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Chance The Rapper on Travel, The Black Experience, Music, and Role Models

Don’t leave “The Rapper” out of Chance The Rapper’s name — ever. If that sounds like a self-assured claim of a rising Rap star, that’s because it is. The soon-to-be 22 year old shares his version of the Black experience and intention on keeping the spirit of Hip-hop alive. The Save Money crew staple also explains what it means to him to be from Chicago and how powerful role models and travels abroad shape his perspective of the world today.

Take me back to right before your career began to ascend, before you released Acid Rap, what was life like for you then?

Chance The Rapper: Before I was Chance the Rapper, I was Chancelor, I was kind of a different, weird, troubled kid. I had a lot of conflicting ideals that were brought to me from a young age, so I had the understanding of political power through my Pops, man power through my Pops, Black power through my Pops. I had a lot of conflicting ideas of how my relationships with women would work as far as my relationship with my mom, family outside of my primary family, my relationships with women in the neighborhood. I don’t know, a lot of that shit just made me who I am today and kind of moulded me. I would say from early on, I had a lot of teachings and experiences from the age of like 7, I could understand things on a cognitive level — just things that stuck with me.


Was this the same for your siblings?

I got one younger brother, Taylor, that’s my ace. He’s about three years younger than me. Me and him grew up very close next to my dad. We didn’t have a lot of the same friends when we were really young, but once you get closer to your 20’s, or your mid-20’s, a three year age difference isn’t a lot. We hang out with a lot of the same people and I kind of get to know how people that weren’t brought up the same way as me, how they react to situations.

My Pops was always the guy with the job. He was the oldest of his generation, kind of like the family leader. When I was younger, I would remember he started off — he just had a job, which was a big deal, you know what I’m saying? He was superintendent for Streets and Sanitation and ran all the trucks and shit, and supervised. And that shit was a big deal ’cause he had a city car with the lights on top of it, the little siren, even though he wasn’t the feds. I remember he campaign managed for Lisa Madigan for state treasurer— he would lead these random initiatives, and do all these different things that made it so that when I walked around, people would stop my dad and thank him. From a young age I’ve always had that connection with people. When I walked around, people knew who my dad was and had something to say to him. Just in that, I think I’ve always kind of wanted that same situation, and not necessarily as “the son of.” I think I always wanted to be the person that people wanted to talk to and feel comfortable saying something to.

Was it difficult having such a great father while many of your friends lived in single mother homes? 

I grew up around 80th and Paxton in the same house my Pops grew up in. He bought it from his grandmother, so its the fourth generation in the same neighborhood, in the same house. Like I said, my Pops was the block club president and being that, he was a neighborhood dad. I remember he used to take my friends and I — this kid named Darius, my homies Derrick and JJ – he used to take us fishing and to McDonalds, which was a big deal, but it sounds lame now. He used to take us to get the McDonalds breakfast, the cinnamon rolls.

He was a good dad, and he was a good man. I’m saying “was” (I’m tweaking) He is a good man. At the time, that was the narrative; he rocked with the neighborhood and felt a connection to it that a lot of people had basically lost. Cause you know how it goes out there, a lot of people don’t stay in the neighborhood too long; people will grow up there with their auntie or their grandmother, or whoever they have in the house, but at a certain point, they just move to an apartment and new people come into the neighborhood. For my Pops, he was one of the few men who knew all the older women on the block and in the neighborhood. He was one of the few males that bought the house he’s in, and now there’s a new generation of people living in this neighborhood that have some type of respect for him. Almost all the people that he knew that lived in the neighborhood for a long time, if they were guys, they moved away.

So you’ve had a chance to travel outside the US — what’s your experience abroad been like, coming from Chicago, generally speaking?

