Chance The Rapper Isn't the Next Kanye West—He's the First Chance

Two Chicago groundbreakers unite on "Ultralight Beam," but don't confuse inspiration for succession.

Chance entered stage left and exited stage right. In the middle he made magic.

That "Ultralight Beam" SNL performance was something special. Goosebumps, hair on edge, fighting back tears, it was par for the Kanye West course, but that performance had something extra. There was real power. Chance the Rapper commanded that stage and did it with Kanye watching like a proud father.

“I met Kanye West I’m never going to fail,” he said with Kanye standing over his left shoulder. To me and to many who continue to be inspired by Kanye (Chance included) that line reads like, “Holy shit, I'm on the same song as Kanye fucking West." You’d have to be Stevie Wonder to not see and Victor Zokas not to feel the significance of Chance and Kanye on the same stage. For Chicago, for hip-hop as a whole, it was a moment; one that seemingly united the hip-hop community.

Chance and Kanye's budding friendship is exciting and it's been drawing comparisons that extend far beyond "Ultralight Beam" and "I hit the gym all chest, no legs." 

While their relationship has blossomed recently, the comparisons between the two have been made for some time now. In fact, as far back as 2013, people were already drawing a direct line between Yeezy and Chano, and it was undoubtedly happening in Chicago long before that. 

"The classic soul/R&B elements on Acid Rap remind me of listening to The College Dropout for the first time; both that album and Chance’s are watershed releases that sound simultaneously familiar- largely due to the traditional musical source material they use- and entirely new in approach."  —Prefix (2013)

Chance has clearly been inspired by Kanye and has never been one to shy away from that influence. While it’s impossible to not recognize some connections between the two, let’s not confuse inspiration for succession. There are some very big differences between them, and when you compare Chance to Kanye, it’s a disservice to Chance’s story and more importantly, it limits Chance's future.

The day I first heard Kanye West is a day I will always remember. The more I listened the more I learned, the more I became enamored with his story. “The Rudolph red nosed reindeer of the Roc,” Kanye was an underdog, but in his mind, he was already the MVP, he just needed to get on the field. He had the ego of Willie Beamen but the roster spot of Rudy and you couldn’t help but love him for it. Once he got the opportunity, he sacked the game. He raised himself upon his own shoulders and carried himself out of the stadium. That’s why I love College Dropout. That’s why I love “Last Call.” The outro of the album was his chance to plant his flag on hip-hop’s summit after a treacherous climb. Kanye beat them at their own game; he earned it. To this day, I still sense that chip on Kanye’s Hermes-draped shoulder. He’s conquered hip-hop and is now focused on kicking down the door of fashion. He’s begging for a shot again. He thrives off the doubt that the powers that be are conspiring against him. He wants to take over every game he’s not allowed to play.

I remember the first time I heard Chance. Maybe not the exact first time, but the first time I felt his magic. It was “Juice.” Thanks to Kanye, at that point I had been studying hip-hop for years. I knew my way around a sample, I listened, wrote, and listened more. I had moved from what was on the radio to what never would be. I wasn't 9th Wonder, but I knew hip-hop. When I heard “Juice” it was unlike anything I had heard before. In all my articles, all my sleepless nights spent perusing Soundcloud, I had never come across anything like “Juice.” With a nasal yet raspy flow, Chano gracefully meandered over the beat. He was cluttered, off-kilter and obscure and yet somehow it felt so natural. He makes his way across the production on scattered footholds, jumping and falling with style to the finish line while other rappers use the same bridge. “Acid Rap” wasn't his middle finger to the establishment the way College Dropout is—if anything that's 10 Day. Acid Rap's charm, its soul, is a product of Chance's commitment to himself and the comfort that comes with doing things the way you want. After a project of doing things his way, his last statement? “Everything’s Good.” No intro from JAY-Z or a heavyweight co-sign, instead, the other voice is from his dad. Kanye finally got a chance to run their race, to play their game, and he was ecstatic that he had beat them at it. Chance? Chance was too busy inventing his own game to play theirs.

Chance is running his career the same way he runs a beat. He’s finding paths other emcees can’t even spot. His resume has been celebrated, but it’s worth stating again. He’s released the first free project on iTunes, he’s headlined festivals, he’s recorded with fucking Madonna, and now he’s performed on SNL...twice. The Harriet Tubman of the underground, he’s blazing a trail for future emcees to follow. Kanye was begging labels to let him in. Chance is fighting them off with a stick. They didn't want Kanye but they’d kill to have Chance.

More important than any song or performance, he is committed to ensuring he leaves Chicago better than he found it by clothing the homeless and hosting poetry slams. In a city plagued by violence, Chance is doing his best to heal the wounds. Kanye’s inspired a generation with his voice and now Chance is encouraging his generation to find their own. What makes me more excited about Chance is not his music, but what he can do for music. He has the opportunity to alter the DNA of hip-hop. He’s only 22-years-old and has already done it in part. What will another 10 years look like? 

But when we compare him to Kanye, when we talk about him as “the next Kanye West,” I fear that it prevents us from celebrating the one thing that makes Chance Chance; his uniqueness. Let’s not compare him to something that's already happened, let’s celebrate the fact that he's done what nobody else has. 

Chance is different. He’s never wanted to fit into a mold, so let's not force him into one. He doesn’t need to follow in Kanye’s shoes, he's already kicked off his Yeezys and is dancing in the rain.



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