An editor email exchange about Chance the Rapper

An email exchange between StAR editors following the recent Chance the Rapper show at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater.  Also covered: the ‘Arthur’ Theme Song, potential celebrity best friends, a Marley brothers conspiracy theory, 808s and Heartbreak as a trailblazing album, the Backstreet Boys.

Alec:

I’m not sure about you but I can definitely say that was my favorite experience at a rap concert ever. I don’t know if there’s an artist alive who’s as able as Chance at making you want to be best friends with him. During the concert I tried to come up with a list of people that gave off the same energy:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (I spelled that correctly without even checking, by the way)
  • David Foster Wallace
  • Bill Clinton
  • Calvin Johnson
  • Daniel Handler
  • The opposite of Banksy
  • Vic Mensa, maybe, one day (who happens to be Chance’s homeboy in the SAVEMONEY crew)
  • All of De La Soul
  • Cam Newton
  • The opposite of T. S. Eliot
  • Louie Armstrong
  • Kurt Vonnegut

I’m aware this is an incredibly subjective and pointless list, but I think all those people/opposites of people share a talent at making you feel like you’re in on an inside joke with them, even when they’re not joking. I left feeling deeply happy, but the actual content was really emotional and frequently sad.

Lawrence:

First of all, Cam Newton belongs nowhere near that list.  Andrew Luck is the obvious choice in the ‘Young, Hypertalented NFL Quarterback With Whom I Wish I Could Be Best Friends’ category, distantly followed by Russell Wilson.  Second of all, you need more potential female best friends in your life.

Other Potential Best Friend snubs:

  • Michael B. Jordan
  • Chuck Klostermann
  • Rashida Jones
  • Tristan Thompson
  • Jennifer Lawrence
  • David Duchovny
  • Luis Guzman
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • Arnold from Hey Arnold

But I digress from your final point.  There is something truly beautiful about his vulnerability.  He delivered ‘Paranoia’, a track about his fear-ridden relationship with the violence of his hometown, in way that felt like he was reading from his diary.  He switched up the syncopation from the recorded version in a way that felt confessional, almost monologue-like, and I remember him doing it similarly when I saw him at Occidental in the fall.  Both times, I wanted to turn to everyone around me and tell them to stop singing along and just listen, because we were being told secrets.

So perhaps rather than leaving deeply happy, I left deeply satisfied.

Alec:

This is the part where I brag about playing pickup soccer with Andrew Luck and catching his references to Kicking and Screaming, by far the most underrated Will Ferrell movie. I agree with your list except for Jennifer Lawrence, who I considered but discarded because something about her “normal gal” attitude seems so artificial (there is no way she just happened to trip on the way to get her Oscar), and Jimmy Fallon, who seems like someone who just laughs too hard at things. I’ll counter with Michelle Obama. If I had one choice for a beer pong partner, it’d be her, no question.

Anyway, the thing that makes me enjoy Chance most, aside from a fondness for alliteration, is his introspection. Rap, when it confronts emotional subjects, usually does so from behind a mask like a manufactured narrator, or a generalized depiction of life in a difficult urban environment. It’s rare to see an artist who actually seems to be perfectly conflated with his narrator. (Exception being Kanye West, and I think 808s and Heartbreak is one of the biggest reasons that this is trending more in the past few years.)

Chance isn’t unique in this, but I don’t know if there’s a better rapper at evoking the feeling of nostalgia. Kendrick gets close sometimes, but he never really reaches the inner emotions from childhood, instead just describing the material situation. Chance, for chrissakes, went on stage and sang the fucking Arthur theme song for ten minutes. And instead of just biting it, he (and his phenomenal band, the Socital Experiment) performed it heartbreakingly and jazzily, fighting against the optimistic open arms of the lyrics. (I don’t think anybody near where I was standing knew what the hell he was performing besides my companion, who proudly belted every word; I think they were intimidated by what they thought was her superior Chance knowledge, or maybe just gawking at her).

Lawrence:

I don’t think Chance is a nostalgic rapper.  To me, he feels immediate, except, obviously, 10 Day’s ‘Nostalgia’.  ‘Paranoia’ is immediate.  I don’t think introspection necessarily leads to nostalgia.  He just happens to still be a kid, so it feels honest and innocent, like nostalgia often does.

Alec:

I think the nostalgic part of it is like Wordsworth, like the feeling that he’s lost something when leaving childhood that he didn’t even know he had to begin with. “Cocoa Butter Kisses” is a good example of this. And “Everybody’s Something,” which he opened with: Each question (“What’s good, good? And what’s good, evil?”) sounded like he was asking it for the first time. I might be reading it too much, but the way that I heard it was like a kid who looks around and realizes for the first time that the world is fucked up and is wondering why.

Lawrence:

A William Wordsworth reference?  Really, Alec?  Really?  Just take an axe to our readership base, why don’t you?

