By now it’s all but written in stone: 2016 has been Chance the Rapper’s year. It might even be written in stone, too. No other rapper, no other artist, has ascended from beloved talent to bona fide star as quickly or as assuredly as Chance has this year.
His national rise began last year, though, when Chance and friends performed on Saturday Night Live last December. He looked, well, calm rapping, crooning, and dancing, like he wasn’t the first independent artist to ever play SNL (which he was). Instead it was more akin to a show you’d see popping in to a random hole in the wall on a Tuesday night, where the act has been playing for years. So relaxed, he was.
Then the stupefying, spoken-gospel “This is my part, nobody else speak” moment from Kanye West’s Life of Pablo opening track “Ultralight Beams.” He stole the show on a Kanye record, of all places. But really it was a preview for Chance’s Coloring Book, a kaleidoscopic hymn and one of the best albums of the year. Party jams, late-night introspective joints, trap records. The best rap in 2016 has to offer siphoned and tinged with Chance’s hard-earned hope and belief.
Add in his Muhammad Ali tribute at the ESPYs and the original track dedicated to Team USA basketball, a.k.a. our new national anthem, and it’s obvious this is Chance’s moment. Nobody else speak. (Note: Butterflies roller coaster my soul every time Chance belts “Oh say!” then drops an octave to rap “Can you see America face?”)
Most artists would just perform an old song, and ESPN apparently asked him to do just that as revealed in GQ’s excellent profile of Chance. They approached him to do “Blessings,” that effervescent, spiritual track that anchors Coloring Book, but Chance instead proposed writing an original tune.
But as Chance tells it, all his blessings stem from his grandmother, who “cursed” him. Either before or during recording his breakthrough mixtape Acid Rap, Chance “was just doing a lot of drugs, just hanging out. I was gone all the time,” he says.
So he visited his grandmother’s one day, and she decided to pray for him.
As he told GQ:
“And she looked me in the eyes and she said, ‘I don’t like what’s going on.’ She said, ‘I can see it in your eyes. I don’t like this.’ And she says, ‘We’re gonna pray.’ And she prayed for me all the time. Like, very positive things. But this time, she said, ‘Lord, I pray that all things that are not like You, You take away from Chance. Make sure that he fails at everything that is not like You. Take it away. Turn it into dust.’ ”
The GQ piece is full of excellent gems like that, explaining how Chance become the star he is now. There’s also a delightful anecdote about the time Frank Ocean, genius extraordinaire, played wingman on a date for Chance.
Read the whole GQ profile here. It deserves your attention, just like Chance has commanded.