Motivation and evolution can often come from significant experiences in life. Much like his Joey Badass-assisted record, Chance The Rapper has seen “the highs and the lows” and chosen to affirm himself and take on his next endeavor.
The Grammy winner’s new path finds him connecting with his African-American history, inspired by his travels to Ghana. His intellectual breakthroughs have birthed the inaugural Black Star Line Festival, set to take place on Jan. 6, 2023 in the capital of the west African country. Vic Mensa, T-Pain, Erykah Badu, Jeremih, Tobe Nwigwe, and more will take the stage for the free concert to be held at the Black Star Square.
This “celebration of Pan-Africanism” is intended to connect Black people and “artists of the Diaspore within the Continent” and will be coupled with Chance’s forthcoming album Star Line Gallery. Despite all he has going on, the Chicago rapper is having fun with the process.
“It’s not just putting the lyrics center of the screen. It allows me to be more because the music is just one translation of an idea, but even the music itself is super layered because of how many ideas and influences go into any song that someone’s making,” Chance said.
Check out his conversation with VIBE about his recent travels, his creative process, authenticity, and more.
VIBE: If you could describe your 2022 in one word, what would that word be?
Chance The Rapper: Cinematic. It was like a movie. It was like a heist film. Lots of travels. I went to Italy and shot a little film piece over there, then we went over to Art Basel Switzerland and opened a piece there. I traveled to Ghana four times, with my first time being in January. That’s the first time I’ve ever gone somewhere multiple times in the first year that I’ve been there. France. Yeah, we’ve been all over the world, but it’s been a lot of growing in the friendships that I already had, as well as growing new friendships. Understanding my identity better and how I fit into the world. Getting that on film, and putting that to words and to beats has been very cinematic. Mwuah. F**king chef’s kiss. Amazing.
Traveling to different places, embracing different cultures, preparing for a new album, doing a festival? That’s a lot of different things you’ve had your hands in. And while it can get challenging, you can also learn things about yourself. So what have you been able to learn about yourself throughout this process?
Wow. Well, I feel like, for one, I’ve learned that I see things differently than other people see them. I feel like I’ve always been what I consider to be an empathetic person. I’ve typically put myself in other people’s shoes and can view the world from other people’s eyes, but now I feel like I’m starting to see how different I look at things and interpret things and experience things than the people around me in that when I take time to explain or expound on those things, it delivers a completely different impact, sometimes, than how people are looking at it, which is just… that sounds kind of cocky, like, “Oh, I have the most unique view,” but that’s not even what I’m saying.
How do you deal with the very public critiques that we’ve seen over the course of your career? How do you deal with staying true to yourself despite all of the negativity that the world projects and popularizes?
I think, for one, you have to remember how important self-respect is and the love of your work and your craft as an artist. And I think a lot of people are artists. Not just rappers and sh*t. I think writers are artists. I think anybody that creates is an artist. So I think recognizing that you were a creative before anybody was a fan or was not a fan of what you have to make, and remember that you are the truest gauge of what it is to be. For other people, depending on who you are in the relationship, it’s easier to be focused on the end product. For artists, I think a lot of it is focused on the process. The real work is in creating it and then also there’s a great deal of respect to be shown for people that share their work after that.
To be vulnerable and create an opinion or a depiction of life, and be so vulnerable as to share it– that’s where all the work is, and if you happen to also impress yourself while creating that stuff, you’re going crazy. You have to remember that acceptance of self is so important. And if you can accept yourself and if you can love what you create, then you’re better off than most people.
And then also, beyond that, it helps that I’m Chance the Rapper at the same time. I’m that ni**a. I’m a one of one. To be honest, the type of artist that I’ve been, I’ve always had a niche crowd. There’s people that like my stuff, and then there’s people that really like my stuff. A lot of people like my stuff. I make good sh*t.
When I hear certain tracks, I feel like you’re either rapping with a chip on your shoulder or you feel like you have something to prove. Do you feel like you’re at that place currently, where you want to remind people or show people a certain aspect of Chance the Rapper that maybe they’re trying to downplay or forgotten?
I think I’m trying to intentionally, recently, not over-rap. Because I am really, really good at wordplay. If it was X-Men, that would be my superpower: rapping. I can play with words in a cool way. And I think I have other techniques and abilities that aid that. I’m great at making music videos and I’m good with production selection and chopping sh*t up. I have good melodies. I have other things, but wordplay is the thing that I started with.
When I first started [working on the new album], every song was kind of like “The Heart & The Tongue” and not in terms of production, but just in terms of it was very rappy. I think in time I’ve naturally grown and had so many different experiences that have catered it to move more towards substance that, it’s still rappy, but now I feel like “The Highs & The Lows” verse, I feel, was very, very vulnerable.
I literally barred out on “A Bar About A Bar,” but I love the fact that I felt free enough in that time because right now, maybe today, if I hadn’t dropped it, I might not never drop it. I might be like, “Man, this is so self-contained and meta” but also that’s the point. I’m an artist. At the end of the day, I should be making art for art’s sake and in my youth, because I am still in my 20s, technically, I should be having fun and creating to show people what you can create.
The “YAH Know” video, the first idea for that was just me having a long conversation about how radical the idea of the Black Star Line is being that so many of us, our representation, our idea of our relationship with votes is that of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. And it has nothing to do with Marcus Garvey or Mansa Musa. It’s not the idea of us as voyagers, it’s the idea of us as cargo on these ships but we actually owned cargo ships and were very influential in trade and the idea of being world travelers at multiple times in history. When I just had a long conversation about it, I was like, “Man, we need to shoot a video. I’m having this vision of a crazy drone shot of Big Pimpin’ style.” We weren’t able to get a “Big Pimpin’” style boat, but a giant boat.
Instead of us being on that bi**h partying, it’s an all-black crew and we’re running the ship. We haven’t seen that. I’ve never seen that in a video. Have you seen that? Everybody’s like, “Nah, I never seen that shit in a video.” That was before we ever started on “YAH Know.” I just knew that that was something that I wanted to do, and I think I just followed that naturally, just like I have with a lot of ideas. Same thing with “The Heart & The Tongue.” A lot of these concepts just came from me thinking visually and then expounding on those ideas.
With the track “YAH Know,” I turned that on and I was like, “I’ve heard upbeat stuff from Chance before but this is different.” You hear the house inspiration. With this house wave right now, I appreciated that effort. More people should do this so we can understand, one, this music comes from us and, two, it’s cool to do.
I think one of the big goals of “YAH Know” was to conceptualize like 20 different things into one video. Obviously there’s the aspect of me and Mia Lee’s collaboration. There’s the conceptualization of us building something, building this festival. There’s the concept of movement. There’s the concept of travels, of dance. A big concept that all of those come together with is this concept of our coagulation and turning into one body because we are so similar and so lot of the shots, you’ll notice back to back shots of someone dancing in Chicago and somebody dancing in Ghana. It looks exactly the same, they’re just two different styles of dance. There’s a heavy, heavy Chicago Juke influence on the track and a heavy Afrobeat drum influence. Where they converge is in a mixture of almost Jersey or Florida-esque kick drum, and that lines up with the Chicago House music movement.
What a lot of people don’t know is house started in Chicago. Eventually you got Juke music and the Deep House movement in New York, and then eventually overseas in Europe where you get those David Guetta’s and all those people that came behind him were influenced by it. Jungle [that] is popular in London. All those things were kind of influenced by Chicago House. Recognizing that all that goes back to the drum and all that goes back to us being one people and being one converged thing is the goal of the video. It really worked out well that so many styles just naturally, on some circle of fifth sh*t, are all naturally the same pre-existing rhythms.