Lessons from Chance the Rapper

My brother is pretty much a hip-hop and rap philosopher. After many introductions to Chance the Rapper's music from friends and run-in's with his mixtape, "Acid Rap", I still wasn't convinced. But it was my brother's influence —his deep appreciation of the beauty of hip-hop combined with his passion for Chance— that encouraged me to take a second, third, and fourth listen of Chance’s mixtape.  My brother is simply one of the coolest people I know and perhaps I wanted to be able to speak his language. 

Since then, my relationship to Chance's music has grown from skipping the lesser-known songs on his album, to now seeing Chance as one of the greatest teachers of our time. Chance is an eccentric lyricist, a melodic poet, a 22-year-old class clown. He is making history for his success as an independent artist, rising to considerable fame and hitting the charts even though he gifts his music to his fans for free. 

But arguably most radical, Chance is all those things while also promoting the ideals of community, collaboration and love. 

Chance gave us “The Social Experiment,” a collective of artists that were once his back-up band for his 2013 tour.  Despite his growing fame and being so gosh darn close to ~making-it-big~, he's committed to creative collaboration and claims his role as just another member of the collective. In 2014, he put his friends first by putting out an album, Surf, under Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment. Not a Chance the Rapper album. 

He doesn’t ignore his social responsibility as a rapper with a Chicago upbringing. He hosts open mike events for high school students on the regular, and most recently launched a campaign to provide people who are homeless in Chicago with coats that zip into sleeping bags. Last year, he successfully campaigned in collaboration with local community organizations for a full 42 hours without a gun-related homicide in Chicago, demonstrating Chance’s wide sphere of influence. 

Yes, Chance is among many artists who use their platform for good. But even more is that Chance is not afraid to be soft, especially in an industry that is generally not. 

Chance raps about his grandmother. About missing his mother’s kisses. About how supportive his father has been in his rap career. He uplifts his fans by performing a cover of the theme song of one of our favorite childhood TV shows. 

'I'm gonna get by when the going get rough / I'm gonna love life 'til I'm done growing up / and when I go down, Imma go down swingin' / my eyes still smiling and heart still singing"

I saw Chance at a concert in LA last fall. I remember coming away from Shrine Hall thinking that Chance embodied the greatest lesson I needed to learn at the time. He's a slick and suave rapper with a city-kid style while also being soft, reflective, kind and community-focused. Though the concert was a smoke-filled, drunken chaos, he spoke sweet words like, "I feel like y'all are my distant cousins and we at a family reunion." And we chanted back, "Spread love!"

 As described by The Fader"Chance acts a lot like he raps: wide-eyed and hyperactive for the most part but also prone to abrupt moments of deep reflection." It's possible to be all of the above.

More notably for me at the time, the flip-side is also true: I can be mindful and kind and compassionate and soft while also being the hella-swag uninhibited twenty-something that I am. I ask big questions about how to live a fulfilled life while I flip my long hair to a Beyoncé bonus track

Too often we associate mindfulness with hippie, soft-spoken, quinoa-loving, new-agey folksand often with blond-haired middle-class women. I dream of a world where people of color feel welcome and safe to engage in deep reflection and self- and other-care.  In order to promote that, I need to keep all parts of myself alive. Before seeing Chance live in LA, I had the urge to promote my business and my brand as straight-laced, mindful, and impressively professional until I realized that to be mindful is not to be dispassionate, uncreative, and inauthentic. To be mindful to is to be fully and completely human and to appreciate and honor the complexity of my identity.