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The Gospel According to Chance The Rapper

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Chancellor Bennett is a rapper, activist, community leader, all around nice guy, and possibly, pastor.  Maybe you didn’t know the name last year. But now? Chance The Rapper stars in a Kit Kat commercial, performed on Saturday Night Live, recently had dinner at the White House, and even has the Grammy’s reconsidering their rules to include the free music he puts out. Like Chance raps on his Acid Rap outro: “I used to be worse than worthless. Now I’m worth hooks and verses. I’m good like books in churches… See my name when you google search it.” 

Coloring Book, Chance The Rapper’s first official album (but third project) coupled with his show-stealing verse on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” propelled Chance from happy acid rapper to a household name. In the beginning there was 10 Day – Chance’s first mixtape, recorded while on a 10 day suspension from high school. He followed that with Acid Rap – a mixtape created while on copious amounts of acid. A druggie truant might not seem like the most likely candidate to be a spiritual leader but Chance The Pastor is just that.

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With scriptural allusions that would make your pastor proud and beats that make ya grandma smile, Chance’s weaving of his spiritual journey isn’t the standard marriage of rap and religion. He preaches to us in the most non-preachy way possible. It’s very direct. It’s very clear. But it’s not aggressively evangelical. He’s just telling his story and inviting us to follow along.  That story happens to be about how great God is and the joy He’s brought to Chance’s life. It’s a pretty remarkable feat. He’s spreading the good news and when you’re a fan of Chance The Rapper you definitely want to learn more about the source of his joy.

As with most tales of redemption, you can’t appreciate the breakthrough if you don’t know the whole story. On Coloring Book‘s “Angels” Chance expresses his appreciation for fans who have followed his journey since his IGH ad-lib first emerged: I ain’t going to hell or to Hillman. IGH, IGH, IGH, IGH for my real fansAcid Rap lyrics like You a lame and your bitch break down my weed sometimes and my personal fave: Smoke all out the window, cops can eat a dick. If you ain’t the hitter, you just might be the lick are important to Chance’s canon. His spiritual journey doesn’t begin on the pulpit of his Coloring Book tour stage. Chance The Rapper grew into the person he is today.

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I became a fan of Chance The Rapper in 2013 when I heard Acid Rap. It’s happy and hyper. The intro alone will have you juking. The album covers everything from Chance going on tour with Donald Glover, popping ecstasy, and taking your girl, to losing friends from violence in Chicago and of course, his spirituality. The whole mixtape is my favorite but “Chain Smoker” really captures the spirit of it all:

This part?! Right here, right now, right here, this part my shit!

I play this so loud in the car I forget to park my whip!

I lean back and spark my shit!

I turn up, I talk my shit!

Then Coloring Book came out and it was noticeable, the change in Chance. Given the direct relationship his mixtape titles have to his life, it’s extremely plausible that with a childish title like Coloring Book, having a kid changed Chance. Coloring Book‘s intro “All We Got” essentially samples Acid Rap‘s outro “Everything’s Good” and it’s a supernatural experience.

It feels like Chance and friends never left the Acid Rap jam session and just kept recording into Coloring Book. But it couldn’t be more different a project. See, as an Acid Rap fan I’m going to admit that on first listen, Coloring Book wasn’t what I wanted or expected. I wanted music I could bang out the whip while driving around high with my friends doing hoodrat things. And while tracks like “No Problem” and “Mixtape” are good for that, Coloring Book overwhelmingly had me wanting to get right with God.

Take a few minutes and vibe out to these two songs. Trust me.

Do you feel that? You hear those two songs back to back and your heart absolutely rejoices. It’s impossible not to.  From Chance’s love of his girl that’s more pure than anything you’ve heard recently:

Tryna turn my baby mama to my fiancé.
She like music, she from Houston, like Auntie Yoncé.
Man my daughter couldn’t have a better mother!
If she ever find another, he better love her! 

Which he also echoes on “Finish Line“:

Me and my girl plan to stay to the end
Hope there never come a day where we’d be better as friends
We in a marathon we could build a marriage on
Arguments as parents they get deeper than a baritone

To his yell-rapping appreciation of God:

It was a dream! You cannot mess with the Beam!
This is like this many rings! Y’all know I mean!
This for the kids of the King of all kings! 

