Chance the Rapper on Obama, LSD, and being pigeonholed as a high school MC

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Chance the Rapper
  • Arion Davis
  • Chance the Rapper
Last week I swung by South Loop studio Force One Seven to speak with buzzing local MC Chancelor Bennett (aka Chance the Rapper) for this week's installment of Three Beats. He's gearing up to release a mixtape called Acid Rap, and he played me a bit of the eclectic and hooky new material, some of which is still in the works. Bennett's planning on performing some of the new songs during his headlining set at the Metro on Fri 11/23—for more on that, check out the Three Beats article.

After listening to chunks of the in-progress Acid Rap—including the seeds of a song that samples Kanye West—Bennett spoke to me about the new project, LSD, his #10Day mixtape, and how he helped with Obama's reelection campaign. Here's an abridged version of our conversation:

On his headlining gig at the Metro:

We've been knowing the owners of the Metro for I think a couple of years now. We first worked with them when we did the Kids These Days show with Rockie Fresh, and that was a super successful show actually, sold out and everything. We worked with a couple of other venues in Chicago and the Metro was, for us, kind of like a big, just like a checkpoint in life, you know what I'm saying?

So it was like a goal for us, and actually one of my good friends, Kevin Coval—who is a super-dope poet and author—has done a couple of shows up at the Metro through the organization YCA, which is like Young Chicago Authors, but it's some shit I used to be in, and we had hit him up about trying to get the Metro and literally like the same day he hit us back, "they'd love to work with you," or whatever, we got to know the owners or whatever, we're just super excited about it.

It's gonna be a super-dope show. We're gonna have Mikey Rocks, Milo & Otis—who are super-dope—and some guest appearances. Hopefully might be some Save Money members there, maybe some Ville cats. Anybody could be there, you never know.

On the roots and themes of Acid Rap:

Right after I made the #10Day tape, one of my favorite things about the album in retrospect was just the sound that we had developed working with Peter [Cottontale] and Lily [K] on a lot of the production, and Thempeople. I was really focused on this piano sound; there's like a thousand different kinds of pianos and different filters on the keys. There's just a lot of use of piano on the album and I just noticed that that was some shit that I was really into, specifically jazz-piano.

I just started listening to a lot of different music after the tape was done and I kind of really started digging acid jazz, and I started kind of just figuring out different types of jazz that I liked. The Jamiroquai shit was super dope and I found out the genre was acid jazz. I thought that shit was super dope cause I'm an acidy kind of guy, you know what I'm saying?

We wanted to do something that was super new and super left-field, but like also some shit that would resemble the first album and have the fans still there and we noticed that people were really into the instrumentation of it. So we started working really heavily with Peter and Lily again, and kind of started getting this really piano-y sound, and just started studying all these different sounds of music and started studying LSD and actual acid, and kind of tried to mesh this idea that we had put behind acid.

Acid is like a huge question the whole time, and not just in that, like, literally you're trying to find something all the time, but just the idea of being zen and being in a meditative state, and opening up parts of your mind that you usually wouldn't; there's like questions behind it, and the mixtape is kind of just a big question. Like the way that there's sounds missing and you play around with fucking static-y noises and just freaky shit. It's just a really freaky album, and I ask questions that you usually wouldn't ask and speak on subjects that you usually wouldn't speak on.

There's a lot of songs that kind of have what you would perceive to be taboo opinions. There's songs where it's like, you would disagree with the message but it comes across with a beat and I'm saying it in a way where you're kind of agreeing with it. I don't know, it's fucked-up shit. There's a song called "Money Right," it's got the Kanye sample from "Can't Tell Me Nothing"—it's "wait till I get my money right"—it's just me talking about me hanging out with my guys, being on drugs, doing shit that is obviously wrong and obviously illegal and just justifying a lot of shit. Not just rapping about the ills of rap and the dirt that niggas be on, but really justifying and speaking on why that shit basically goes down.

On his growth since releasing #10Day earlier this year:

I've just gotten older and like got to a point where after #10Day came out I was kind of like, it was weird for me. I was 19 years old when it came out—or 18 for a few days, but 19 after it came out, basically—and I get all these interests from these journalists that wanted to write about how I was a high-school kid rapper and a child rapper and child star. It was my first tape coming out of high school, and it just happened to be the one that really caught buzz.

