Chance The Rapper Talks The Chicago Scene & His "Acid Rap" Mixtape
Exclusive: Chicago's Chance the Rapper explains how he fits in the local scene and why "Acid Rap" is not just the title of his mixtape but also a methodology.
Chance the Rapper, the young up-and-comer who just celebrated his 20th birthday, is somewhat of an outlier when it comes to discussions about the new wave of Chicago Hip Hop. While so much ink has been spent arguing the merits of the Chief Keef-headed Drill Music scene, Lil Reese's recent trip to prison, or the near-constant hail of gunfire that continues to leave young kids dead on the streets, Chance emerged last year with his debut mixtape, #10Day, chock full of laid-back soul samples, sly, lyrical wordplay about the vagaries of high school, and enough diversity to make it the soundtrack to both afternoon barbeques and two a.m. hangout sessions.
But a year has passed, and Chance has grown up a bit, trading in musings on prom night for LSD’s mental exploration. His new mixtape, Acid Rap, dropped April 30, and it continues his dedication to diversifying his sound while also furthering his growth as a lyricist. It also allowed him to get more involved the process of making music, leading to a richer musical landscape and collaborations with the likes of BJ The Chicago Kid and Black Hippy's Ab-Soul, among others.
“When I recorded #10Day, I had never done a mixtape before...a lot of the songs were two tracks where it was just an instrumental that I took, or someone had sent me a beat,” he said a few weeks ago while sitting on a back patio in Brooklyn. “With this tape, every song that was made, I was there from when the song was an idea that we were talking about, to the building of all the tracks, to the vocal and the background vocal, to deciding the features. I was just way more involved in the production side of things and making it sound the way I wanted it to sound.”
Chance spent a summer on tour with Childish Gambino, took an “acid trip” to Mexico, and got co-signs from RZA, Action Bronson, ScHoolBoy Q, and a host of other vets in the Hip Hop community. He spoke with HipHopDX about growing up in Chicago, the scene as he sees it, his progression since #10Day, and what we can expect from Acid Rap.
HipHopDX: Tell me about growing up in Chicago.
Chance the Rapper: Chicago’s a really cultured city to grow up in…very rich musical history, a lot of genres of music and music movements originated there, the fuckin’ Jazz movement, the Soul movement, the invention of Rock And Roll. The invention of Electronic music as we know it started with house music; Kanye West is from there. There’s a lot of creativity historically coming out of Chicago. So I had a lot to grow up on.
DX: When did you get into rapping?
Chance the Rapper: I’ve been into Rap music since I was super young. The first album I ever got was The College Dropout in fifth grade, and ever since then I’ve always known what I wanted to do. My first idea, in terms of where my life was gonna go, was definitely in fifth grade when I got that album. I just started rapping.
DX: What was it about that album?
Chance the Rapper: It was so different; I wasn’t really into Rap music before that. I liked radio music and radio music to me was Rap music. But the Soul samples and the content—like what he was talking about—a lot of people weren’t really talking about college and being institutionalized by school. And for a fifth grader I could understand it on that level. I knew I didn’t like school, so it was something I could relate to. And he was from Chicago! When you’re from Chicago, it was just something I understood very well.
DX: So when did you actually start rapping?
Chance the Rapper: The first time I ever recorded, I was 14 years old. I was at this studio that my cousin used to run in Chicago. I went there with my boys Reese and Justin and recorded two songs, both over Kanye West instrumentals. It was a really big thing for me, because it was the first time I’d ever heard my voice over music. I really liked hearing myself back. I definitely kept [the songs], but I didn’t use them for anything. Actually, I did—my first music video I shot by myself in my house. It’s a video that’s not available anymore, so I hope nobody tries to find that shit. But I had a video for this song I had recorded called “Jaden’s Song.” But ever since then I’ve been making music.
It got more serious around senior year of high school when I started recording my first official mixtape under the name Chance the Rapper. It was inspired by my suspension or whatever.
DX: What’d you get suspended for?
