Chance the Rapper hails from Chicago, a city with a unique trajectory in hip-hop lore. For years, it lay hidden on the national map, but it was far from dormant. There was an active scene led by radio hosts like JP Chill and hip-hop crews like Chi-Rock Nation. Meanwhile, house producers such as Fast Eddie and Tyree Cooper pioneered hip-house, a homegrown style with far-reaching influence.
By the early 1990s, the Windy City had produced a crop of rising stars. The lyrically deft Common Sense (later known as Common) released “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” a memorable ode to nostalgia and loss. Tung Twista helped pioneer the “choppa style” of rap, then joined forces with Do or Die and influential producer the Legendary Traxxster to make “Po Pimp,” a seductive vision of balling out of control. In 1997, J.U.I.C.E. and Rhymefest made headlines with a legendary freestyle battle at the Scribble Jam festival.
Common’s producer No I.D. became a mentor to Kanye West, a fledging producer who earned industry attention with his work on Chi-Town rapper Grav’s Down to Earth. West formed an early group, Go-Gettas, with friends GLC, Timmy G, and Arrowstar. Years later, GLC appeared on West’s debut The College Dropout, while Rhymefest contributed lyrics to his Grammy-winning spiritual epiphany “Jesus Walks,” and Twista added his signature chopper style to “Slow Jam.” West’s follow-up, Late Registration, introduced more talented locals like the street rapper Bump J, and the politically-minded Lupe Fiasco.
West’s overwhelming success inspired a new generation of Chicago rap, including the swaggy, bass-driven sounds of the Cool Kids and the neon-hazed electro-raps of Hollywood Holt. By the 2010s, the city teemed with viral talents. The Cool Kids’ Chuck Inglish appeared on Chance the Rapper’s auspicious 2012 debut 10 Day, as did Tree, Alex Wiley and Vic Mensa, the latter one of Chance’s partners in the sprawling hometown crew Save Money. Mensa then kicked off his solo career with “Down on My Luck,” a single that nodded gracefully to his city’s hip-house past.
On his 2014 mixtape, Acid Rap, Chance refined his themes of struggling with youthful impulses and seeking a greater purpose in life, while introducing hometown voices like Noname and Saba. (He
has also voiced support for hometown street iconoclasts like Chief Keef,
although the two haven’t connected musically yet.) Two years later, Chance codified himself as a leader of politically aware, gospel-inflected hip-hop with a standout verse on West’s “Ultralight Beam,” and his widely hailed mixtape Coloring Book.