Chicago's third Chance
HIP HOP FROM THE WINDY CITY PROVIDES A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
By Ben Blanchard
Chance the Rapper ended the year on a high note. If you weren't already familiar with the enthusiastic Chicago emcee, who released his buoyant and joyful third mixtape Coloring Book back in May, then his Grammy nomination in December followed by his appearance on the final Saturday Night Live of the year clinched a spot on everyone's radar. If there's one thing Chance is good at its publicity, knowing how to get his name out there. Not without good reason, he picked up tricks on how to market his name and music from his father, former State Director for Barack Obama's presidential campaign; your father having direct connections to the White House opens doors and channels to maneuver through the ever evolving landscape of creation and distribution. This is a big part of Chance's story as an artist; he isn't signed to a label. He skipped that part. In fact, his first mixtape ‘10 Days’ was made utilizing a music program at a public library while on a 10-day suspension from high school. He then focused the attention that album garnered on to his next mixtape Acid Rap, which featured a few well-known rappers. That album allowed more of a spotlight to shine on his talents. It also doesn’t hurt that he makes his music readily available to download and stream on mixtape websites, Soundcloud, Tidal, and Spotify. Coloring Book even had an exclusive release with Apple Music for a week before it was available anywhere else. He says at the beginning of Blessings, "I don't make songs for free, I make songs for freedom" and he might be referring to a problem that he highlights on Finish Line about “...getting blocked just trying to make songs with friends/ Labels told me to my face that they own my friends." Chance has the privilege that comes from his family connections to experiment with releasing his music and marketing his name, and it seems as though he's doing this to serve as a model for how it can be done. At the core of this model is community, because this year he's made sure to bring his friends along and they seem to be following the same business model that Chance has laid out.
Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book
Coloring Book is an explosive effort from Chance packed with brightly composed music. You can’t help but have a fun time listening to him jump from one uplifting track to the next. Whether he’s railing against labels, reminiscing about friends and past wild times or spitting bars about working the mixtape grind, it always sounds as if he has a smile on his face. And he’s hardly alone in this, collaboration seems to be something that Chance thrives on and he’s brought a lot of friends with him. This album is a party full of high profile names who all sound like they’re having a great time and are bringing their ‘A’ game. The top billed feature artists definitely helped him grab a wider audience, but the names to really pay attention to are the ones that reside in his hometown. For example, the remarkable emcee Noname has the opportunity to drop an insightful verse on Drown, and Jamila Woods showcases her golden voice on Blessings. You may not be familiar with these names but they, along with a host of other Chicago musicians, have put out equally great albums worth listening to. And like Chance's, they have made their music readily available on SoundCloud. Here are some highlight albums.
Jamila Woods - HEAVN
Jamila Woods offers a beautiful ode to her hometown charged with personal reflection and bold statements of activism and self-love.
Joey Purp - iiiDrops
An album with a mix of party jams and street observations coming from the boastful, confident and very capable Joey Purp.
Noname - Telefone
The effortlessly smooth Noname spits a series of deep, earnest, and at times bleak rhymes over an album full of light and airy production.
Kweku Collins - Nat Love
A blend of styles pulled together by producer Kweku Collins makes for an insightful, fun and slightly melancholic album.
This year Chicago has really proven itself as a place bursting with talent, and I’ve enjoyed experiencing the different perspectives each artist has about their city. In his guest verse on L$D, Jamila Woods' love letter to Chicago, Chance explains "This here ain’t for no Vice doc/ This here ain’t for no Spike op". He's referring to instances where Vice Media and Spike Lee used Chicago as a backdrop to tell the story of violence that runs rampant in the city's southside. The story that all too frequently appears in headlines and gives Chicago its reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in America. Chance would rather take his city’s narrative out of the hands of outsiders who fixate on its negative aspects and let the citizens tell their own story. If you listen to the albums from these musicians they'll paint you a picture of their Chicago, a city full of opportunity, collaboration and the chance to create something beautiful.
And if you want to do some more digging here are a few more releases that came out this year from Chicago musicians.