August 12, 2013


I did this Chance piece for Chicago Magazine but then he flaked on the photoshoot twice so sans art, it got trimmed to about 2 paragraphs. It almost did not happen at all--my editor had confirmed a plan, but when it came time, Chance refused. Like, we did not even get to the end of the block and it seemed like the story was DOA. We drove around downtown and tried to hash it out but he was adamant. Also, he had some place to be soon enough that a plan to go anywhere but on a 3 block walk was going to be impossible. I mean, I understand, Chicago Magazine is not XXL or whathaveyou. So meanwhile I am trying to reach my editor at the magazine and see if she is ok with a drastic change of plans. But apparently there is no direct outside phone number and no one at the Tribune knew how to transfer me and it was like four phone calls later, Chance smoking outside the car while I try to get the operator at the Trib to patch me through to a guy in sales at the Magazine to tell him to go give my # to the editor. It was like the eighties. Anyhow, she sagely said "well, this is your story now, the story of the non-story, so report that." I did. Not included: our run in with the janitor from his high school and that every single person he met, spoke to or recognized he mentioned Acid Rap and it's street date, his confession that he wants to be as famous as Michael Jackson, and that when we parted he mistakenly credited the previous two stories I had written about him to my male colleague, the intrepid Leor Galil, saying how much Leor's piece in the Tribune meant to him. "Actually, that was me. Both of those stories were mine." Awkwardness for us both was avoided by me just saying bye and getting into my car and driving away.

I am not positive that he wasn't tripping towards the end of the hour.

Anyhow, here was the full piece as it originally existed:

Chance the Rapper doesn't want to go home. He just came from there, he says. The 20-year old rapper is in the passenger seat of my car. We were slated to drive around his Southside neighborhood, Chatham where grew up and now lives with his girlfriend. There are a flurry of excuses: it's hot out. It will take too long and he has to be to the studio in an hour. The 'hood where he lives is just where he lives he says, his story, of how he went from half-dropped-out burner kid to Chicago's next big thing, he insists, "happened here". He motions with his hands to indicate that here means exactly where we are--downtown.

Despite his casual air and congenial charm, Chance is keenly aware of his image, his story and how much it constitutes his appeal. Beneath his earnest demeanor lies a kid who has mapped every inch of his hustle. Chance is a favorite with high school kids, in part because his story could be theirs. He paints himself as the one kid amid the overachievers at Jones Prep who did not care about his future. Likable but a loner, he got busted smoking weed while ditching class at Millennium Park and spent his subsequent 10-day suspension recording a mix tape album of songs that birthed his rap career. His is a ground level stardom, someone kids can touch and talk to when they see him on the train or in the street--he is someone they could ostensibly become. The young MC is very clear on the importance of his apocryphal tale and that is the only one his is inclined to tell. And so we will not begin our story of Chance the Rapper in Chatham, we will begin where he says it began: the library.

It is difficult to ascertain whether Chance is famous citywide, but in the six-block proximity to Jones Prep where we walk, he is the Mayor of the Underage with his giant backpack and mismatched shoes, greeted constantly by name, with handshakes, pounds, dap. He gamely poses for pictures, is offered lights for his ever present cigarettes, kids prod his memory to see if he remembers the last time they met--at the library, in the parking lot of their school when he was selling tickets to one of his shows, that time their cousin introduced them. Stepping out of the car outside of the Columbia College dorms, there is the waft of pot smoke and then someone yells "Whattup, man!" A former classmate from Jones pulls Chance in for a half-hug, and exclaims "He was the craziest motherfucker in school!" The old friend passes Chance his joint, Chance plugs his upcoming mix tape by name and street date, they exchange numbers after the kid offers his in case Chance needs a hook-up for weed.

We make our way down the street, heading to Juggrnaut, the hip hop clothing store that has hosted all of his mix tape releases, drawing hundreds more kids than they can accommodate in the tiny space. Owner Roger Rodriguez brags that they have known him since back when he was "Just Chance. Before he was Chance Thee." In the store, the half dozen dudes shopping for looks look up but play it like they are not noticing Chance, who refers to the store as his home. He he would sometimes spend six hours a day there, writing rhymes or just hanging out. That doesn't really happen anymore. Two middle school-age boys in uniforms pass by and pause when they catch sight of Chance through the open door. Chance gives them an acknowledging wave. They wave back.

After Juggrnaut, we head East on Washington and make a left on State and head into the YouMedia center on the ground floor of the library. "The first time I came here was to rap," he explains. Chance was Kanye-obsessed and in a rap duo with a friend ("we were terrible") and had heard that the library had free recording studios. The center also offers free workshops; "Production, software, piano lessons, music theory--I took all of them." He quickly became the star of the popular Wednesday-night open mics. "This place made me what I am today." He swings the door to the recording studio open and pops his head in, five teenage boys are inside, one is behind the mic, the rest behind the computer. "Y'all recording?" he asks. "I used to be recording in here--I don't mean to hold up your session." Chance acts oblivious but the boys are stunned silent. This is a little like Michael Jordan suddenly siddling up while you're free throwing in the driveway.

By the time he ducks back out a minute later nearly a dozen boys has amassed in a semi circle. There is a round of handslapping. "All y'all rap?" he asks. They all giddily introduce themselves by names they rap under. Dre Valentine, E-Man, Vic-Ivy, Psycho Ten Times. The iPhones come out and there is a group shot. They are all 15, 16, 17--same age as Chance when he started camping out here, all from the Southside, just like him. A kid who raps as Esh explains, "Everyone knows this is where Chance made 10 Day." We decide to leave, as it seems every kid in the library has just suddenly realized Chance is here.

Within the next half block he is stopped and recognized by the a janitor from Jones Prep, three girls he knows from YouMedia, two each get a picture with him, the cousin of his DJ and three rappers he knows from street ciphers. I ask one of them, Pres, why Chance matters--why is his success so important to Chicago? "Everyone feel like he's on his way up. He's the voice of the youth in the Chi--but he is just part of it. He's the light barrer."

Posted by jessica hopper at August 12, 2013 11:14 PM | TrackBack