Chicago teaching artist Matt Muse makes music that might as well be designed to inspire his students

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Matt Muse - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • Matt Muse

At a press conference Monday, Chance the Rapper announced his donation of $1 million to Chicago Public Schools, but despite the widespread coverage of the story since, most reporting has missed the opportunity to point out how heavily Chance had invested in education even before his meeting with Governor Rauner. The New York Times mentioned his "philanthropic and civic engagement," focusing on election-cycle activities such as the voter-registration drive at Magnificent Coloring Day and the early-voting event Parade to the Polls. But that leaves out the work he does more consistently, whether there's a presidential campaign happening or not.

Chance calls himself an educator (among other things), and more than two years ago he helped launch Open Mike, a series that invites local high school students to perform for their peers. Open Mike has since become one of the community-outreach programs of Social Works, the nonprofit Chance launched last year—and it's Social Works that will donate $10,000 to a local public school for every $100,000 that Chance's CPS budget initiative raises from corporate and individual donors. Chance is still involved in Open Mike, which allows him to directly encourage teenagers to express themselves and meet like-minded young people eager to collaborate. He's as much a product of after-school programs as he is of CPS, and it's through Open Mike that he pays it forward—he understands that educating kids doesn't stop once the last bell rings.

Of course, Chance is hardly the only young artist to give back to the after-school programs he attended and encourage kids by example. Matt Muse, for example, serves as a teaching artist through Young Chicago Authors, the creative-writing and performance hub that's incubated some of the best young musicians in Chicago hip-hop, including Mick Jenkins, Noname, Saba, Jamila Woods, and Chance himself. Muse makes music too, and earlier this week he dropped an EP called The Sikk Tape.

Muse calls The Sikk Tape a dystopian sci-fi EP. It's peppered with faux news reports that follow a group of prison escapees as they try to evade the all-powerful, hostile government and find their way home. The narrative is a little scattered, but Muse is focused in his rapping. On "Crewzin" he rides a sample of the Supremes' "Baby Love" as though it were a low-rider on the Pacific Coast Highway; his vocals hug the track's curves and bounces, and when he locks into the beat I can practically see him crack a smile. It's the kind of tightly constructed, self-assured song that would make a perfect inspiration for kids struggling to find their own musical voices.



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