At a spry 20 years old, Chance the Rapper has already hit many of the landmarks associated with making it as an indie MC in the Internet age: A self-produced, adventurous mixtape called 10 Day, a buzzed-about set at this year’s South by Southwest festival, and enough pictures of him hanging with luminaries such as RZA and Skrillex to keep fans coming back to his Twitter and Tumblr accounts. Throw in a quasi-viral music video of Chance clowning around L.A. with comedian Hannibal Burress, and it’s easy to see why many think that Chance will be the next Chicago artist to break out.
With a flow as malleable as mercury and an ear for exploratory production, Chance at once separates himself from his Windy City peers while still staying true to Chicago’s rap roots. His newest effort Acid Rap drops on April 30, and Chance recently talked with Green Label to discuss his love of standup comedy and deep dish pizza and a surprise appearance on Acid Rap.
Green Label: Thanks so much for doing this, I really appreciate it. First of all, happy birthday.
Chance the Rapper: Thanks man, that’s sick that you knew that. I appreciate it.
How old are you?
How does it feel getting out of your teens?
Yeah, its a super big deal for...humans. [I feel] A lot of those thoughts, just a little nervous, a little excited too. It’s a big checkpoint in life that you get to 20. It’s really like the countdown to 30 starts when you hit 20.
Did you do anything for your birthday?
Yeah, I went skydiving for the first time. There’s a spot right outside Chicago called Skydive Chicago. That shit was mad crazy. I’d never felt anything like that shit before.
So basically you thought, “Here’s another year gone, now I’m going to risk it and every single one that came before it”?
Yeah, it was exactly like that. It was like, at this point, I’m prepared for this shit. I need to know if this is all real. [If] I can jump out of a plane and hit the ground and keep walking, [then] I was definitely meant to do this shit. I kind of knew I was meant to do this shit but it was kind of a little test. I never ever thought that the way I would die would be jumping out of a plane, so I kind of just kept that in my head the whole time and made it.
You were recently in New York. How did you like that?
Shit was sick. I always like New York. I’m not really the type of nigga that would want to actually live there, but visiting is always fun. I saw some people, shot a little birthday video.
You have any New York pizza while you were here?
I did. John’s Place? You ever heard of that spot? It’s not as good as Chicago pizza but it’s alright.
So you like deep dish? I could never wrap my head around Lou Malnati’s and that stuff.
What? You couldn’t wrap your head around Lou Malnati’s? Wrap your mouth around Lou Malnati’s. Eat it.
Do you have a favorite food spot in Chicago?
It’s Lou Malnati’s probably. And this place called Haire’s Gulf Shrimp on the South Side that’s pretty crucial.
So I’ve been listening to your stuff, watching your videos, and I have to ask: Do you like standup comedy? In your “Na Na” video you’re with Hannibal Burress, you toured with Donald Glover.
It’s funny you said that, because I do like standup. I’ve been listening to standup since around fourth grade. I was really into Mitch Hedberg for a long time, and I really like Kevin Hart. I also have a sample of…I can’t remember his name…another comedian on my mixtape. Standup is a really big thing for me.
Have you ever done standup?
No, never. It’s a weird concept. I’ve thought about it, but I’ve never gotten into it. They’re both really weird career choices. It’s all about the crowd. If you’re a comedian or a musician, many times you’re probably like a fucked-up attention whore or some shit like that, you know? Making thousands of people pay to watch you for hours at a time. You need people’s attention. That’s just the way I look at it.
You toured with Donald Glover. Is he as funny behind the scenes as he is on stage as Childish Gambino and as a comedian?
Yeah, he’s hilarious. It’s funny because he’s a really normal guy, a really calm and chill dude, just in terms of a day-to-day conversation with him. But you know how everybody has those moments when they’re doing back and forth exaggerations and hypothetical situations and they’re joking about some shit? You can’t really top him in that. He’s way too funny because he does it for a fucking living, so it was really hard to do that with him. So I tried to keep all our conversations really serious and would only talk about world issues or the economy and stuff like that.
With your Acid Rap tape coming out, what would you say is the biggest difference between it and the 10 Day tape?
The biggest difference is that it’s way better. It’s not as conceptual and single-minded. It’s truly an album instead of a project. Acid Rap is about finding my sound, being happy with my music and making great records. I’m a grown ass man now and not the angry kid from that mixtape. I learned a lot because I grew up, and it’s cool because now I can look at all the songs that I’ve made and compare all the songs and see the growth myself. I think that people will be able to make the same comparisons when they hear Acid. But it’s just a dope ass tape. It’s the best tape to come out in 2013, and I’m super hot with the raps.
On all your songs, no matter what you’re rapping about, you seem to sound playful. Is that a conscious effort on your part?
Music is supposed to be musical, it’s supposed to be so everybody that listens to it can take something from it. Some artists get too caught up in the concept of the song or don’t pay attention to the “song” aspect to it. They pay attention too much to the message or whatever it is and don’t make it musical enough. For my stuff, even if you don’t understand the message behind it you can still bob your head without even listening to the words.
But the words are still important. How big is the slam poetry movement as an influence for you?
Huge. That’s like the first shit that I was into. It was like the launch point for my rap career. Ultimately it made me better at rapping. I used to perform for this organization in Chicago [Young Chicago Authors] that performs at elementary schools and breast cancer awareness rallies. Essentially shows where I would rap shit that I had written a cappella and get 150 bucks for it. That’s how I was living when I didn’t really have any support, and it helped me understand that rapping could make money and helped me believe in myself. It’s how I became a good orator, how I became more of a people person.
A lot of slam poets have a hyper-verbal yet measured style, have you modeled your flow off of that?
Yeah, although I also got that from listening to a lot of old Eminem. That shit is really concise but also very sporadic, almost like a jumble of words that can come out at any time but is still controlled.
Have you done any slam poetry since your rap career took off?
Recently I was back here [in Chicago], there’s this thing the YCA throws on Thursdays, and I went and spit a few verses from Acid Rap. That was really cool. Other than that, not really. I miss it.
At the moment, Chicago is most famous for the drill scene coming out of the city. How do you see yourself in relation to that movement?
My music isn’t really drill music. It’s a very different sound. I’m really close friends with a lot of the big drill artists like King Louie, Lil Durk, Lil Reese, a lot of the producers. It’s Chicago, so a lot of the musicians know each other. In my mind I see it as a pretty dope way of taking trap music and making it our own sound. I see myself definitely as part of the big wave of Chicago artists that have been taking over shit right now. There’s just a stupid amount of genres around town that are getting play in their own way.
You performed with Twista not too long ago. How was that?
It was fucking crazy. He’s worked with Kanye West, and Kanye West is the reason why I rap, so I was fucking freaking out and like having a panic attack when I met him. He was super cool and said that he respected my music, and I told him the same thing 30 times over. It was dope, I can’t really describe it. I’m gonna get you the inside scoop right now: Twista is on Acid Rap. He was like, if you need anything hit me up, and I hit him up and it was me, him and another producer and we did a track. It’s one of the best songs on the tape.
Does he rap in his typical spitfire mode, or is his flow more towards your style?
I can’t tell you that. That’s the only time I’ve ever told someone he’s on the tape. I can tell you that it’s hot as hell.
(Photo credit: Todd Diederich)