Chance the Rapper: Smoking weed...nothing serious. I used to be really bad in high school, but I just never really got caught for shit. Then they started trying to find shit that I did that was not that bad. I started getting in trouble for being late to class or chewing gum in the hallways. I was off campus when I got caught, and they suspended me. It was a 10-day suspension. But it was really like a three-week suspension, because I got suspended like, the week before spring break, so I had spring break off the week in between. It was ridiculous; I was turning up. And then, my first day back was my birthday. So I was on 10…day.
DX: A lot of people say an artist’s first album takes your whole life to that point to live, and it seems like definitely holds true with #10Day, talking about nostalgia, high school and all that.
Chance the Rapper: #10Day is like an analysis of my life before the suspension—how I felt during the suspension. And then it took me a year to finish it after I started recording; I didn’t drop it ‘til the next year. In high school, like senior year, I didn’t really know where I was going in my life. I knew I wanted to be a rapper, but I wasn’t taking the steps to get there…wasn’t playing too many shows. I wasn’t really focused on high school, but I wasn’t putting 100 percent effort into Rap either. So it was kind of like my stepping-out tape with me trying to prove to a lot of people—beyond Rap critics and fans—but mostly to teachers and people that I grew up around that I was good at that shit, and that I was gonna make a career out of it.
DX: What pushed you to want to go out and take those steps?
Chance the Rapper: I knew what I wanted to do when I got out of high school; I decided I was going to finish this #10Day tape. But fall came around, and my parents were really pressuring me to go to college. I went to Harold Washington Community College for like a week, dropped out, and started recording a little bit more. I still wasn’t really focused until I had an experience where one of my really close friends was stabbed to death in a fight we were in. He rapped too, and he’d just dropped a tape the week before. It was kind of just like a moment of realization where I was just like...I just realized that whole destiny thing. [I was like], “I was meant to do this.” You don’t really know if that applies to you until you get to that moment where… I don’t know.
It was just a wake up call, kind of like, I’m young and I could definitely die in Chicago. It’s not guaranteed that I’m going to be able to live a full day. I just started working way harder, recording more, shooting videos, got a manager, started playing more shows, and it just became more of a career for me and less of a hobby. That was in August of 2011. I just kept recording; I went out to LA and did some records with Blended Babies and Chuck Inglish from the Cool Kids. I came back and got all my shit together and did a release on my Twitter. The tape blew up, and I hopped on a tour with Childish Gambino the next month.
Acid Rap & How LSD Factors In Chance the Rapper’s Process
DX: So take me through the past year since #10Day dropped, because things have been blowing up for you lately.
Chance the Rapper: After the tape dropped, I hopped on tour with Childish Gambino and it was crazy. It was the biggest tour, selling out 5,000-person venues in every city, you know…just getting in front of crowds and opening for a big name when I didn’t even have a name in most of these cities. He taught me how to hold a crowd, to introduce my music to people and to play songs that people knew. I built my fan base around the nation and played Canada too. It was just a really good experience for me, because I wasn’t used to this shit yet, and it made it a lot easier to play smaller crowds. I played a lot of shows leading up to and right after the tape dropped. I played a lot of shows in Chicago, a couple shows in Ohio and a couple colleges around Chicago, but nothing to the magnitude of what he was playing.
DX: Do you have any crazy stories about that tour?
Chance the Rapper: We almost got arrested in this super racist town called Asheville, North Carolina. I remember I was getting off the bus, and Swank, who was my homie and the tour’s production manager [was outside]. I saw three big white dudes just walk up on him while he was just standing outside of my bus. And I remember yelling to him, “Yo Swank, you good?” and he was like “Yeah man, everything’s good.” And this white dude put his hand right next to Swank’s face. So I ran down the stairs and I run up, and luckily another one of the white dudes ran up and was like, “Stop! Undercover police!” And I was like, “Thank, God.” I was about to catch an assault on an officer. It would’ve been all over for me; they probably would have shot my ass right there. But they held us outside of the bus, and they were demanding we let them on there even though they didn’t have a warrant or anything. They were saying they were gonna beat the shit out of us. And luckily Donald [Glover] came up a couple minutes later and cleared everything up…called his lawyer. We played that show and rocked that bitch. It was some really scary shit, I was like 30 minutes late to stage because they had us lined up in front of the bus, though.