God.

I think you’re speaking to Chance’s maturity. He’s barely 21, but thinks with the distance and perspective of someone significantly older.  He has a remarkable ability to recognize the meta-narratives, or even the presence of meta-narratives, in his life.  The threads of thought he explores in ‘Acid Rain’ wax poetic about drugs, escapism, and his burgeoning career, but he can also flip that and make a song like ‘Smoke Again’, which, when asked by Sway what it was about, he said, “It’s about after you’ve smoked once.. um… SMOKING AGAIN — IGH IGH IGH IGH IGH.”

Your point about 808s and Heartbreak is thought-provoking.  I’ve never looked at that album as a turning point in the hip-hop landscape, although rap has clearly changed since Kanye released it in late ‘08.  I thought the genre’s shift was a natural progression of the early 2000s Gangsta-Glam to the mid-2000s Backpackers to the current introspective trend you’re speaking about, but do you think that the Drake / Cudi / Frank Ocean generation is a direct result of 808s?  If so, does it matter that 808s wasn’t even that good, but rather that it was Kanye West who put it out, which in turn gave agency to up and coming artists to work in that emo-electro-rap genre?

Alec:

I’m not a hip-hop historian (though I am currently ordering a batch of business cards that say exactly that), but I do think that Kanye’s chronology is more than just his personal growth; it preempts larger changes in hip-hop. The change from Graduation’s kick-ass-and-chew-bubblegum attitude to 808s sense of loss and guilt and self-consciousness helped unlock something. I can’t think of a major rapper who confronted their inner demons that way. 2Pac is the most obvious counterexample, but with him there was always the sense that he was speaking for a legion of unrepresented people whose emotions were neglected by mainstream society, which is why he’s an icon. Kanye never wanted to represent anybody, but work out his emotions with his raps. I really do think he led to the rise of “sensitive” rappers. (Side note, I love 808s. I still listen to it frequently. #sadboys)

Chance does this all but with just incredible chops. He’s a master of assonance and alliteration, he knows how to make a punchline but doesn’t rely on them, he incorporates melody in his flows. It’s almost impossible not to be a stan. The crowd at the show seemed to reflect that. There were people from all walks of life there: adults, kids, cool people smoking blunts, nerdy dudes who seemed unsure of what to do at a rap show, girls who were dressed to seduce Chance from the audience. And the audience’s lyrical knowledge was virtually 100%. It was kinda heartwarming.

Lawrence:

Except with the Arthur Theme Song — how embarrassing.

(Found some interesting facts about that song after some digging: First off, it’s performed by Ziggy Marley!  Ziggy Fucking Marley!  Conspiracy: Chance covers a Ziggy track at his show on Monday; Ziggy’s brother Damian shows up to Coachella as a surprise guest for Nas on Saturday night; Chance “falls ill” and cannot perform his Sunday set.  Smells fishy to me.  There’s something there, I just can’t put my finger on it.  Second off, the Backstreet Boys also covered the song.  Don’t know how to respond to that.  Maybe just with this picture.)

image

I’ll leave the Kanye thing alone, and we can agree to disagree on the quality of 808s.  You may have stumbled on a bold research question with the claim that Kanye is the direct trailblazer of the past decade of hip-hop.  I bet you could find some solid quantitative backing.

Chance elicits a passionate audience.  Since he hasn’t yet released an album and hasn’t really been on the radio, the people snatching up the $50 tickets are going to be real Chance fans.  These are fans who have listened to 10 Day and fans who know his feature on ‘You Song’ and fans who were not crushed that he didn’t play ‘Juice’.  That was a good environment to be a part of, even though (or maybe especially since) it was one of the first shows I’ve attended where I was in the older quartile of the crowd.

Alec:

Man, lookatchoo doin’ research and shit. It’s almost like we’re real journalists or something. Also, believe me, I’m already working on my thesis about Yeezy. My Yeezis, if you will.

The success that Chance and others are having before signing is incredible. Freddie Gibbs’ Cocaine Pinata peaked at #7 on the hip-hop charts and moved nearly 10,000 units in the first week without a record label. Lil B dropped a hundred songs over two mixtapes in January (and his curse on Kevin Durant is very much in full force, as the Thunder drop their second in a row to the Grizz). There’s probably more examples. Top Dawg Entertainment, probably the most well-respected alternative hip-hop label (whether or not it deserves to be), openly courted Chano but he turned them down, favoring his freedom. And can you really say he’s wrong for that? He’s coming off a gi-GANT-ic tour, he’s playing approximately a billion festivals this summer, Acid Rap was downloaded 600,000 times on datpiff.com. He’s ‘96 MJ right now. This is both the power of the Internet and a triumph in Marxism. I think we can all say that we’ll do better without record companies, right? This can only be a good thing for the future of hip-hop?