And his expression of his spiritual ideology:

I get my word from the sermon!
I do not talk to the serpent!
That’s that holistic discernment!

Chance the Rapper makes feel-good music. He also makes Christianity pretty freaking cool. Kanye’s Best Prodigy raps with Jesus Walks-era sincerity.

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I ain’t here to argue about his facial features. Or here to convert atheists into believers. I’m just tryna say the way schools need teachers, the way Kathy Lee needed Regis, that’s the way I need Jesus.

A whole song about Jesus and Kanye wasn’t even trying to convert y’all. Whereas Kanye later rapped I made “Jesus Walks” I’m never going to hell, Chance raps I made “Sunday Candy” I’m never going to hell. I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail.

Speaking of the ironically often-irreverent Kanye West, one of the best tracks on Kanye’s latest album The Life of Pablo is the Chance-assisted “Ultralight Beam”. Now look, you could easily just listen to the song but it is of my highest recommendation that you watch this performance. I told you I became a fan of Chance The Rapper with Acid Rap. But his Ultralight Beam performance is where I realized he’s actually Chance The Pastor.

I’ve talked about how this performance in particular helped me through my depression and aided in my spiritual journey. I meant every word. The performance is a tableau those raised in the church can easily recognize. It’s a praise and worship service. And it’s peak Blackness. The reigning champ of relatable gospel music that has gone too far Kirk Franklin is on the track. The choir is in full sway, snapping their fingers and stomping and clapping to the beat like we do. Then in walks Chance The Rapper. Kanye and The-Dream abandon their music star coolness and replace it with a childlike happiness. They’re cheesing and leaning on each other almost in awe of the spirit present on the stage. It’s beautiful.

You can feel the lyrics. The spirit coming in Braille.
Tubman of the underground, come and follow the trail.

After The-Dream admits, I’m tryna keep my faith but I’m looking for more and Kanye asks God for serenity, peace, and love, Kelly Price cries out like many of us have before – So why send depression not blessings?  Why, oh why, you do me wrong? And that’s when Chance The Pastor asserts a few things, namely that 1. The devil not finna win and 2. Let there be no doubt or question: the reason Chance is the successful artist and human we see today is because of God:

Foot on the devil’s neck til it drifted Pangaea
I’m moving all my family from Chatham to Zambia.

This little light of mine. Glory be to God.

And finally Chance reassures us:

You cannot mess with the Light.

This is literally how church works. Praise. Worship. And a lesson. This particular church service left me feeling convicted.

In church, conviction is the moment you realize you ain’t been living right. It can be different for everyone. Maybe you walk into church one Sunday after skipping service for 6 months and the sermon happens to be on faithful church attendance — you feel convicted. “I know I should be going more often,” you say to yourself. This is just an example, not an attempt to make you feel bad about your lackluster enthusiasm toward Sunday morning services.

For me, conviction this time was seeing the confidence and joy that Chance had in his relationship with God and realizing I lost my faith. I never renounced God or anything as dramatic, but I definitely didn’t believe everything would be okay. With my depression, and just the general way things are going for Black people in this country, this little light of mine got snuffed out. Then Chance came around and reminded me that God got me.

Literally Chance himself reminded me.

At a time when life wasn’t going exactly how I expected (I up and left my phd program after four years and moved back home) I saw that he was performing in Fairfax, Virginia which is not a well-known spot. So I tweeted mostly to myself:

Next thing I know:

I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening but it was a huge deal to me. Chance’s show was sold out and he was hours from being on stage. But he reached out and gave me a ticket to his show. He even followed up to make sure I actually went, as though he knew I was in such shock and that I might not go. (He was right. I was still on the couch an hour before the show started. #Anxiety) God is love and Chance is determined to spread that joyful message through his words and actions. That’s who Chance is. Spreading love and joy from Chicago to where I was in Chatham Manor.

Note: I’m a terrible videographer but we definitely had church at the concert:

Coloring Book is very much a gospel album. And Chance The Rapper is a part-time pastor. He ends the album with “Blessings”, a song that samples one of my favorite gospel songs by Fred Hammond. It asks Are you ready for your blessing?  And I think I finally am.

Thanks Chance.

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