Earlier this week, Chance The Rapper and his Social Experiment band unveiled “Angels,” a new single with special guest Saba, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The performance was a moment to remember as D-Low and DJ Oreo joined for footwork support, the push toward Chance’s much-anticipated third solo release officially underway. While the brevity of a fully independent act debuting a song on national television wasn’t lost on most, there was one element of the performance that was tucked away yet in full sight.
For Chicago natives who were watching the broadcast the hoodies that Chance and Saba donned for the performance were readily familiar, the logos of both the city’s urban radio stations front and center. Chance sported Power 92.3’s logo while WGCI 107.5 graced Saba’s chest. For most viewers, this fashion choice may have seemed like a small bit to the performance, a nod to the city’s rap hegemony. If you look a bit closer though, it's clear the fashion choice was a conscious decision, the latest chess move from one of the city’s biggest stars in a concerted effort to win over the radio without signing to a major label.
The move is the latest in a long line of strategic maneuvers by Chance’s camp to allow him full creative freedom while also being allowed to play the game. It’s a mentality that saw his collaborative SURF project with Donnie Trumpet become the first full-length to be distributed on iTunes for free. There are tried and true barriers to being fully independent: access, money, and infrastructure all come to mind. Whereas a “Mindie” or signed act can expect regular radio play, national tours, and inclusion on awards shows and the like, things are much more difficult on the road less traveled.
On the Late Show stage Monday night, Chance and Saba took turns poking and prodding their hometown stations in an act of playful defiance, going as far to work each local outlet into the song’s chorus: “GCI, 1-0-7-5, angel goin' live/Power 92, angel, juke, angel gon' juke/GCI, 1-0-7-5, goin' live/Power 92, angel gon' juke, juke, juke, juke.” While Chance's in-house radio team works back channels and programming relationships in an attempt to get "Angels" into regular rotation on the competing stations, their performance left little to the imagination-- the powers that be can't front on the direct message.
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“I guess what’s crazy about the whole thing is that as Chicagoans, we pretty much only want to listen to our own music,” said Taylor Bennett, recording artist and Chance’s younger brother. “Within the past year or so I’ve definitely seen a pick up on them playing local stuff like Keef, Spenzo, Lil Durk, Vic Mensa. I definitely loved what Chance and Saba did and it’s been cool hearing “Angels” played since then. I grew up with these stations so it’s dope to turn on the radio and hear someone you see every day.”
The only time Chano was consistently played on the local radio was in 2013 when he appeared as a guest on Lil Wayne’s “You Song.” He would have seen similar success with Jeremih’s “Planes,” but Def Jam opted to have J. Cole record a verse that was used for the version of the single that went to radio. Chance’s ability to navigate the industry from the underground while endearing himself to the mainstream enough to not be ignored has been quite impressive, but efforts will need to intensity for him and his local brethren to truly reap the benefits.
Power92 and WGCI have long been bastions of the city’s hip-hop scene, but their lack of involvement in the actual music being made in their backyard has been a smudge on their reputation as the blog and internet world has long been open to the city’s sounds with open arms.
“I think that in the last couple of years, and since Chicago as a whole has been climbing, I’ve seen Power92 and WGCI being more open to playing more Chicago music,” said Closed Sessions co-owner Alex Fruchter. “Timbuck2 starting Go-ILL Radio in 2008 or 2009 and the fact that more artists are delivering radio-ready records has resulted in more being played. I was really proud when they put DJ Moondawg and 33 ⅓ on their own shows, they’ve always supported everything we’ve done however they can.”
WGCI recently announced an expansion of its Hometown series, highlighting local talent on Sunday nights. The best acts on the segment will receive a featured interview the following Friday live on-air. This is a big step forward for the station and the Chicago hip-hop scene. Hearing the announcement yesterday while driving south on Halsted I couldn’t help but think of Saba and Chance on that stage. At a time when radio advertising is as hopeless as print journalism, two hometown kids offered a uniquely enormous plug for two outlets that have done little for them in return.
Could the winds of change finally sweep through the Windy City? As they say on the radio, "stay tuned."