The names we are appointed at birth, the nicknames we are given, and the monikers we choose ourselves all have an origin, they all have a story.
A few years ago, Drake rapped, “If I left this shit to chance I would’ve picked a name like Chance The Rapper,” taking a little shot at the young trailblazer who was still in the larval stage of his rap career. Aubrey should be the last rapper to throw shade at a name, but it wasn’t until his petty lyric did I realize how peculiar Chance’s stage name was—a rapper who attached his job title to his very artistic existence. He was more than just Chance, he would forever be “The Rapper.”
Surprisingly, even though he’s carried the name his entire career, Chance has only now revealed for the first time what inspired him to wear “The Rapper” in a recent GQ profile:
Your name seems more temporary than your talent, though. It’s too silly, in a way. Do you ever think about changing it or just going by Chance?
Yeah. I think it’s everything that you’re saying, but going in the opposite direction. My dad used to always say, “You need to change your name to Chance the Artist. This song, this is different.” I remember one day I was with Justin—my best friend, who has always been really good at school, really smart, really good at speaking to people. I remember my dad would introduce us to folks and they would ask, “What’re you going to be when you grow up?” Justin’s fucking 7 years old talking about, “I’m going to be a biomedical engineer.” You know, he’s just that guy. And I remember they asked me, and I said a rapper. And my dad laughed it off, like, “No, he doesn’t…” You know?
And I remember that shit used to bother the fuck out of me, because I thought Kanye West was the smartest man in the world. The best poet in the world. The freshest-dressed in the world. That’s what a rapper was to me, and I wanted everybody to feel that way about the word “rapper.” And “rapper,” to me, is pretty much synonymous with the word “black.” It’s a stigma where it’s like, “Damn, I heard Chance the Rapper. I didn’t think he was going to sound like that.” I hate that when you introduce yourself, and you’re a rapper, sometimes you gotta say, “I’m a musician.” Or, “I’m an artist.” “I’m a recording artist.” “I’m a vocalist.”
You should be proud to say: I’m a rapper.
I’m a rapper! You should be able to say that shit and, like, make someone scared in a good way. Like, “Oh shit, you might know the president!” It should feel that way. - The Gospel According to Chance the Rapper
Chance doesn’t just call himself a rapper, but he wears the title like the ultimate badge of honor. In the face of his teacher, in the face of his father, and even in the face of GQ journalist Mark Anthony Green, Chance makes it clear that being a rapper is a tremendous privilege and status. The way he sees "rapper" as being synonymous with "black" and finding pride within that is beautiful—he never wanted to run from a title so closely related to black excellence.
From an early age, he saw Kanye West as a symbol of greatness, a man who dreamed of being the world’s best rapper. Chance isn't oblivious to the stigmas, he understands the rapper isn’t always seen in a glowing ray of light, but it has never discouraged his passion or dispirited the pride he carries.
My view on what it means to be a rapper is very similar to Chance’s; we both grew up admiring the men who wore the label like the brightest bezel. No matter how much his art evolves, no matter how much he sings or incorporates other genres, Chance The Rapper’s name will go unchanged.
It all started in that classroom. He proudly announced what he would be one day, and that dream has taken him further than any 7-year-old could imagine. When you see Chance on the cover of GQ, Chance performing on late night television, Chance at the White House, Chance in commercials, Chance in movies—no matter where you see him, you’re looking at a rapper.
Chance isn't a thug, gangbanger, drug dealer or some menace to society—the stereotypes that are attached to rappers can't be glued to him, and hopefully it will further shed light on the many dimensions that exist within rap music. Rap needs the good kids who come from mad cities, the street cats who survived the School of Hard Knocks, and the spirited rhymers who can make rap music feel like flipping through a coloring book.
There’s power in a name, meaning to our titles, and "rapper" is one of the most powerful titles a person can carry. Chance is a reminder how to wear the title with honor, pride and prestige. What Kanye West meant to him, there’s some young man or woman seeing Chance in the same light: a rapper they can look up to, a rapper they can aspire to be like. Not just a musician, not another recording artist, not a rock star, but a rapper.
By Yoh, aka Yoh The Magnificent Writer aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Eric Ray Davidson for GQ