DX: That’s the ultimate retribution though, right? To then go out and rock the show?
Chance the Rapper: Oh yeah, it feels great. People were walking past, asking to take pictures with us and shit while we were lined up in front of the bus. It was sick.
DX: Tell me how, for lack of a better word, the rise of the last year has been for you.
Chance the Rapper: I mean it’s a great story that’s made sense. We went from dropping the tape, to going on tour, to doing radio, to dropping singles off the next tape and dropping videos for the next tape. We just announced we’re doing Lollapalooza in August—headlining the BMI stage—and we got some European dates this summer. It’s just all been a great story. I like to say it makes sense. Nothing’s moving too fast or too slow, it’s just been a great year.
DX: If #10Day was the culmination of your life up to that point, where does Acid Rap go, lyrically?
Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap is just a whole different monster; it’s me as an adult making great music instead of a kid trying to explain a story. It’s less of a conceptual project. It’s still very cohesive, storytelling-wise, and it’s own project. But it’s more music-based than story-based this time. I’m still telling the story of what it’s like coming out of high school, not going to college and my experience with LSD. The new music that I started listening to has got a really heavy Acid Jazz base to it. It’s just really good songs; it’s a collection of great songs, which is exactly what #10Day is. But it’s more of just a really good album than a story.
DX: Where did the acid thing come from?
Chance the Rapper: In like June of last year I started working on the new tape…started listening to a lot of Jamiroquai, Brand New Heavies and some really bassy Hip Hop and electronic-based Jazz. And then around August or September of last year, I started doing acid and recording in the studio. A lot of people use LSD to make music. It’s less of a mind-altering drug to me…it just frees you and allows you to think outside of what you would normally write about or listen to or how you would evaluate a song that you were making. Towards January or February, I started just recording, smoking weed, like I usually record. But for a long time, I would just get in the studio and take some acid, listen to some beats, find one that I fell in love with, and just go in and record a freestyle off the acid, and then come back and would re-write it, or write it there in the studio. I started calling them my acid raps, and then that became the name of the tape.
DX: What’s the difference with writing on acid?
Chance the Rapper: It’s a lot more sporadic; it’s not as easy because you don’t always have that spark. And I have ADD, so I’m all over the place anyway. But it was a great experience because it was at a time where I was going through so many changes in life. Shit was moving so fast for me, and I wanted to just not be worried about anything. It kind of just like opened up my mind and allowed me to think deeper about stuff, but also to not be as confined to one way of thinking. ‘Cause I was fucked up on acid. The project’s not necessarily a whole spiel on how people should do acid as much as people should just think differently about stuff and look at every situation that comes into life from as many different angles as possible.
Chance the Rapper Talks Support From The Hip Hop Community
DX: What have been some of the highlights of the last year?
Chance the Rapper: Just in the last two months I’ve met some of the most influential people in making the tape and just writing music period. Some of those artists aren’t on the tape.
DX: Tell me about SXSW—I saw you come out during Action Bronson’s set at Viceland.
Chance the Rapper: That’s hilarious, yeah. That shit was literally on the spot. I went to Earl [Sweatshirt]’s show to go meet him because I’m friends with Domo Genesis. I had never met Earl before, but he was one of the main people I was listening to when I wrote #10Day. So I met him real quick, and he was super cool. I’m really good friends with Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, and they were all talking about going over to the Action Bronson show, which is funny because I have a song with Action Bronson. I never really kicked it with him, but we’re fans of each other. It’s really weird—it’s a song that I’m featured on by an artist from Chicago called ProbCause—it’s ProbCause featuring Action Bronson and me. And we recorded our verses like six months apart from each other, but when the song came out it had a really positive response.