And yeah, that audience was mad young. It was kinda cute seeing people excited to smoke swisher sweets. Though there was a couple in the seats in front of us who were definitely married thirtysomethings, which is also adorable. That’s what I want to be doing when I’m old.

I wasn’t upset he didn’t play “Juice,” but throughout the performance I kept kind of holding out hope that a guest artist would appear. Not because Chance wasn’t enough, of course. But the atmosphere was so inviting! It felt like if someone else joined in, it would just mean making another friend. I’ve never in my life thought to myself, “Wow, it would be nice if Childish Gambino was here right now.” I felt like a white high-school boy (I will forever deny ever being a part of that demographic). Chance is a miracle worker.

And a note on “You Song,” which was one of my top five favorite songs from last year: That is a goddamn perfect song. But the performance was such a sad revisiting. He did the chorus but left off his verse, then ended by saying “This was not a love song, I was never in love with you” while facing away from the audience. I wrote that down with a wonky frowny face in my notepad. That’s one of the sweetest hip-hop love songs, I hope that Chance didn’t get his heart broke :(.

Lawrence:

Your puns slay me, Alec.

I’ve already distilled my thoughts on Chance as an example of the newly emerging meritocratic hip hop landscape here, so I won’t go through them in that much detail.  You can’t say Chance is ‘96 MJ right now though — until Kendrick stumbles, that’s his title to lose, and he hasn’t really put out a bad project yet.  Even his first wide release album, where rappers generally lose their voice and edge, was excellent and somehow topped the mainstream charts for weeks.  (Also probably just don’t compare anyone to ‘96 MJ.) But Chance’s ability to garner this much traction, perhaps exemplified by a main stage Coachella slot, would have been unheard of even five years ago.  Kendrick best be on his toes, cuz like them socks, Chance is on his heels.  It is the best possible thing for hip hop right now, and it’s happening at the perfect moment to combat youth culture’s movement towards electronic music as its taste de jour. Thank god.

Speaking of being old at a rap concert, are my kids going to look at me funny when I play hip-hop after I come home from work or in the car to their soccer practice?  Seriously, how are they going to react to Chance’s hyper-druggy lyrics that I will inevitably bump as a 40-year-old?  I can see it now — “Daddy, what’s a candy flip and why is it yummy?” — “Don’t worry about it, kiddo.”

I was cool without the guest appearance.  Like encores, I hate getting in the mode of expecting some sort of gimmick at every concert.  As you said, though, if someone had come on stage with him, it would’ve been like meeting your best friend at recess in first grade or something.  Even if it was Childish.

I just wanted to hear Chance talk about buying broccoli for his girl because he knows she likes vegetables even though he won’t eat them.  When you’re going out of your way to buy foods you don’t like because you know that she does, that’s when you know you’re in love.  I don’t care what anybody says.

And yeah, definitely seems like Chancelor got his heart broken.  I feel for you, bruh.  It’s a cold world.

Any last thoughts? Do we even want to touch his missed Coachella appearance?  What are the going odds on his illness being drug-related and NOT a “combination of tonsilitis and the flu”?

Alec:

Here’s to hoping rapgenius.com will become a high school textbook in the future. Will my kids admire my DatPiff collection like I admire my dad’s vinyl collection? Probably not, if the sperm donation place keeps my information anonymous like I was promised (I am totally fine with cutting this line if you think that would be best).

I’m inclined to believe Pat the Manager’s explanation was on the up and up; in that Instagram picture he didn’t have an IV attached, and based on the minimal research I’m doing and the negligible medical knowledge I have, that probably means it wasn’t like alcohol poisoning or something, right? Incidentally, I love SAVEMONEY’s system for generating nicknames. Can I be Alec the Editor now?

This back and forth has probably been insufferable for people that don’t like Chance or don’t know him very well. And possibly even for people that like him. I would usually offer criticisms of an artist, but I feel like the whole experience of the concert was that it made you not want to nitpick. It was willful suspension of criticism. And this surely isn’t unique to Chance, but he’s doing it better than anyone else out there right now. I’ve seen Kendrick, and it didn’t make me like him any more as an artist. Chance made me believe in his project and want him to succeed on a national level, along with Vic Mensa and Donnie Trumpet and Joey Purp and Noname Gypsy and the Chicago Bulls, too, hell.

Suffice it to say, I guess, peep Chance if you haven’t yet, and go to his shows. Bring a lighter and make friends. Buy some underage kids a Colt .45. Wear some cool guy glasses and dance in the aisles when the pre-show DJ plays “Collard Greens.” Study up on children’s theme songs, and learn all the words to “You Song” if you don’t already. Tell it to a girl and pretend you wrote it for her. Or actually write it for her, it’s what Chance would do. Tell her it’s her favorite song, she just don’t know the words.

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