Music & Culture

Chance the Rapper: Representing Chicago Through Music and Nonprofit Work

“All you need is happy thoughts, don’t forget the happy thoughts.” So fitting for our current lockdown! This clause is a prime example of the excellence that is Chance the Rapper as an uplifting, joyous artist. For his birthday, we’ll take a look at how he’s advanced as an musician and activist. Alongside his solo career, Chance the Rapper is a member of the Chicago collective, Savemoney, and is the vocalist for the band The Social Experiment, with one of their biggest hits being “Sunday Candy.”

Let’s take it back to old-school. Chance started mixing beats and spittin’ rhymes at home in Chicago. His parents played classical jazz, ’80s pop and gospel hymns, encouraging him to create his own style from them. He was influenced by artists such as Michael Jackson and Billie Holiday, who were bold, creative and charismatic.

His first mixtape, 10 Day, was released online and created a frenzy. When audiences heard his positive energy and humorous, catchy lines, they couldn’t get enough. Notable tracks include “Nostalgia,” “Prom Night” and “Windows.” You can tell there was a lot of heart, creativity, soul and technique behind his early works, which is carried out today.

In 2012, Acid Rap made its appearance online and fans were stoked. The intro sets the tone for him (you can’t miss it), as he soars in the music scene: “And I’m good // Even better than I was the last time, baby.” With the help of a laptop, friends and a music platform, he created his identity and professed his aspirations, highlighting his hometown roots. Pro-tip: the mixtape was just recently made available on Spotify (same with 10 Day)! Hits include “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” “Chain Smoker” and “Everybody’s Something.” No label stood to be no problem… and still remains to be true!

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Eventually, he received support from other experts in the rap game. Childish Gambino and Ab-Soul had asked him to contribute to their albums, while Kanye West, one of his idols, wanted to sign him for a label! Features and openings for tours followed, leading up to the take-off of two major masterpieces…

The Coloring Book was born in 2016 and illustrates Chance, outlined in purple and blue against a pink background. The album allowed fans to see Chance in his element, paying tribute to his hometown (“3” on his hat) with rap songs and profound, modern-day ballads. “No Problem” and “Angels” got the crowd jumpin’ and groovin’, whereas “Same Drugs” hit the heartstrings and made us sway generously. “Blessings” taught us to be grateful and hopeful for the future, while “Summer Friends” made us feel like we’ve known him forever. Features included Kanye, Justin Bieber, Future and Young Thug, to name a few! In the first week, the mixtape was streamed over 57.3 million times, debuting at number eight on the US Billboard 200 chart. It became the first release to chart solely on streams. Talk about hittin’ all the right notes!

We thought between the time of that release and The Big Day, he was chillin’. Think again. He sporadically dropped singles and made more appearances in other songs. Some of his include “The Man Who Has Everything,” “My Own Thing,” “GRoCERIES” and “Work Out.”

Last summer, Chance did it again with the release of his debut LP, The Big Day. He advocated for faith, maturity, love, loss and refusing doubt. In “Do You Remember”” and “Five-Year Plan,” he channels nostalgia for good days in our past, as well as the ones to come. His iconic style of comedic and true rhymes, with beats and jazzy sounds, make us smile and dance without fail. “Handsome” and “Slide Around” create positive vibes that get you movin’, while “We Go High” and “Eternal” send sweet notes to his wife, whom he shares daughters Kensli and Marli with.

Chance uses his talents to shed light on hope, innocence, love and faith, and how our society tests our ideas of these. He co-created a new nonprofit called SocialWorks in September 2016, an extension of his Open Mike program, which aims to create youth programs for Chicago residents. In addition, he has actively fought to combat gun violence with the creation of the “#SaveChicago” campaign with his dad. He visits the city frequently, checking on progress and talking to the younger generation about their dreams and how they can lead a better life. Can I say Chance for President, 20-forever?

Fast-forward to today: the happy thoughts continue. We need more artists like him, who fight for a cause, spread awareness and contribute to art. His music, whether about havin’ a good time or shedding light on a serious matter, never falls short of our expectations.

Featured Image: Instagram (@chancetherapper)