Chicago native Chance the Rapper broke through on the music scene in 2013, when he released his second mixtape, Acid Rap. A sophisticated effort featuring clever rhymes and jazz-inflected hip-hop, Acid Rap stood out against the grim, violent "drill" music that once dominated Chicago rap and signaled that Chance the Rapper was an artist worth watching. Chance did not disappoint: his much-anticipated third mixtape, Coloring Book, released in the spring of 2016, was described as a "watershed" in hip-hop, and Chance was hailed as the heir to Kanye West--the artist who had inspired him to become a rapper in the first place. Coloring Book received high marks from critics and earned Chance seven Grammy Award nominations in 2017. He won three Grammys, including the prize for best rap album, becoming the first artist ever to win for a streaming-only album. Chance is also well known for his activism in Chicago, leading efforts to curb gun violence and to bolster the city'sstruggling public schools. In 2017 Chance was honored for his social justice work with the BET Humanitarian Award, presented to him by former first lady Michelle Obama.
Inspired by Kanye West
Chance the Rapper was born Chancelor Johnathan Bennett on April 16, 1993, and grew up in the West Chatham neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. His father, Ken Bennett, was a longtime Democratic political operative, getting his start as an aide to Chicago mayor Harold Washington during the 1980s; later he was a deputy assistant to President Barack Obama during his first term and then served as chief of staff to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. His mother, Lisa, also worked in government, as director of community relations for the Illinois attorney general's office. The senior Bennett had hoped that his son would follow him into politics, perhaps even holding office one day. Chance had other plans, however, and in 2011 he told his parents that he planned to forgo college to pursue a career in music.
Chance was drawn to music at an early age. The first hip-hop album that he owned, in the fourth grade, was Kanye West's College Dropout (2004), which he listened to on the sly because his mother did not approve of rap music. Chance instantly felt a deep connection to West's music, and the Chicago rapper became his idol. "Kanye is somebody, to me, that was telling me my story, about how much I hated school, and relating to me even though he was talking about a college experience when I was in fourth grade," he recalled in a 2013 interview with Complex magazine. "The feeling of being rebellious and being different and the fact that it was ... not allowed in my house made it sacred to me. It was my own CD so it was like I knew Kanye personally." Determined to become a rapper himself, Chance started writing his own poems and raps. He honed his craft at an after-school program called YOUmedia, housed at the Harold Washington Library, where he performed at open-mic sessions.
He recorded his first mixtape, 10 Day, at YOUmedia's studio while he was serving a 10-day suspension from school after being caught with marijuana. He released it for free in the spring of 2012. The mixtape generated local buzz thanks to the exposure he had gained at open-mic performances, and it received mention in Forbes in its "Cheap Tunes" column. Complex named Chance to its list of "10 New Chicago Rappers to Watch Out For." In the summer of that same year, Chance appeared on the track "They Don't Like Me" by Childish Gambino (the rap alter ego of actor Donald Glover), and the two rappers went on tour together.
Broke Through with Acid Rap
Chance released his second mixtape, Acid Rap, in April of 2013, again making it available for free. A more mature effort, both musically and thematically, Acid Rap was well received by critics and fans and attracted the attention of the major record labels, which began courting him aggressively. Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone called the mixtape "one of the year's defining hip-hop releases," praising Chance's "distinctive and eccentric voice" and Acid Rap's "density of wit, ideas, and verbal invention." Chance made his first appearance on the Billboard charts in July of 2013, when Acid Rap debuted at number 63 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It was nominated for best mixtape at the BET Hip Hop Awards that year and made the best-of-the-year lists of Rolling Stone and Spin. In the Village Voice's year-end critics' poll, Acid Rap ranked at number five, just after Beyoncé's self-titled album.
Despite offers from record labels, Chance chose to remain independent, releasing his music for free through iTunes and other streaming services and instead earning money primarily from tours and merchandise such as branded t-shirts and baseball caps. "Selling music doesn't make that much money," the rapper told Chicago Magazine in 2015, noting that fans can stream songs for less than $1 or download them illegally for free. "On a touring guarantee, you're going to make on one show about as much as a person made on their [album] yearlies--if they sold a million copies the first week and are still selling copies, which doesn't ever happen," he reasoned. Chance's steadfast decision to go unsigned prompted the Wall Street Journal to brand him "hip-hop's most valuable free agent."
Following the release of Acid Rap, Chance moved to Los Angeles for a time but found the atmosphere there unproductive, and by 2014 he had returned to Chicago. In the fall of 2015 he became a father, welcoming a daughter with his longtime girlfriend Kirsten Corley. The experience of fatherhood gave Chance a renewed energy and faith in God. "I think it was the baby that ... brought my faith back," he recalled in a 2016 interview for GQ.
In May of 2015 Chance released the album Surf with a group of collaborators called the Social Experiment. Around the same time he also began collaborating with Kanye West, who had invited Chance to contribute to his album The Life of Pablo, released in 2016. Chance cowrote five songs for the album, including "Famous," which featured Rihanna and West, and appeared on the track "Ultralight Beam." Both tracks earned Grammy Award nominations.
