Should We Give Chance Another Chance?

Chance the Rapper performing at a music festival. /  Photo by Daniel Gregory   (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Chance the Rapper performing at a music festival. / Photo by Daniel Gregory (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


I love Chance the Rapper.

I used to just like Chance the Rapper, but then one line he wrote really touched me. You know how that one moment— a chord, a harmony, a lyric— of one really special song hits you and you feel it with every fiber of your being? So you play that 30-second snippet over and over and over again because it is just so perfect? Mine was a very dark line from the song "Pusha Man/Paranoia" on Chance’s 2013 album, Acid Rap: “They murking kids, they murder kids here, Why you think they don't talk about it? They deserted us here…”

When the song first hit me, I was riding on the the Capital Metro 3 train headed south on my way to work in Austin. At the time, I was processing the communal pardon of George Zimmerman and the ways systems shield people from accepting the reality of racism. Chance continues with the line, “Where the fuck is Matt Lauer at? Somebody Katie Couric in here?” The media was deliberately shielding the masses from seeing their own culpability in the ails of society, and Chance summed that fact up for me on a Sunday morning commute. He saw my problems as a person with melanin-rich skin and gave me language for it.

I went from liking him to loving him because I felt a sort of kinship with him. Our kinship was birthed out of a shared racial identity that experiences oppression in a white dominant society. Although our lived experiences aren’t identical, they are related— ask anyone who’s lived on the South Side of the Chi and they gon say that we cousins.

Chance the Rapper, despite his youth, is very deliberate about being politically minded and encouraging others to get involved in politics as well. Chance got his start freestyling with friends in school, then recording his rhymes. He dropped his first mixtape, 10 Day, in 2012, and Acid Rap followed to much critical acclaim. His status was truly solidified when he pressured the Recording Academy to make streaming-only albums eligible for award nominations (which he then took advantage of as the first artist to win a Grammy for a streaming-only album with 2016's Coloring Book).

Even then, his activism expanded beyond the realm of music. In 2016, Chance led a voting parade through the streets of Chicago. He founded Social Works, a non-profit focused on aiding Chicago youth, and the organization raised over $100k to provide warm coats to Chicago’s housing-insecure population during one of the coldest recent winters. Social Works also regularly hosts Open Mic events for students, and has connected Chance with Chicago Public Schools in need of support. He has worked closely with the Obama Foundation while also being critical of its refusal to protect low-income residents in my old neighborhood Woodlawn, from the skyrocketing prices caused by Obama’s Presidential Center location.

Chance has never shied away from keeping those he considered authorities accountable to their communities, so naturally, I was really surprised when he jumped to the defense of Kanye Kardashian-West at the end of April 2018. Kanye's full endorsement of Donald Trump didn’t surprise me; Kanye loves attention and access to power (for evidence, just listen to his music, starting with the song aptly titled "Power").

Like many Kanye fans, though, it did seem to surprise Chance the Rapper that Kanye would endorse someone who has already done so much harm to the communities Kanye once claimed to love. Kanye used to love Chicago, his hometown, but now he’s endorsing a man who berated and lied about the city and its people throughout his entire campaign. Kanye claimed to love the Black community but jumped at the chance to kiss the ring of the man who questioned the validity of President Obama’s citizenship and integrity, and who has surrounded himself with white supremacists like Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and Jeff Sessions.

I imagine Chance felt betrayed, and in turn he lashed out at others facing the same feelings of betrayal.

More than just our “faves”, entertainers write the moral lessons that shape our collective social norms and values; they give us the soundtracks of our lives. The Beatles, Prince, Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, Madonna, and Britney are more than the music and the music videos they release; they wrote their ways into our childhoods, they got us through puberty, they escort us through the major events of our lives.

With social media, we can now reach out and digitally touch the people who have touched us. They can show us how, more than just their art, their lives are invested in ours. They can show us how they vote, like Beyoncé and Oprah did in 2008 when they campaigned for senator Barack Obama, or like Kid Rock and Roseanne Barr did when they gave glowing endorsements to Trump. We can see them march for us, like Lady Gaga did before her historic meeting with Vice President Biden about the state of LGBTQ rights in America.

But the side effect of this access is that it presents another opportunity for them to disappoint us and break our hearts.

You can mute R. Kelly, but you can’t always mute your parents. But that doesn’t mean you should ever feel the need to sacrifice who you are for their comfort.

When a fave dies, it’s like losing a family member. Much like the year I lost both my grandpas, a cloud of melancholy hovered over me the year that Prince passed. I always found Prince Rogers Nelson fascinating because not only could he play virtually any instrument he looked at, he was incredible at everything else too: lyrics, activism, sports (according to one very infamous story), dancing, and acting. I remember how loud I screamed in Half Price Books after I found a perfect condition 12’ album of Purple Rain. Having a physical piece of his historic musical triumph brings me joy, I’ve been hanging the album’s sleeve in my living room or bedroom for years. Losing the man that made that album and movie hurt in a way I can’t adequately describe. My emotional connection to Prince is real, as is my emotional connection to Chance, just like every stan has some form of real emotional bond with whomever reigns over their standom.

We shouldn’t discount the reality of others’ emotions and emotional connections, nor especially our own. We owe it to ourselves to be honest about this and to respect that truth for others, while being careful that we don’t allow these bonds to become unhealthy. Maybe viewing these icons like our family members is the key to surviving being a fan in the age of social media.

Our families are filled with people who make epic mistakes, whom we love and want to grow, who help us grow, who lead us to be better than we have been. They help us imagine what’s possible— we are constantly recognizing ways in which they have wronged us, forgiving them and finding ways to co-exist and support each other. I think at the end of the day artists want to do that with us. They’re just bad at it, because they’re people and all people are kind of bad at being family. It’s really hard work being vulnerable with people who may not always show us love in the way we expect it, but we have to allow room for these bumps.

We also have to know where we draw our moral lines. I don’t plan on supporting Kanye West until he repents of his support of Trump. I plan to #MuteRKelly as I have been doing for some time now. I think having healthy boundaries with our families is just as important. All of us have family members we know we can’t trust with our money, all of us have that family member that we need to stop speaking to until both parties can be civil. We need to make space for conflict while not allowing ourselves to be floor mats. As a queer person, there are family members I don’t feel safe with because of words they have used, sentiments they have expressed, much like those Chance the Rapper has used against the LGBTQ community. Some of them I believe can and will grow, so I remain in communication with them, and some of them I can’t escape. You can mute R. Kelly, but you can’t always mute your parents. But that doesn’t mean you should ever feel the need to sacrifice who you are for their comfort.

There are many lessons Chance’s defense of Kanye can teach us, but I think the most important thing is this: We should never allow our emotions be the cause of us neglecting our values. Chance realized he slipped rather quickly. His apology was heartfelt and sure to clarify that he was in no way a supporter of Trump, merely defending Kanye, a man he loved, his friend and mentor. He clarified his relationship and with that was able to move forward in a more healthy way. Maybe we should all take some time and clarify our own relationships with our icons, saints, parents, siblings, friends, faith leaders, posse, cliques, Hogwarts Houses–and whoever else we relate to–so that we can all move together to a more healthy form of emotional expression.