Chance the Rapper and his Chicago White Sox cap are inseparable. It’s a staple in his concert wardrobe. He wears it on TV. Chance even created his own custom designs as a promotion for the Chicago baseball team earlier this year. “I'm in love with my city. … I sleep in my hat,” he sings in “Finished Line/Drown,” a track off his new bestselling album Coloring Book.
While Chance recently signed a deal to become a club ambassador for the White Sox, his hat choice signals something deeper than a sports affiliation. It’s a way of showing his love for Chicago, specifically its South Side, a geography central to Coloring Book and the hometown that he and I share.
If there’s any identity that might compete with Chance’s South Side status, it’s his newfound Christianity, which the rapper has repeatedly referenced on social media and incorporated into the album. One repeated theme: being a Christian has made Chance far more aware of his own flaws, even as he recognizes God’s love for him and his desire for redemption in the midst of the complexities of his own life. In Coloring Book, Chance assumes this posture toward Chicago’s South Side, which suffers from disproportionate poverty and violence. On the album, Chance names his community’s flaws while underscoring his undying love, loyalty, and hope for it.
This undying love manifests itself in many ways in Coloring Book. Windy City-native Kanye West and the Chicago Children’s Choir perform on several tracks. In “All Night” Chance samples House music, a genre originating in his hometown. Chance namedrops WGCI and Power 92, two local hip-hop radio stations, in “Angels.” Chance repeatedly references “79th Street,” a major thoroughfare that ran a couple blocks away from my childhood home.
Blueprint of a Real Man
Chance’s passion for Chicago doesn’t keep him from seeing the complicated realities of our childhoods. Although I’m nine years older, his lyrics still resonate. In “Summertime Friends,” he takes me back to walking with “socks on concrete,” eating “jolly ranchers,” and “catching lightening bugs.” Listening, I envision kids running as the ice cream truck slowly makes it way down the street. The girls are outside jumping double-dutch.
The song takes a sharp turn: “When the plague hit backyard, had to come in at dark cause big shawtys act hard.” I remember my parents discussing the spike of violence in Chicago as if it was a shift in the weather. I think of being 12, walking home from the corner store with my cousins and eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, when shots ring out at the end of the block, sending us scattering in all directions. I think of walking home from high school, when I was almost shot on two separate occasions.
That Chance’s lyrics articulate both the carefree spirit and violence of Chicago’s summers indicate his hopeful and honest approach in engaging the city. Indeed, Chance believes that God can change the city—and sees himself as a part of this work. “I got my city doing front flips, when every father, mayor, rapper jump ship. … Clean up the streets, so my daughter can have somewhere to play. I’m the blueprint of a real man,” he sings in “Angels.” Rather than dodge influence, Chance embraces the opportunity to be a role model. At 21 years old, he partnered with his father, the deputy chief of staff for Rahm Emmanuel, to lead a city-wide effort to stop gun violence for 42 hours in Chicago over Memorial Day weekend. (No one was shot in those 42 hours; this year, 69 people were shot over the holiday weekend.) On Twitter, Chance has recently announced his intentions to swear less and quit smoking.