Not that the hottest young indie rapper in the land needs any validation from a middle-aged mainstream rock star, but what Eddie Vedder said about Chance the Rapper last month spoke volumes about the far-reaching good vibes the Chicago star is giving off.
“If somehow Chance the Rapper ever sees or hears this, I just want to tell him my daughter, Olivia, loves you,” Vedder said at the podium as his band, Pearl Jam, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I also, Chance, want to thank you for all the great work you’re doing in Chicago. That’s the kind of music activism that gives us all hope.”
Probably more than President Barack Obama’s prior praise of the real-life Chancelor Bennett, Vedder’s comments show how respected and prevalent the 24-year-old rapper has become in Middle America. Tickets have sold out for many of the shows on his first-ever arena tour, which began two weeks ago.
Those impressive ticket sales came as a surprise to many. Chance’s ascent has gone somewhat unnoticed in mainstream circles because most of his success as a recording artist has been through streaming, not album sales.
In fact, Chance only just landed his first No. 1 in Billboard this past week, and it wasn’t even for his own song. It’s from his guest appearance alongside Justin Bieber and Lil Wayne on the DJ Khaled single “I’m the One” (a rather inane track that hardly does justice to his talent). He also prominently won three Grammy Awards in February, including best new artist, but he was arguably a glaring omission in the major categories.
Chart positions, album and ticket sales and Grammy Awards seem less significant, though, compared with the other ways Chance has gained widespread success. Here are seven reasons to take the kid as seriously as that guy from Pearl Jam does.
1. His hometown activism. After criticizing Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s fiscal approach to troubled Chicago public schools, Chance put his money where his mouth and tweets were and pledged $1 million from his summer tour to the city’s school system. Mic drop! He also urged other celebrities and civic leaders in the city to do likewise. Chance had already proved himself an influential activist in previous years with his #SaveChicago campaign to curb gun violence in the murder-plagued city. He also threw a benefit concert last year called Winter Warmer to provide jackets and sleeping bags to Chicago’s homeless.
2. The way he’s shaking up the music business. “Coloring Book,” Chance’s breakout “mixtape” from last year — he has yet to call any of his three full-length releases an “album” — was nonetheless classified as an album by Billboard, where it earned the distinction of being the first to enter the top 10 based only on streaming numbers. He has yet to sign with a record company, too, which is unheard of for an artist at his level. Sure, this all means he’s making relatively scant money off his recordings, but neither are most musicians these days. Touring is where artists earn most of their profits, and he’s clearly doing well on that front.
3. How alive his live sets are. At last summer’s Rock the Garden festival in Minneapolis — where he clearly had more fans in attendance than headliners the Flaming Lips — Chance and his excellent band matched the day’s sunny vibe with a bright, buoyant and positive set. He seriously smiled the entire show, and so did most of the crowd. His TV appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and the Grammy Awards proved similarly infectious and accessible.
4. How integral his personal story is to his music. His song “Acid Rain,” the centerpiece of his acclaimed 2013 mixtape “Acid Rap,” was based on a childhood friend whose murder he witnessed, a pivotal turning point in his upbringing. He has several more songs, including “How Great” and “Blessings,” based on the 2015 birth of his daughter and a medical condition she endured. Some of the songs on his earlier releases were based on lighter-hearted teen experiences like dabbling in hallucinogenic drugs and trying to kick smoking, all formative moments, too.
5. How far he went bringing hip-hop back to its roots. To say that “Coloring Book” boasts an old-school flavor doesn’t mean Chance and his band went back 30 years to Grandmaster Flash and other hip-hop pioneers. They reached back a lot farther to early jazz and especially gospel music, which — any musicologist will tell you — is where the seeds for hip-hop and all of rock ‘n’ roll were planted. His performance with a choir on the Grammy Awards, in fact, felt like a bona-fide gospel concert. Too bad it took a rapper to get gospel music on the Grammy telecast.
6. For his unabashedly holy spirit. He’s not just channeling gospel music for the uplifting sounds. Chance has repeatedly said his aforementioned personal calamities brought him closer to God. He spiked many songs on “Coloring Book” with spiritual messages, including “How Great,” where he rhymes, “I get my word from the sermon/I do not talk to the serpent/That’s a holistic discernment” and then hopes to “give Satan a swirly.” Even Satanists have to admit this is actually daring fodder for a rapper. Or at least it shows deeper-reaching songwriting than, say, anything Lil Wayne and G-Eazy has ever written.
7. And his everyman persona. A lot of music fans actually don’t want to see their rappers wearing solid-gold chains and Gucci attire while riding on a rented yacht. Chance wears the same style of hat (emblazoned with his “3” logo) everywhere he goes, and he can usually be seen in a T-shirt and either jeans or overalls. He also stays untouched by gossip sites and TMZ, and he has yet to start a Twitter feud or lyrical beef with anyone. Well, except for Satan.
©2017 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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