I never planned on being, like, the kid rapper. I want to make music that people like. I feel like #10Day accomplished that just by me going at it with such a concept album format, [but] I kind of put myself in a box where people just think it's some school shit. People are always tweaked out when I tell them, oh yeah, it's last year I got suspended, and it's coming up on two years ago. I came up on Kanye—that's what made me want to rap. There's so many parallels between #10Day and College Dropout and it's just because that's where my real love for hip-hop came from, my whole love for music; I didn't really like music or know what I wanted to do with my life until that album came out. But Kanye spent three albums writing about how mad he was about school, and I don't want to put myself in a box where I feel like I can't change fast enough. That's my whole thing is that I can change whenever I want to, I can rap however I want to, that's the reason why it's "Chance the Rapper" in the "genre" and the music is rap songs, 'cause I want to just make music, all types of different music, and it always be classified as rap.

I feel like people always box hip-hop or rap into "good" categories, it's like "the good rap" or "the bad rap," and hardcore rap, or not hardcore rap, and then they throw trap and fuckin' gangsta rap, and southern rap, and a lot of mainstream rap into one side and then they do the same thing for the other side. I've been called a conscious rapper so many times. People call me, like, the polar opposite of Chief Keef and all types of shit, and I don't really understand it because I have so many different styles of music that I'm into and sounds that I want to make that I feel like I don't want to be an accomplishment for one small piece of rap or for one side of rap.

On some of his big accomplishments of the year:

The tour with Childish [Gambino] was crazy. It was my first time going on tour, it was my first time doing so many shows in a row, and Childish and the whole team just like really fucked with me tough, and really put me on to hella shit. We were out there basically like brothers the whole time on the road, just like city to city. It was me and Stefan [Ponce], my DJ, and he got super close with Childish and they're workin' on shit together. That was one of the biggest things for me, just seeing the world. I had never been out of this state before I went on the road with them, and we went to Canada, but I've never been to Europe, never been to a lot of places. Just the idea of music literally taking me places was something really hard to fathom.

Just the release of #10Day was crazy, the fact that it came out, that I'm finished with it. That it was such a big part of my life and now I'm working on some new shit.

Man, so much awesome shit has happened I feel like everything I say is crazy. I mean, the listening party at Jugrnaut was awesome, having all those people come out, we packed the store twice, the same way we did with Leaders with the first listening party we had back in November of last year. The Lincoln Hall show. Playing Lincoln Hall was so fuckin' dope cause I had seen the Kids do it a million times—Kids These Days, those are my boys—and I'd seen them play a bunch of times. It's just such a great venue and such great sound, and everybody knows it everywhere you go. Playing it and then actually selling it out was crazy. Man, this whole year has just been ridiculous for me.

On volunteering for Obama:

Working with Obama was super dope. My dad worked for Obama; he's been working with Obama since I think the early 2000s as a campaign manager, as state director when he was in the Senate seat. Then he did mad volunteer work this year and he was still working his government job, cause now he's the regional director for the department of labor. So he was doing his government job but also doing volunteer work for Obama.

He was hella asking me to do a show for the Obama shit and all types of shit, and first I was like, "man, I'm not trying to do that shit." I wanted to do my own non-partisan fuckin' "register to vote party," and then that shit fell through. I was kind of, "I'm not just gonna do a one-party type thing," but then I got to thinkin' about it. I mean, I really value our president because I know him personally, he's just like, literally, a genuine nice guy. But beyond just the election itself, I've thought about the value of my family and my dad, cause a lot of people would've lost their jobs—that's obvious, once that administration was gone. So like, just valuing my dad to a certain extent I had to do something for him.

What we did was a day of phone banking for Obama. We told kids that I would be phone banking at Obama's Hyde Park office, which is right across the street from Kenwood High School, and we told them that we'd be in there phone banking, and you should come up and volunteer phone bank with me, so a crazy amount of kids come out. We told them we'd give away three free tickets to our Metro show on the 23rd, and a bunch of kids came out—it was like 50 kids. We gave them all tickets instead of just giving away three, cause it was just too many of them to do a random raffle. Some kids even volunteered to go to Iowa.

Afterwards I got a hand-written letter from a new campaign manager, or the new state director for the campaign. It was just really nice, and they gave me a laptop. That shit was dope. It wasn't like a new laptop, it was like a used fuckin' volunteer PC from like '97, it had an Obama sticker on it, and I just thought that was dope. That was one of the dopest things.

Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.

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