I figured out that Chicago is a very specific city, there’s a lot that you realize that people don’t necessarily know about outside of Chicago. Once I learned that, it made me feel special because I felt cultivated, and it made me feel specific. Specificity isn’t something everybody in the world gets, everybody doesn’t necessarily get to be a particular person, they’re just lucky to be a person. Do you know that, [starts singing] “800 5-8-8-2-300, Empire!” Yeah, exactly, that’s some specific shit. People don’t know that outside of Chicago, there’s a lot of things like that. I was lucky to be cultured as a kid, because I went to grade schools and high schools that were diverse, I understood there were other things outside of the neighborhood. I didn’t travel when I was a kid, we didn’t go on trips. It wasn’t until I was 19 or 20, that I’m hopping on a bus and going all across the country, or I’m hopping on a plane and going all over Europe. Doing that at what feels like an older age, at the age of 21, allows you to grow.

If I travelled too young it would have been under appreciated, if I travelled later in life it probably wouldn’t make an impact. I probably would just be an uncultured, dumb nigga going out there. But I’m taking in all the culture, and it gives me a better understanding of my place in the world, especially going overseas because all that shit, that history or what you believe to be history, is thousands of years old. America as it’s written is only a couple hundred years old, but you don’t really understand that when you just live here, or when you get your information from books. But you go somewhere like Rome, and it’s like damn, mufuckas have been using the same two or three languages for several hundred years. Mufuckas came into America a couple hundred years ago and erased shit, just reset that mufucka. It makes you realize your place in the world better, because you can’t fathom thousands of years of history until you go somewhere where there’s a thousand year old rock still holding up the same building.


What do you think you bring to Hip-Hop from your perspective?

Thats a great question, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question. I think I bring perspective [laughs]. I bring the perspective to be like, “Yo, you can do that too,” not that there aren’t others that didn’t do that — obviously Andre 3000, obviously Kanye West, but I think for me, Hip-Hop — and everybody is entitled to their own opinion — Hip-Hop is Black music. It’s Black culture and one of the few things that — I don’t know, our culture is ever-changing and way more current than a lot of other cultures. When you ask about Black culture, there’s a variety of different answers you’re going to get. It’s current and it’s music based; it’s jazz, it’s the blues, it’s house, it’s everything. We’re very musical people, very innovative people. I think what I do is show people that music is music is music. You make what you make and that defines Black culture and the Black experience. No other Black man can tell me what the Black experience is because I live it as well. I can show people possibilities of what it could be. I could converse with another Black man or someone of another race about what it’s like to be me, and in that, I get to show that the Black experience is detailed by what I do.

It’s important for me to have “The Rapper” at the end of my name, forever. There’s gonna be a point where mufuckas start calling me “Chance” and I’m not going for that shit. It’s very important for me to put “The Rapper” and to put Rap at the end of everything that I do because it is that deep. Rap comes from melody, music comes from melody, from political involvement, love and compassion and also from anger, from all these different directions. I think you get to a certain point and they just want you to be an artist. They don’t want to call it Rap anymore. They wanna say, “Oh, you’re more than a rapper, you’re not just talking about bitches and hoes.” It’s like, Rap can talk about bitches and hoes and it can talk about what I’m talking about because I detail the Black experience every time I open my mouth.

What are five words that best describe you?

Um, strong, vulnerable, likeable, servant, leader.

What’s next for you? Lets imagine that you don’t have boundaries at all. What would Chance the Rapper like to see happen in his life?

That’s a good question. I want to obviously continue to make music. I’ve always made music and I want to continue to release new music. I got projects I’m working on and shit, ideas. I want to write and produce a musical I want to bring to Chicago. Kind of like a musical house thing, like they have on Broadway. I kind of want to do the same thing in Chicago with a performance piece that lives in one place that you come and see.

I’ve been touring like crazy for the past three years, and I feel like music, as it stands now, kind of has a circus feel to it. Like a travelling circus thing that you wait in town for, and then go back to your regular life. I feel like the beauty of going to a Broadway musical is that you have to come to that place to get that experience. Even in that venue, the experience can be different every night. I think music will get closer to its true value when people have to travel to experience it.

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Ferrari Sheppard

Ferrari Sheppard is a journalist, artist and cultural critic based in Chicago. He is also co-founder of A Country Called Earth.
Ferrari Sheppard

Ferrari Sheppard is a journalist, artist and cultural critic based in Chicago. He is also co-founder of A Country Called Earth.