Won Grammy Awards for Coloring Book
Meanwhile, Chance was musing on the themes that would be featured on his third mixtape: "God, love, Chicago, dance," he told GQ. Emulating West's recording method, Chance rented a studio in Chicago and brought in producers and guest vocalists--including Kanye West, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Justin Bieber, Future, and Kirk Franklin--and eventually a choir and an orchestra. The entire mixtape was recorded over two months, March and April of 2016, during which time he even slept in the studio. The result, Coloring Book, was released in May of that same year, first exclusively through Apple Music before it was made available to other streaming services.
Critics responded enthusiastically to Coloring Book, both for its jubilant, uplifting themes and for its deft blending of musical genres, including rap, hip-hop, jazz, gospel, and soul. Writing in Rolling Stone, Christopher Weingarten hailed Coloring Book as a "hip-hop watershed," calling it "the richest hip-hop album of 2016." In the New York Times, Jon Caramanica praised Chance's lyrical talent, describing him as a "dexterous rapper who shrugs at his own facility at every turn. ... He shows it off in the density of his rhymes and melodies: few rappers are as comfortable shifting gears mid-flow, even fewer sound so at ease doing so." Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune described the mixtape as a "a 14-song exploration of musical richness," "a celebration of singing, harmonizing, human voices making a joyous noise together."
A commercial success as well, Coloring Book peaked at number eight on the Billboard 200 chart. Chance earned seven Grammy Award nominations in 2017, winning the awards for best new artist, best rap performance for "No Problem" with Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, and best rap album. Notably, Coloring Book was the first streaming-only album ever to win the best rap album award. Chance also was chosen as the best new artist at the BET Awards, the NAACP Image Awards, and the Soul Train Awards.
In addition to his music, Chance the Rapper is also known for his activism in his native Chicago. In 2014 he teamed with his younger brother, Taylor Bennett, and his father to launch the #SaveChicago campaign, which sought to prevent murders over the Memorial Day weekend, typically one of the deadliest weekends in Chicago. As a result of the campaign, the city went 42 hours without a shooting. That year Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel presented Chance with the Outstanding Youth of the Year Award. In 2015 Chance created the Warmest Winter campaign to distribute coats to Chicago's homeless, raising more than $100,000, and partnered with the Chicago Public Library to host 15 free open-mic events for young artists. In March of 2017, the rapper announced that he would donate $1 million to the strapped Chicago Public Schools to support arts and after-school programs like the ones he participated in as a student. Chance was honored for his commitment to social justice at the 2017 BET Awards, when he received the BET Humanitarian Award. The youngest person ever to win the award, Chance was introduced at the ceremony by former first lady Michelle Obama, who described the rapper as an "outstanding role model."
Born Chancelor Johnathan Bennett on April 16, 1993, in Chicago, IL; son of Ken and Lisa Bennett. Addresses: Web--http://chanceraps.com/. Twitter--@chancetherapper.
Outstanding Youth of the Year, City of Chicago, 2014; BET Awards, Best New Artist, Best Collaboration, for "No Problem," both 2017; Grammy Awards: Best New Artist, Best Rap Performance, for "No Problem," and Best Rap Album, for Coloring Book, all 2017; NAACP Image Award, Best New Artist, 2017.
- 10 Day, 2012.
- Acid Rap, 2013.
- Coloring Book (includes "No Problem"), 2016.
- Billboard, August 11, 2016.
- Chicago Magazine, December 2015.
- Chicago Tribune, May 13, 2016.
- Complex, October/November 2013.
- New York Times, March 7, 2017; May 19, 2017.
- Wall Street Journal, October 7, 2015.
- Baron, Zach, "How Chance the Rapper's Life Became Perfect," GQ.com, August 24, 2016, http://www.gq.com/story/how-chance-the-rappers-life-became-perfect (accessed June 20, 2017).
- Drake, David, "Who Is Chance the Rapper?," Complex.com, March 23, 2013, http://www.complex.com/music/2013/03/who-is-chance-the-rapper/ (accessed June 20, 2017).
- Green, Mark Anthony, "The Gospel According to Chance the Rapper," GQ.com, February 14, 2017, http://www.gq.com/story/chance-the-rapper-profile-2017 (accessed June 20, 2017).
- Kellman, Andy, "Chance the Rapper: Artist Biography," AllMusic.com, http://www.allmusic.com/artist/chance-the-rapper-mn0003115050/biography (accessed June 20, 2017).
- Rosen, Jody, "Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap," RollingStone.com, May 8, 2013, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/acid-rap-20130508 (accessed June 20, 2017).
- Stephens, Alexis, "Why Chance the Rapper Loves the Chicago Public Library," Next City, March 5, 2015, https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/chicago-public-library-rappers-gamers-media-careers (accessed June 20, 2017).
- Weingarten, Christopher R., "Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book," RollingStone.com, May 18, 2016, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/chance-the-rapper-coloring-book-20160518 (accessed June 20, 2017).