Chance the Rapper's Love for Chicago Makes Ma (and Dad) Proud
WRIGLEYVILLE — On stage at Metro, a skinny kid rapper from Chatham whipped the mosh pit into a sweaty frenzy.
"Make some noise," Chance the Rapper yelled Sunday night, “if you’re from the best city in the world."
The crowd roared — and Chance soaked it all in.
In that moment before a packed house, the Jones College Prep graduate owned the stage that helped launch Chicago music superstars Smashing Pumpkins and Kanye West, Chance's lyrical hero. More than a thousand fans — a mix of white, black, Latino and Asian kids — bounced to his jazz-infused beats and finished his sentences.
“This was the cap. … Icing on the cake,” the excited, unsigned 20-year-old rapper told me after the show.
Sunday night was the last concert in Chicago for the self-made rap star — major record labels are courting him, and videos of his songs have been viewed millions of times on YouTube. Next, he's headed for a European tour, where he'll perfect his brand of theatrical rap inspired by his black middle-class upbringing.
In August, Chance will take the stage at Lollapalooza — an ultimate homecoming.
At Metro, while bouncers ushered the all-ages crowd onto Clark Street, and the rapper's pot-smoking posse partied in the green room, Chance huddled with family in the Metro balcony.
Chance’s dad, Ken Bennett — who worked for the late Mayor Harold Washington and Barack Obama before he became president — couldn't stop smiling.
This was Bennett's moment, too. During the show, Chance dedicated a song to his father, who jumped to his feet, arms stretched toward his boy.
“As a dad, I was very proud, very happy,” he said. “You saw me stand up. If he was any closer I would have hugged him. … A very special moment.”
Chance slung his arm around his father.
“It’s a very important thing, family,” Chance said. “This is one of our projects together. Shows. I shout out to my parents. I didn’t get to shout out my dad that much, yet. … And my mom, too. I got both parents.”
Chance has a song about his mom, Lisa Bennett.
“Hey, Ma,” it’s called. It's Chance’s thank you to his mother and all mothers who supported him growing up in Chatham, a long stable, working-class black neighborhood on the South Side.
Ken and Lisa Bennett know Chance, whose given name is Chancelor Bennett, has a bright future.
Still they worry about their boy — and his little brother, Taylor.
“Three friends of Chance and Taylor’s who had nothing to do with gangs, that were doing the right things, were killed,” Lisa Bennett said. “And, you know, it is a crisis.”
In 2011, Chance’s good pal, Columbia College student Rodney Taylor was stabbed to death after accidentally bumping into the wrong guy.
More than his burgeoning fame, it’s Chicago's senseless murders that have changed Chance.
The rapper says so in his newest hit song, “Juice.”
“How’s it feel to be you? Yo no se,” Chance raps. “I ain’t really been myself since Rod passed.”
This winter, Taylor mourned the murder of his friend, Hadiya Pendleton, whose slaying drew the attention of President Barack Obama and the nation.
And on May 7, Bennett family friend Kevin Ambrose was killed while going to pick up a pal at a Bronzeville Green Line station two blocks from home.
Kevin’s memorial service was celebrated on Sunday, too, just a few hours before Chance’s big show.
“He was a great kid. Good guy. It’s a shame,” Chance said, staring at the floor. “It’s a serious issue that stuff like this could happen.”
Chance’s mom hugged her rapper son.
“These are good kids. They’re not all bad. They are afraid, they are concerned and hopefully Chance’s music …” Lisa Bennett said, her voice trailing off.
The portrait Chance paints of Chicago — a muse that he both loves and fears — makes the Bennetts so proud of their boy.
“He could sing about a lot of other things, but he’s talking about some of the challenges young people are facing today,” Ken Bennett said. “It’s not just getting out and going to school and coming home and doing homework.”
In rap songs, Chance releases his frustration with the struggle to grow up in neighborhoods enveloped by violence and hopelessness knowing full well that outsiders — the national media, the rich, the people who could help — turn away from the suffering.
"Paranoid," a hidden track on Chance’s new record, "Acid Rap," paints a lyrical picture of what it’s like to hopelessly drift through the forgotten corners of Chicago.
On Sunday, Chance invited his pals to pound drums and squeal keyboards while he told his powerful story. "Rest in Peace, Kevin Ambrose," he said.
“They merking kids. They murder kids here,” Chance rapped. “Why you think they don’t talk about it? They deserted us here.”
He’s talking about you, middle America.
“Where the f--- is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric in here,” he raps. “Probably scared of all the refugees, look like we had a f------ hurricane here.”
"Paranoid" ends with a prayer for cold weather because “everybody dies in the summer” — and a call for help that goes unanswered: “I know you scared, you should ask us if we scared, too. If you was there, then we just knew you’d care, too.”
In the balcony with Mom and Dad, Chance explains that he won't be pigeonholed as the leader of a movement or just a rap star. He's a storyteller, too.
“There’s stuff I’m trying to say and get out, and I feel like the best vehicle is just to keep making stuff,” he said. “Play my role and take my responsibility as a person who has a wide audience and a lot of listeners.”
Chance lifts his head and smiles, relieved.
“I’m just glad to be with my peoples tonight at my show,” he said, hugging his parents.
Chance’s dad found the words to describe his pride.
“He’s finding his own path. He fought to get here. I wanted him to be something else. He wanted to be this and just wanted us to believe in him,” Ken Bennett said. “We gave him that opportunity, and we have not regretted it. And Chance is going to be great. I think he’s great already.”
Chance looked right at me.
“This is real,” he said. “My dad calls me twice a day to give me an inspirational message that he never said before, and a lot of people don’t have that.”
Ken Bennett had one more thing to say.
“His answer to whatever I send him or say usually is, ‘I love you, too.' That’s all I need."