an unofficial spokesperson for his native Chicago, a philanthropist with several points on the board in working with non profit organizations that benefit many different classes of people, and is close to securing a deal to become an ambassador for a Major League Baseball team similar to, say, the way Drake has done with his hometown Toronto Raptors. And this appears to be all without a deal or backing from a major music label, and minimal radio airplay.
Upon closer observation, Chance’s ascent shouldn’t be something that is much of a surprise to anyone, given the current state of Hip Hop and music overall. With the further splintering of Hip Hop into even more sub genres, the rise of the festival circuit artist and new social media platforms popping up everyday, an artist that plays his or her cards right is bound to have at least some success. However, that doesn’t mean that the success Chance the Rapper has had should be discounted or made to seem automatic
Through the careful and constant mining of social media platforms, a steady stream of experimental, off-kilter yet positively sunny music that pushes boundaries, staying on his performance grind and, an attractive nonchalance about life, and a deep love for his hometown, Chance and his team have managed to cultivate and air of being both the new shit and the next shit by crafting an image that doesn’t seem crafted at all. When you see him in videos, when you watch performances, when you peep his promos and interviews, Chance seems that he’s merely being his authentic self. And that, more than anything, resonates with many of his core fans and beyond.
At its core, Hip Hop is still an art form that still appreciates authenticity. And through some fairly astute moves on the part of Chance and his team to play up his genuineness, the Chicago emcees time in the game has been brilliantly prolonged. He’s a case study in how indie rappers need to stick and move in the music business of the new millennium.