You really can’t talk about greatness and achievement without mentioning Beyoncé and Michael Jackson. That’s one of the many takeaways from Chance the Rapper’s commencement speech at Dillard University on Saturday (May 12). The 24-year-old artist looked to the two to distinguish between the meanings of “good” and “great.”
“Today, I want to talk to you guys about greatness and what it means to live into your greatness without fear,” he began. “In order to do that, I need to talk to you guys about the greatest performance of all time, put on by the greatest performer of all time. But in order to do that, I gotta take you back. I gotta take you way back.”
He recalled his pre-school graduation in 1997, where his name was listed on the program “like a line item:” Chancellor Bennett, Michael Jackson dance. “They asked me to be Mike. And I delivered,” he said. “Watching him, taught me a lot of the lessons I try to carry with me as a performer today: Work hard, captivate your audience, and…never set any limitations on your own greatness.” He went on to call Jackson an inspiration for Beyoncé to outdo him and become the greatest performer of all time. And her greatest performance, according to Chance was her most recent production at Coachella.
“We have a responsibility to be not as good as them or live up to their example, but to actually surpass them, even when it seems scary,” he said. “We have to overcome that fear and be greater than our role models.” He asked that they use Jackson’s dedication to becoming greater than his idol, James Brown, and Beyoncé becoming greater than the man who held the spot before her as a standard of what it looks like when good becomes great.
“Beyoncé’s performance was better than any performance Michael Jackson ever did,” he said. “We have to face the fear and stigma behind eclipsing our heroes…Some people might find this kind of talk disrespectful, but it’s exactly the opposite.”
The Coloring Book rapper asked the audience to consider the immortality that we attribute to the accomplishments of our predecessors and how it can stifle progress. To honor a single great accomplishment through time is to be still, he implied. Reverance should not be paralysis. It’s okay to be greater than the greats. “Living up to your heroes is amazing, but it’s not good enough… You have to push forward and surpass their greatness in order to pay homage to their struggle,” he said.