April 30, 2013 was a sunny day, one of the first nice days we’d had to that point in Chicago and appropriately so. Chance The Rapper, Chicago’s prodigal son in the post-Derrick Rose world, was set to release his largest project to date and it seemed as if there was no one in his hometown who wasn’t aware. Living with “Brain Cells”, “Good Ass Intro” and “Cocoa Butter Kisses” producer Peter CottonTale at the time, I had certainly heard my share of the tracks on the project, understood it was to be something special. Pulling up to the clothing boutique Jugrnaut in the city’s South Loop though, the line was mind-blowing, five wide and around the block anxiously waiting for a chance to, see Chance.
That day I also had a piece run in the Chicago Sun Times describing his sophomore release as, perhaps, “the biggest hip-hop release to come out of the city since Kanye West’s ‘College Dropout.” On deadline and on the spot, the line at the time seemed to roll off my fingertips with little forethought. A year later, I don’t know that I could have come up with a better description.
I’ve had the opportunity to be around for a lot of moments as Chance and crew have grown from hometown somebody’s to national touring acts with slots at Coachella. As I flip through my notebook, skim through my social networks and read back over the stories I’ve written in that time I’m reminded of late night studio sessions hanging at Soundscape, Classick and the like around the city, sitting in on something that early on was recognized as special.
As a kid, famous people seem untouchable, human-like drones that occupy magazine covers and float across the television screen. Watching someone become famous is an entirely different situation. Waking up in my apartment in Irving Park, on the city’s northwest side in February 2013 I can still distinctly remember the first juke-inspired soul samplings of “Good Ass Intro” sliding under my doorway from the room next door. I remember running into Peter’s room wondering what the hell it was. I remember watching Chance perform it to a packed room waiting for Rockie Fresh at the Double Door the next night, only to see most leave after he did. It was apparent early on that Acid Rap was going to have an impact.
There may have been inklings, but there was no one on the planet that could have guessed the kind of overwhelmingly positive reception that met the spoken word-influenced, squawk-riddled ‘acid raps’. Within months Chance was on tour with Mac Miller, playing shows across the country and overseas. Then came the Billboard placement, number 65 without a label. That in itself is a feat not touched by the big names in music today; charting a free release.
Then he did the track with James Blake, then Arsenio, Lollapalooza, Vibe and the rest. It’s a whirlwind of an experience that could inflate even then most grounded of heads. However, at the peak of all that he has had the kind of innate decency to remember my sister went to Iowa State and take a picture of her when he stopped by on tour. That’s the kind of person Chance is and, in a music landscape that pushes bullshit agendas, sells product and up-sells debilitating aesthetics, Chano has remained as real today as he was when I first met him in 2012. That realness has pervaded everything he’s done from appearing on BET in a worn out Obama sweatshirt and in need of a haircut to taking Twitpics of the kid next to him at the airport. It’s also the thing about him that makes people wonder and Drake impersonate. He’s not trying to be anyone, at this point Chance is simply chasing himself.
I’m legitimately proud of Chancellor Bennett. As a Chicagoan, he embodies everything you’d expect from the ‘Second City’. Sure, journalistic integrity warrants a separation of writer and subject, but I’ve seen firsthand how the things Chance has done over past year have impacted not only the music scene here, but the city as a whole. He’s a good guy that features a phone call with his father, Ken Bennett on his mixtape rather than a recording of his bank account. He’s humble, having handled his success with an overwhelming amount of humility. He’s understanding of his place in the overall scheme of things, choosing to put his voice on issues without over-stepping his means. Chance is Chicago, here’s a toast to another year just like the last.