Chance The Rapper is amplifying his political voice. Last week the Chicagoan rapper met with Illinois governor Bruce Rauner to talk about Chicago’s education system; this week, he shared his political concerns with Katie Couric. Today, Pitchfork published Chance’s powerful foreword for his mentor Kevin Coval’s “A People’s History of Chicago,” a poetry collection that chronicles the segregated city’s cultural innovators, political thinkers and hip-hop culture origins. Poet and activist Kevin Coval is the founder of the Louder Than a Bomb poetry festival and the artistic director for Young Chicago Authors, a mentoring platform and safe space for Chicago’s creative youth, which Chance The Rapper joined at just 14-year-old, alongside the likes of Noname, Saba, Mick Jenkins and Jamila Woods. In his foreword, Chance reflects on the influence of Chicago on his music and life as an artist, as well as his gratitude for his “artistic father” Coval’s mentorship.
Read Chance’s full foreword for “A People’s History of Chicago,” which releases on April 11, below.
We got the cheat codes.
There’s no other place on earth where you can go to a centralized space and see thirteen-, fourteen-, fifteen-, sixteen-, seventeen-, and eighteen-year-olds who want to conquer art and music. I left Chicago for a little and went to L.A. But have you ever seen a raw-a** tree or a raw-a** plant that’s beautiful, that’s fully bloomed and growing? It can’t fully bloom if you uproot it. If you take it somewhere else, out of its natural environment, it’s not gonna grow the same way. If you take a tree out of the dirt, a Christmas tree, and move it into your crib, it’ll stay that exact same tree for a little while before it starts to wilt, but it won’t grow anymore. You can’t uproot a plant. You have to let it grow. If I were to have grown in LA, I might’ve grown into some sh*t I’m not supposed to be or just not grown at all, or just peaked. I can reach my peak in Chicago cuz that’s where I was planted and where I can continue to grow.
I had planned on living in LA, but when I was out there going to parties and feeling that vibe, I thought it was ungodly, it wasn’t true to who I was born to be or what I was supposed to grow to be. Being there made me realize this is not where I’m supposed to get my biggest experiences. As sad as I ever was in LA, the lowest I’ve ever been, it’s not where my lowest was supposed to be. The highest I’ve been, the happiest I’ve been in Los Angeles, was not where my life’s happiest moments were supposed to be. Being happy means doing what you are supposed to do, being exactly who you are supposed to be. My god, my inner understanding, whatever it is that guides me, had me recognizing that I’m not supposed to be there.
We have a head start. If you’ve been in that building once, in the Harold Washington Library, one time, you know. Harold Washington. The first Black mayor of Chicago. A very powerful man. A very connected man. A very humble and grounded man. A household name who died in office while at work. His library is in the center of downtown, in the center of the Loop, where all the trains meet. For us to walk into that building is astounding. My dad volunteered for Harold Washington. That’s how he got his record expunged. That’s how he dodged the system. Years later, he has a library named after him and I could walk in from the cold and experience this temple.
From the age of fourteen, I was trying to go against the grain, to grow into a time and period where it’s dope to be anti-establishment, where it’s dope to not just accept all the answers that are given to you but to look for your own answers. I am trying to push that. I’m trying to push that to other people who didn’t get taught that. As kids that grew up in the ’90s and early 2000s, we are able to ask questions like: What’s going on? Who are the people leading us? Who are those people teaching us? What are they telling us? How are they able to tell us that? Who are they and where are they coming from and is it the truth? I’ve been taught to be a critical thinker, and I was able to say this doesn’t feel right. Having the understanding I’ve been blessed with, I’ve been able to discern that that shit is not right, that it doesn’t feel right, that it doesn’t seem right.
I met Kevin Coval at an orientation at Jones College Prep, the first time I ever went into my high school cuz I didn’t check it out beforehand. I just signed up for it and applied. So my first time going up to the school was for the Louder Than A Bomb team orientation and Kevin was doing a writing workshop. Though I didn’t make my slam team or to Louder Than A Bomb, Kevin ended up being very instrumental to me.
Kevin Coval is my artistic father. He mentored my friends Malcolm London and Dimress Dunnigan and Fatimah Warner and got me shows, and those shows got me a little bit of bread and the confidence to continue and take the craft seriously. In a lot of ways he was the other side of Brother Mike for me, and anybody from Chicago knows what that means and how big a statement that is. He was that for me and for a lot of people.
Kevin made art a job to me. He made me feel like it was real. He made me feel like the competition was real. He made me feel that the money was real. He made me feel that the love and the fans were real. And if I didn’t have him in my life I would’ve been complacent. He took me out of that space and made me understand what it is to be a poet, what it is to be an artist, and what it is to serve the people.
Chance the Rapper
Chance the Chicagoan