ABOVE: CHANCE THE RAPPER. PHOTO BY TODD DIEDERICH
It's only eight minutes prior to closing time at the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago, and Chance the Rapper is standing on a chair. His eyes, fixated upon a grid of several digital photo frames, are scanning for even the tiniest shred of evidence that once upon a time, he was one of the many students who would flood this room after school with backpacks full of homework and heads filled with dreams of superstardom. "If I just wait here long enough," says Chance with cool determination, "I'ma pop up." Fleeting images of old friends dart across screens, but no Chance.
He exhales, pausing to adjust his snapback—a custom gray Vita Morte—before looking around the largely empty room, overcome by nostalgia. He points out the couch where he once penned a song on his debut mixtape #10Day, now occupied by a man sprawled out in deep slumber. He chuckles. "You could totally sleep in that shit." We walk past the microphone stand where he performed open mics after class. "Man. It's still in the same place." He glances across from center stage, motioning with a wave of his hand, "There were people all the way to that Mac computer over there."
With three minutes to spare, we come across a clipboard. It's a sign-in sheet for students looking to iron out the wrinkles in their rapping, stand-up routines, and performance art. Chance writes his name in, for old times' sake. He snaps a quick photo, uploaded moments later to Instagram. "Thanks for everything," he writes in the update. Before we depart, he catches swift but heartfelt hugs from a security officer and an administrator. Both watched him grow up here on weekday afternoons, before he was Chance the Rapper, back when he was simply Chance, short for Chancelor Bennett, from Chatham, Illinois.
In the two years since he was one of those students, Chance the Rapper has experienced the debut of his first mixtape, the traumatic death of a close friend, a spot at Lollapalooza, a XXL Freshman nomination, and plenty of press accolades. Acid Rap, premiering today via his own website—Chance is currently unsigned—layers elements of gospel, juke, and neo-soul upon the free form textures of 2012's #10Day to form a sound that sticks out from Chicago's wildly popular trap scene like a sore thumb. Chicagoans who were listening to hip-hop in 2003 may remember a young man who stood out this way: Kanye West.
Chance seems to have a lot on his mind as we march up and down Chicago's Magnificent Mile, but manages to keep both his cool and sense of humor intact. Even after he narrowly misses being hit by a car (because he's sending an email to Twista on his phone), he cracks a joke at Chicago's famous Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park, or as locals refer to it, "The Bean." Chance waltzes right underneath the massive object with a smirk curling under his lip. He crouches underneath, and leans over as though he were carrying it on his shoulders. "Hey! Hey! I'm carrying the beeeeaaaan! Aaaahhh!"
After a couple of hours spent wandering in the city loop, Interview sat down with Chance and manager Pat Corcoran (affectionately dubbed "Pat the Manager") at the Lou Malnati's pizzeria on State Street, where Chance ordered the same thing he's had ever since he first came here with his father at 14 years old: a cheese deep dish with a side of cheesesticks; a bottle of ketchup on the side, no marinara sauce.
CHANCE THE RAPPER: [looks over at the table adjacent to us] Man, that's what I really want. Some cali.
JOHN TAYLOR: Cali?
CHANCE: Calamari, that is.
TAYLOR: How long have you been back in Chicago?
CHANCE: Since Monday.
TAYLOR: What have you been up to?
CHANCE: Went home. Saw the fam. Saw some friends. Went skydiving.
TAYLOR: You're about to jump. What's on your mind?
TAYLOR: Are you scared of death?
CHANCE: I am scared of death. I wasn't scared of dying falling from an airplane, though. Like, I don't think that's the way that I'm supposed to die. I didn't really think about it, you know? It didn't get real until the guy was edging towards the edge of the plane, about to jump out. He opened up the side of the plane. It's just a little plastic door.
TAYLOR: Did you always know you were going to become a rapper?
CHANCE: I think I always knew I wasn't gonna have a regular job. I don't think I really knew I was going to be a rapper until sixth grade. Even then, it was still kind of—I was in sixth grade. I was always saying I was going to become a rapper.
TAYLOR: Say we went to the same elementary school, and it's recess. I approach you. What are you doing?
CHANCE: Probably playing a Game Boy or saying some jokes. I used to be the class clown. I was the funny kid. That's why it was so hard for people to understand that I rap, because for a long time they didn't take me seriously for who I was. By like, eighth grade, I was really rapping. Freestyling at lunch and all that shit.
TAYLOR: In the cafeteria?
CHANCE: Cafeteria, playground, on the school bus, at parties and shit. Everywhere, man.
TAYLOR: When was the last time you wrote down some bars?
TAYLOR: What were you thinking about?
CHANCE: I write a lot. There's always just different things I'm thinking about. Like, it's getting warm outside right now, so I'm thinking about the summer and what comes with that and everything.
TAYLOR: Were you thinking about the violence that comes along with the summer months?
