For much of the ‘90s and ‘00s — before the breakthrough of the “drill” music of Chief Keef, King Louie, and Lil Durk in 2012 — Chicago’s hip-hop scene was persona non grata on the national and international scale. That’s not to say that the city wasn’t producing huge rap stars, but Kanye, R. Kelly, and even Common only put on for their city in limited ways. The first two were pop stars in a globalizing era — who were projecting to the back rows of the stadium, and aiming for the biggest platforms — and Common’s “conscious” themes and musical vision were bigger than his hometown.
But Chance — who began to garner attention two-and-a-half years ago, thanks to the newfound attention being paid to Chicago rap by the public, press, and industry alike — emerged as a loud and proud South Side kid through and through. His early music featured his huge posse regularly, and demonstrated a commitment to rapping inside jokes and about Windy City scenarios. Even with the runaway success of Acid Rap and a decampment to L.A. to work on the material for Surf with his band Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, Chance’s work was all Chicago in its musical bits and pieces, subject matter, performance forces, and aesthetic in performance.
His view of the city incorporates many perspectives. Even when he is outspoken about the city’s problems with gangs and crime (“Acid Rap” or “Paranoia,” most explicitly), he’s never preachy. The scenarios feel inevitable, and not forced — just pieces of the puzzle that was his adolescence.
Last night, Chance made one of his most high-profile moves to date, debuting his first official single as a solo artist in two years, “Angels,” on Late Night with Stephen Colbert. Chicago, as usual, was everywhere. He appeared with two dancers and Chicago rapper Saba, a regular collaborator and affiliate of Chance’s SaveMoney posse. The four footworked (a Chicago-indigenous dance style), rocking black hoodies for the city’s biggest hip-hop/R&B radio stations, which Chance shouts out in his second verse. The song itself — like numerous other Chance anthems like “Good Ass Intro” or “Sunday Candy” — employs rapidfire breakbeats straight out of Chicago “juke,” a decades-old outgrowth of Chicago house music.
“I got my city doing backflips,” Chance begins on “Angels.” Like the songs on Acid Rap, Chance’s verses here are peppered with references to his upbringing, and celebrations of his role as a spokesperson for his peers — the people he grew up with, and who share a similar value set. Like Chance’s best music, tragedy and celebration are intermingled thornily and powerfully. “Angels” uses street lingo — “woo wap the bam” — referring to gunplay in its chorus, and Chance proceeds to advocate for moving beyond street life, and finding a new sense of purpose and unity in one’s community.
“Angels” is another fantastic and outrageously cathartic Chance song, like most of them. The track bodes nothing but well for his next full-length project. Let’s hope for a quick rollout.
Download “Angels” for FREE on iTunes.