Chance alters perception of fame

Aidan Graham, asst. features editor

Before you knew him, Chancellor Bennett was just another kid from West Chatham on Chicago’s notorious South Side: known for high rates of crime, gang violence and poverty. It is from this unlikely place that Chance the Rapper—an inspiration to both kids and adults around the world, a philanthropist dedicated to improving the neighborhoods he grew up in, a critic of modern racism and a man committed to God, his family and his city—was born.

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t hear about Chance until the summer of 2014. I remember my first time listening to him: one of my friends played ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’ from Acid Rap on her dinky iPhone 4 speaker behind the Dairy Bar; I was instantly mesmerized. I began to appreciate his music, but it wasn’t until I decided to go to a spontaneous matinée during the Taste of Chicago in 2016 that I felt like part of his broader message.

At his shows, Chance celebrates diversity and preaches against hate while maintaining an intimate relationship with his audience, which is why he has such a loyal fan base. However, as a fan from the North Shore suburbs, I can’t visualize many of the hardships he wrestles with in his songs—many of which are faced by kids in Chicago’s inner city neighborhoods each day.

It’s activists like Chance The Rapper who offer a lens into the lives of those who didn’t grow up as fortunate as I did. And it’s not only this lens Chance provides that makes him such a pioneer; whether it’s his philanthropic efforts like donating one million dollars to Chicago Public Schools or becoming a role model for kids across the country, Chance is changing what it means to be famous.

With regards to his music, Chance chooses to remain an independent artist, the first one ever to perform on Saturday Night Live. And even with a rapidly growing role in pop culture, Chance’s devotion to Soundcloud and his loyalty to childhood friends such as Chicago artists Vic Mensa, Nico Segal (Donnie Trumpet) and Joey Purp exhibit his humility and serve to go against narcissism in the industry today. And if you listen to the lyrics on his songs: “I used to pass out music, I still pass out music” on  “Blessings”, “Everybody’s somebody’s everything” on “Everybody’s Something” and “Clean up the streets so my daughter can have somewhere to play” on “Angels”, Chance communicates the importance of modesty, love and betterment to his listeners.

Putting his music aside, fame has not derailed Chance’s devotion to Chicago. In February 2015, Chance began ‘Open Mike’ nights to give Chicago high school students the opportunity to speak their minds in a safe place. Additionally, in September 2016, Chance co-founded the non-profit organization   SocialWorks with the goal of inspiring creativity and encouraging Chicago youth to be themselves. All of this, along with a positive presence on social media, sets an example for those who look up to him.

Nowadays, there are not enough Hip Hop or R&B artists capable of setting examples for their listeners, who are mostly kids and teenagers. Producing music with certain insinuations is one thing, but being a positive role model in real life is something far more important in today’s celebrity culture. I guess what I’m trying to say is there are too many Chris Browns and not enough Chancellor Bennetts.

Chance is leaving his mark: his philanthropy has made a difference to thousands of inner city families, his music serves as an inspiration to kids and young adults trying to find their voice in an unforgiving world and his message of love is penetrating even the coldest of hearts. Fame in America today is met with money, influence and attention. Artists like Chance, who use these assets to benefit others, are becoming harder and harder to find.