CHANCE: Yeah. Chicago is a situation, you know? It's more than just a city, it's like a culture that allows gun violence to happen frequently, and there's nobody that's really saying that this shit is not normal, you know? The amount of violence—gun violence specifically, in Chicago—nobody's doing too much about it. It's scary. I want to voice it. I want to talk about it. The only person who's done it to the capacity that I feel is Chief Keef. He's put that to a lot of people's faces, and I'm about to shove it in people's faces. Not exactly in the same way, but people need to know. It's current. It's happening right this second. Today it was 70 degrees out in Chicago. And, I don't know, whenever you write this, see how many gun-related deaths there were this day. If there's less than two, I'll give you five dollars later.
TAYLOR: What does Kanye West mean to you?
CHANCE: The first time I heard about Kanye, I was at Edwardo's Natural Pizza in Hyde Park. I had this little Walkman thing, and it would play the radio. I think I heard "Through the Wire" first, and I was so into the soul sample. Like, the high-pitched—it was just some different shit that I wasn't used to. I didn't even know he was from Chicago. I remember listening for like, the next two hours, trying to find out who it was. Then they played "All Falls Down," and the radio station was like, "This is Kanye West." And I went, "Well, I'm into Kanye West." A couple of weeks later I got the album, and then I found out I wanted to be a rapper.
TAYLOR: Is it true that your mom didn't want you listening to Kanye West?
CHANCE: [laughs] I asked my mom for The College Dropout, but she wouldn't get it for me. This chick I used to see in grade school's mom bought it for me.
TAYLOR: Where were you when you knew you wanted to become a rapper?
CHANCE: I was at my grandma's house, in her bedroom. She was just chilling there. I remember I was sitting, and I had to do this "Young Authors" book project. You know about those? It was fourth grade, after Dropout came out. I made a book of poems, little illustrations in them. Poems, you know? But they were really raps.
TAYLOR: How did it feel to win the Michael Jackson talent show in fourth grade?
CHANCE: How did you know that?! Was it in an interview? I talked about that once only ever in my life, I think. Something I don't ever bring up is that in kindergarten, I danced. I did a Michael Jackson impersonation at the kindergarten graduation. I had a four-minute dance to a Michael Jackson song, with the gloves, shoes, white socks, pants, jacket, fedora.
CHANCE: I used to do that shit. I used to always dance. It taught me about stage presence, and how to keep people's attention on you for a certain amount of time, and saving the most impressive stuff for last.
TAYLOR: Would that include the show where a fan grabbed you by the crotch and pulled you off stage?
CHANCE: People try to grab me by the balls all the time.
TAYLOR: [laughs] Speaking of fans, I heard about a fan who made you cheesesticks when they weren't on the menu at this one hot dog joint.
CHANCE: Yeah! Eric at Chicago Dog House. That's my boy. Saw some homies over there, and I just ran in there randomly, asked for cheesesticks. They said no. I said, "That's cool. I'ma continue on my way," and Eric saw me when I was walking out, and was like, "Yo yo yo yo. I got batter, I got cheese. I can probably make you some cheesesticks."
CHANCE: I was like, "Uh, that sounds kinda crazy, but I'm down!" So, I sat down and waited. I actually watched Eric cut it up and, fuckin', make the batter and deep-fry that shit. I ate that shit and it was super flame. Like, I took a picture and uploaded it on Instagram, so he posted it on his Facebook and was like, "Yo, I'ma put this shit up on the menu." So now, if you're ever at DePaul University, and you're at Chicago's Dog House, ask for "Chancesticks."
TAYLOR: Do you know the recipe?
CHANCE: I know the recipe. It's a joint venture, so it's partially Chance. It's like, 25 percent Chance, 75 percent sticks.
TAYLOR: As a former class clown, do you have any good prank stories to share?
CHANCE: A story to tell... Ah, I wasn't really tryin' to prank in high school, because I was already super hot, you know? Let me think of a random story and just some shit that I did, though. All right, all right! So, one time I was in New York, I was filming this music video for "Juice," and me and my buddy Austin Vesely, my homegirl Zoe Mendelson, and my buddy Reese White, aka "Young Snoopy," all were in Times Square, you know? We were thinking about shooting some more shit, and my homegirl Zoe brought some magic chalk, you know?
TAYLOR: And then you decorated The New York Times building.
CHANCE: Yeah. We went to The New York Times, and wrote "New Dork Times" on it. You already know! [Taylor laughs] You already know about this story.
TAYLOR: But the readers don't know, Chance! Think of the readers.
CHANCE: It was crazy. I mean, it was ridiculous. It was ridank. Man. What a night. Yeah, man. Just, writing all over the city. People were waking up, "Man, that's not nice."
TAYLOR: You met Morgan Freeman that night. What did you say to him?
CHANCE: Man! As soon as I saw him, like, "Dude. You're way more, uh, light-skinned in person."
ACID RAP IS COMING OUT TODAY ON CHANCE THE RAPPER'S WEBSITE. HE WILL PLAY SHOWS INCLUDING LOLLAPALOOZA THIS SUMMER.