What Chance The Rapper has become wasn’t foreseeable after the release of his sophomore mixtape, Acid Rap. Through this blogger’s eyes, Chance was eccentric, eclectic, and electrifying, like watching raw potential in the early stages of growth. Acid Rap housed the promise of a gifted rapper who would impact tomorrow, the foundation that a legacy would be built upon.
Chance's shift to merging the jazzy and gospel elements that dominated his GRAMMY-winning Coloring Book didn’t come without foreshadowing. Surf, the prelude project with Nico Segal and The Social Experiment, was the middleman that began to quietly articulate a budding change in Chance's sound. God and gospel had been a part of his artistry prior, but as sprinkled seasoning; minimal textures but never the entire musical infrastructure.
The long-awaited solo follow-up to Acid Rap found the jubilant rapper leaning upon soulful choirs, softer melodies, and calmer lyrical acrobatics. Three years separate the two mixtapes but light years divide their musical explorations. Coloring Book was purged of any darker tones and heavy subject matter. Compared to Chance's breakthrough, the new music couldn’t puncture a teddy bear.
This new musical approach also came with a level of positivity that often felt like arriving at the gates of Disney World and not the streets of Chicago. Acid Rap wasn’t a hedonistic project, far from it, but life was viewed through a lens with acid rain, chain-smoking, pusha men, and paranoia―three years later, it became angels, puppets, God, and a deep-seated disdain for major labels.
Earlier this week on Everyday Struggle, rapper-turned-talking head Joe Budden voiced an opinion that has gnawed at my heartstrings since the release of Coloring Book. He criticized Chance’s newest song, "First World Problems," which was premiered on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, as "too happy." He mocked Chance’s voice, and crudely intimated lyrics about God and church. Joe pointed out the guitar strums, a singing choir, and the angel that is Daniel Caesar to conclude the content was impenetrable positivity.
A man who is known for making mood muzik only saw a mood that was safe, armored by a nonexistent happiness. Though the song's hook does come from a positive, inspirational place, "happy" is far from a word I would use to describe the song’s temperament. It’s far more melancholy as the Chicago rapper muses on his struggles with first-world problems. While his issues are far from a crisis worth noting when Puerto Ricans are truly suffering, the problems he lists are honest and transparent, and they display the growing weight on the shoulders of a superstar. There’s no measuring stick to compare difficulty levels when it comes to affairs a man grapples with; we are all fighting silent battles and quiet wars no matter our fortune and status.
As Joe pointed out his personal issues with Chance’s song―an issue I’ve seen many agree with on social media―it became apparent how shortsighted his views were, along with my own impaired, critical vision.
Is there truly shame in expressing happiness? Is coating rap with spoken word and gospel ingredients a special defense against negative criticism?
When 21 Savage first started to create a demand for himself online, I wrote a piece on how people were buying into his terrifying reality. His early acclaim was centered in authenticity, a rapper from the streets that listeners believed lived every shootout, survived the harsh East Atlanta environment and would reenact every bone-chilling lyric if pushed to the brink of reaction.
Realness is worth a pretty penny in hip-hop—the more your audience believes the more invested they become. Lies are for reality television and unhappy marriages, not rap music. It’s the reason why Chance’s “Paranoia” still causes chills because the words are dipped in bloody truth. He articulated a summer in Chicago so full of fear, so gruesome the harrowing imagery lingers long after the song ends.
Most hip-hop listeners have no problem being enamored by these realities. The genre was conceived on street corners in hoods where hope was scarce, but Chance’s reality is no longer what it once was. He’s a father now, he’s giving back to communities in need of blessings, and doing it under the flag of God. It’s natural for these changes to reform the music he makes to more accurately reflect the current pit stop of his life's journey.
Imagine being in a good place spiritually, physically, and emotionally, wanting to spread this energy through your art, and being told to leave Eden because it's too radiant. To criticize Chance's happiness is like dismissing the music of Chief Keef for being too hood, or Drake for being too soft, or Nas for being too intelligent, or Joe Budden for being too depressed―analysis of this kind lacks any real critical fault or distinction.
I was recently asked what makes Chance’s entwining gospel and rap any different from Kanye’s College Dropout approach, and the answer was simple: Kanye never felt holier than thou. He felt like the relatable sinner who was at the club every Saturday and was only guaranteed to be in church on Easter Sunday; he believed in God but didn’t feel like someone banging on your door to spread the gospel. Kanye embodied Kendrick’s hook on “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” a sinner who would probably sin again while giving church and fellowship.
Chance didn’t make Jesus walk, but he has created a position where there are no sins to take away from his spins. He’s a beacon of purity that at times doesn’t seem genuine, but it’s mostly because we as skeptical humans search for cracks in anything that appears too good to be true. Especially when something small as a less-than-favorable concert review gets eliminated from an esteemed publication, it starts to feel like watching a politician with a messianic complex and not the rap artist who made Acid Rap.
Still, Chance The Rapper comes off as a genuine soul who's making genuine music. I can’t always relate, but I always believe him.
The day my father asked me to put Coloring Book on his Android phone after watching Chance perform at Essence Fest was the day I knew he was beyond returning back to the days of Acid Rap. He's found a brand of music that can be enjoyed by a community of people far beyond the blogosphere that championed him early. Both middle school kids and aging fathers nearing retirement can appreciate the message and music, and while I preferred when his material had a harder edge, his content and bars haven't exactly disappeared. It's the elegant, slower spoken-word flows he leans on today and not the whirlwind wordplay of Acid Rap, but "First World Problems" features some of Chance's best lyricism. The Rapper is still rapping, even if it’s holier than a 9th Wonder soul sample loop.
Happiness, positivity, and joy belong in hip-hop, especially when this unforgiving spinning orb is a tweet away from becoming a nuclear war zone. Chance does too much at times, imperfect as we all are, but he’s delivering a ray of sunlight for those who need it with hip-hop as his medium.
There's no immunity to criticism, but if being happy and positive is his roast-worthy sin, well, we need more sinners in the church of Chancellor.
By Yoh, aka Church of Yoh, aka @Yoh31