Still Rock And Roll To Me: Chance The Rapper
Regardless of what you’re into, 2016 has been one of the most incredible years for music in some time. What’s more, it’s been a tremendous year for us here at TIDAL. As a means of celebrating the past year, we’re taking time in these last two weeks of 2016 to highlight the written pieces we’re most proud of, drawing from a variety of our columns, interviews and more!
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Still Rock And Roll To Me is a column where various editors and contributors at TIDAL defend examples of what they believe exemplifies music at its most real, touching on all styles, genres, mediums and more. The views presented in each piece will reflect the opinions of the specific author, but the greater series serves as a growing definition of what we’ll call “the elusive and alluring spirit of rock and roll.” For a better sense of where we’re coming from, read the manifesto here.
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On May 12, Chance the Rapper put out Coloring Book, his third official mixtape and one of our favorite albums of 2016 so far. Met with immediate and universal acclaim, the release astonished fans and critics alike, impressing with its palpable warmth, imaginative musicality and deep, substantive lyrics. Beyond those laudable qualities, however, the project is also noteworthy for its pronounced emphasis on spirituality and religion.
As evidenced by such songs as “Finish Line/Down” and “Angels,” Chance is a devout Christian and damn proud of it. On the leaked “Good Ass Kid,” a track ultimately withheld from Coloring Book due to sample clearance issues, he raps in reference to himself: “everybody finally can say it out loud, ‘my favorite rapper a Christian rapper.’”
In this day and age, rarely are such non-secular sentiments so well received in popular culture.
Why? Well, it’s not a stretch to acknowledge that Christianity, and religion at large, isn’t exactly perceived as cool these days, despite remaining a vital in many communities and cultures. For instance, while its aesthetics and motifs have been repurposed and reappropriated in the name of fashion (e.g. Bieber’s personification of the prayer emoji on the cover of Purpose) and otherwise on a broad scale, the same cannot be said of Christianity’s spiritual core.
Moreover, many might argue that religion, at least in its organized form, has been an oppressive institution for much of its history, positioning it as the very antithesis of sub-culture, counter-culture or what we like to call rock and roll. In any case, your typical sobering Sunday morning sermon certainly lacks the contagious charisma of, say, Mick Jagger or Snoop Dogg. But somehow, by outspokenly embracing Christianity, Chance the Rapper is just as cool. In fact, it’s at least partially what makes him so rock and roll.
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As defined by this column’s first entry, the root aims of rock and roll are inherently separate from and unconcerned with the desire for popular approval. True rock and roll isn’t about looking cool by someone else’s standards so much as it is about feeling cool for truthfully expressing yourself. By proudly professing his faith and openly acknowledging the significant role it plays in his life, Chance effortlessly earns his cool by way of wholly refusing to downplay his core values. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s a divinely talented rapper.)
This quality is true of Chance across the board and extends well beyond his embrace of Christianity as heard both on Coloring Book and his guest version on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam,” which preceded it. In his every element, Chance the Rapper is unafraid to embrace the decidedly uncool, demonstrating a confidence and knowledge of self well beyond his 23 years of age. Consider the very nature of his music, a music perhaps best described as joyous or optimistic or both for that matter.
Such qualities, both within the world of hip-hop and in the world at large, much like Christianity, aren’t exactly in fashion these days. What’s more, where many in popular hip-hop boast materialistic gain to assert personal successes, Chance takes another approach, one that establishes him as a true individual within in the genre and a mature (or at least maturing – lest we forget drug-loving tracks like “Smoke Break” or his last mixtape, Acid Rap) one at that. “I know the difference between blessings and worldly possessions/ like my ex girl getting pregnant and her becoming my everything/ I’m at war with my wrongs” he raps on “Blessings.”
But he’s no preachy, goody two shoes either, make no mistake. The high-energy hip-hopper drinks, smokes and even parties all night, at least, on occasion. That said, having a good time does not automatically disqualify one from being mature. Work hard, play hard. The most responsible among us can do it all.
In a fairly recent interview with Complex, Chance says of his music that: “a lot of my stuff is about my ideal world, and how I want things to function. I have a daughter who’s going to be raised in this world, and my music and my art are powerful tools in getting that to be formed the way I want it to.” Beyond inadvertently demonstrating his maturity, Chance’s statement here proves a telling indicator as to his world view, one built upon the belief in music as a powerful force for societal change.
This core belief explains Chance the Rapper’s each and every action. Music is not only his means of praising God but also the medium by which he serves Him and is able to spread His message of peace and goodness far and wide. Chance’s seemingly boundless joy and optimism, both in his music and in his person, stems from this belief as he’s witnessed firsthand how his celebrity, a byproduct of his music, might meaningfully be used to shape his community and the world beyond for the better.
Coupled with his undeniable talent, his integrity and clarity of vision is not only that which allows for Coloring Book’s cast of A-list featured guests, but also that which allows him to collaborate so effectively, riffing with others without accidentally adopting their respective styles.
That Chance faithfully honors his vision and values with little consideration as to popular reception is what makes him rock and roll, at least to me. Sure, he’s not Bowie or David Byrne but like them, his uncool is that which makes him cool. While others follow, he leads.
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