For most of his rise, Chance the Rapper has been hip-hop’s good guy. He’s wholesome, preaches about the importance of family and has an inspirational sonic and real-world narrative arc – Chance strays, then prays and ultimately saves. He’s like a rap version of Arthur the Aardvark. This isn’t a slight. Arthur is a classic bit of Nineties children’s programming, and the Chicago rapper liked it so much he remixed its theme song. That’s why it sounds glorious, invigorating and oddly dystopic to hear Chance finally ball up his fist and punch at his critics, just like Arthur did when D.W. threw his toy airplane out of a window.
In a summer defined by short projects – G.O.O.D. Music’s June onslaught, Meek Mill’s sobering Legends of the Summer, Tierra Whack’s exceptional Whack World – Chance joined the fray on Wednesday night, surprising his fans with four new songs. They miraculously proved that Chance may not be Kanye’s most commercially successful stylistic descendant (Drake is still breaking streaming records) or his wildest one (drop Astroworld, Travis), but he is the heir apparent to West’s unique strain of soulful relatability at constant war with intense and unchecked ego. Across the four new loosies, Chance sounds like a man fighting the establishment as he slowly morphs into the establishment.
“I Might Need Security” is the song Chance needed to make at this juncture in his career, and immediately stands out as the strongest of the four. It features his best verse since his star-making turn on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam,” and it punctures the good guy image he’s been developing for over five years now. Over a pitched-up sample of the words “fuck you” – pulled from a classic Jamie Foxx routine – the Chicago MC aims at a host of very specifically named detractors. Here is an abbreviated list of everyone (or thing) Chano believes has slighted him in one way or another: the Illuminati, Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Sun-Times, that kid who criticized his proposal on Twitter, an enemy who lives in their mother’s basement, product placements.
Recently, his “The Rapper” title has started to feel a little limiting for Chancelor Jonathan Bennett’s growing résumé. He’s not just a rapper, but a philanthropist who donated $1 million to Chicago Public schools, debates government spending in front of his city council, headlines and produces the Special Olympics’ 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert. He’s a businessman, both in how he sells his music (enough has been written about his quest for independence) but, now, how he spends that revenue as well. “I bought the Chicagoist just to run you racist bitches out of business,” is an idiosyncratic flex, because what other rapper would shade one media outlet – the aforementioned Sun-Times – by purchasing another?
Chance claims he’s “no activist” (instead, he’s “the protagonist”), but he’s still fighting for a lot: Chicago, artistic independence from major labels, the acceptance of his particular vision of blackness. Earlier this year, Chance got into trouble after he tweeted, “Black people don’t have to be Democrats,” in a week where Kanye voiced his love for President Trump. Donald quickly seized on the moment and voiced his support of the Coloring Book star. A “Nah that ain’t it yo,” quote tweet from Chance followed and a statement distancing himself from one of the most toxic politicians on the planet. This week in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Chance’s shared his thoughts on Kanye’s support of Trump with far more nuance.
“We had a little conversation about it and we don’t have the same politics, we’re not the same dude, we might disagree,” Chance explained. “I know the same thing goes for all black people — we’re not monolithic. Because of our disenfranchisement in this country it’s perceived that we have to serve one party, one movement, and that’s just not the way it is.”
On “65th & Ingleside,” the new newly engaged Chance addresses his engagement and the rumors of a nasty child support case: “Three jobs, you afforded the crib/ Fuck child support, you supported the kid/ A full rack a month, nothing short of my rib/ So you first up, go and order a dib/ My big homie told me ‘Nigga growth and development/ Go settle down, don’t settle for settlement.’” It’s a vulnerable side of Chance, one he’s rarely shown as his profile has grown, and it puts the headlines, controversies and nonsense into perspective.
Chance pulls off many moods: Inspirational, passionate and, now, vengeful. His Twitter bounces from defending his mentor on one day to hopping in someone’s DMs to defending his proposal the next. Chance will transition from gleefully calling his ex “uh-gu-ly” on “Work Out” one minute to paying homage to a Chicago organization most people outside of the Midwest probably have never heard of on “Wala Cam.” The line between acidic barbs and benevolence is thin with Chance this time around.
On the four songs he released on Wednesday night, he goes from a Jamie Foxx “Fuck you” one minute to a rallying cry against corrupt politicians the next, an open address to his wife-to-be not long after that. The emotions, ego and bravado that come with being Chance “The Rapper” are difficult to square with Chance’s desired public image of a political advocate, fighting for the disenfranchised, and his relentless quest to be the good guy. Here, he begins to prove it doesn’t have to be one or the other.