But it was funny, they were all talking about going to Bronson’s show. We just mobbed over there, walked six blocks through like fans and shit, got backstage, and saw a bunch of people that I had been fans or just knew of. Oh my god, it was crazy. I met Riff Raff. He walked up to me, we exchanged numbers and he was like, “Yo, I’m a fan.” I talked to him for a second about drugs. Bronson was doing his set at the time, and we all ran on stage. And then Bronson out of nowhere just said, “I’m gonna put all the youngin’s on stage,” and he just started calling us up one by one. He called up Earl. And he called up me randomly, like, I was just standing on stage. I came out, and just spit a quick verse. It was some rapper shit; he was just calling rappers up to spit. We all chilled and smoked a little bit afterward.
Yeah, SXSW is crazy. It’s like the biggest music week in the independent artist’s world, and even at this point major artists. But it’s one of the only places where music takes over a whole city for a week, and everywhere you go there’s music playing. Everywhere you go, there’s somebody you want to meet. It’s dope getting to see all those Texas fans; it’s just a sick experience. The first time I went was last year, and I wasn’t an official artist. I was just down there getting on any show I could, and got on like three shows.
DX: What does it mean to have guys like Bronson, Schoolboy Q, reach out to you?
Chance the Rapper: It’s a great feeling; I’m a fan of all of those guys. They’re on a much wider scale than I am. Getting love from them, or getting even to meet them on a friend level is so dope and so important. Like, networking with artists and working with people that you’re fans of always makes for good music. And it’s just dope to hear that somebody likes your music whose music you like also.
Chance On The Chicago Music Scene
DX: You’ve been working with people from Chicago, like BJ the Chicago Kid.
Chance the Rapper: It’s funny. I met BJ when I was way younger, when I was recording one of my first videos off #10Day—“Nostalgia.” He was shooting a video with GLC, and he was just super supportive from back then. I’ve always been a fan of his shit; he worked with Kendrick Lamar a lot, and everybody in the city is just super proud of him. He just signed to Motown this past year. I just knew that I wanted him on the project, so when it came to make the intro, and I knew I wanted a choir on there, I knew I wanted him to be one of the main vocals. There’s like 12 artists on that track, between the three producers, five instrumentalists, seven singers, and then my vocal too. A lot of work and a lot of time went into just the intro. I haven’t even released the full version; it won’t come out until the album drops. It’s just a great track, and I think it makes a declarative statement about Chicago music. It’s got every influence in there from the drums, to the soul sample, to the Kanye sample—all the Chicago mentions and the video. There’s so many different elements.
DX: What is the Chicago scene from your perspective? Because you exist outside of that whole Drill Music scene.
Chance the Rapper: I think the Chicago scene as a whole is probably the most powerful scene on the come up right now. We’ve got, history-wise, the richest musical culture, period. Right now Chief Keef is one of the biggest artists, one of the highest profile artists in terms of new artists coming out. Obviously you got ya boy, BJ the Chicago Kid. Older artists making huge comebacks. R. Kelly headlining Pitchfork this year. In terms of new music though, there’s a scene that exists outside the label confines in terms of indie music and DIY shows. There are so many original videos, original filmmakers and dope producers. The Drill sound itself is a beautiful movement, just because it’s heavily influenced by Trap. But if you really listen to it, the drum patterns, especially the hi-hats are always more intricate. As a genre, it’s a crazy, ill-ass movement. And as a lifestyle it’s very interesting, and also pretty sad, just the culture behind it.
It’s really not even the culture behind drill; drill is a culture created by something that’s been going on in Chicago for a while. It wasn’t until the drill music scene came out that it got put in the spotlight. But anything that’s violent and sad is a story that people are interested in. And it sucks, but it also put a lot of dope artists in the spotlight, and also just put a spotlight on a super-tragic scene.
Chance the Rapper Details His Growth On Acid Raps
DX: You go more towards instrument-based music throughout #10Day. