Chance The Rapper was so deep into the cosmos just five years after his big break that a single, human blunder was all it took for even the most committed fans to write him off as a failure.
20-year-old Chancelor Bennett became the poster child of overnight success in the 2010s blog era when his sophomore mixtape, Acid Rap, shot him into space and instantly made him a star. His hold on the culture wasn’t formally quantifiable then because his records were available for free in the public domain. The signs, however, were clear as day — headlining major festivals, landing a guest spot on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo and being championed by the locals in a city known for its rich music history, among countless other feats.
This made the Chicago native one of the most notable aberrants of the music industry at the time because he was doing it all without submitting to any higher power besides the one of his choosing. As a result, his decision to finally sell music turned into one of the most anticipated commercial debuts in recent history, but that same hype was also why The Big Day’s poor reception was branded a “fall off” so quickly.
When the gravitational pull of Earthly accountability finally grounded Chance after years of floating in space, his supporters struggled with holding him to a level that wasn’t celestial. All of a sudden, a mere dip in the perfect success story had turned into a fall from grace, but Chance himself summarized it best.
“If I fell off, at least I was on,” he said during an interview last year, alluding to one of the most groundbreaking come-ups in modern Hip Hop with an understated dignity.
In the spring of 2013, the kid had only one other mixtape to his name. Though it didn’t generate anywhere near the same commercial acclaim as its follow-up, 10 Day was enough to secure him a spot on a young Mac Miller’s Space Migration Tour alongside Earl Sweatshirt, Action Bronson and The Internet. After self-publishing a new batch of songs right before they hit the road that summer, his name suddenly began adding more value to the already stacked bill. With his sentence as a designated supporting act abruptly dismissed for time served, he would never need someone else’s name to hold an audience again.
“I literally watched people go from yawning and looking at their clocks while I was on stage to singing along to jumping along,” Chance recently told Apple Music’s Ebro Darden. “I watched that.”
Acid Rap is more than just 14 audio files; the package carries with it a mollifying fluorescence that can’t possibly be mistaken for anything but a force of positivity. Sure, Ye had colorful album art and Drake could rap while singing and André 3000 had already normalized weirdness, but Chance funneled all those traits with an orderly cohesion that has yet to be emulated, even by him.
There’s no father to Chance The Rapper’s style. He’s exceptionally skilled and charmingly annoying. He’s cartoonish and silly — foolish even — but an optical songwriter nonetheless with a knack for painting pictures through sound. He can talk over anything and make it sound musical; he can write about anything and make it seem beautiful.
He had all these qualities on lock at the tail end of his teenage years, with fans still getting acid [rap] flashbacks every time they hear that trademark “Aah!”
Fast forward to 2023 and Chance The Rapper stood before an audience filled to the brim at the Forum in Los Angeles. On Thursday (September 21), fans poured into the venue to celebrate ten years of Acid Rap with the man himself for the last of three sold-out shows that took place this year, the first and second in Chicago and New York City respectively. Joey Bada$$, Ab-Soul, Saba, BJ The Chicago Kid, Noname, Twista and opener Vic Mensa all made cameos across the three dates, tipping their hats to one of the most prominent soundtracks of their formative years.
Chance played the record in its entirety each night, adding to his set list some extra seasoning from releases that came before and after. He rapped most of his verses but selectively sang the safest parts of his hooks, which didn’t make much of a difference since the crowd kept filling in for him. Even as the backing track amplified, “This shit my favorite song, you just don’t know the words,” he let attendees do the heavy lifting — some jokes just write themselves.
A performance such as the one in Southern California won’t fly on any other occasion, but that night was really just a party to commemorate a career still very much in progress. He will eventually have to start singing his own parts properly, especially since there’s so much at stake; based on his most recent show, he seems to have forgotten how it’s done.
On the music front, Chance has been fairly quiet since The Big Day fell flat on its face, but not because he shamefully shrank into himself. Contrarily, he had one of the calmest rollouts of 2022 — each single more remarkable than the last — in building up to his next album, Star Line Gallery.
That fact that he isn’t making too much noise about it is indicative of a body of work that will speak for itself, especially since its previews have been terrific so far.
It’s still too early to predict how the next chapter of the 30-year-old MC’s career will turn out, but the past decade has surely given fans something to work with. Acid Rap will forever remain an indicator of his prowess, but it only characterizes a phase rather than Chance The Rapper himself.
Only a handful of cities — Seattle, Detroit, Baltimore etc. — produce characters that repeatedly make us wonder, “There must be something in their water.” Chicago is one such metropolis that has people coming back to that question for all the right reasons, and Chance deserves every bit of credit for eliciting that head scratch time and time again.
A hero to his city, craft and culture, he is nowhere else to be found except in his own body. That’s why it’s a blessing that his legacy is still under construction through the highs and lows, the ups and downs.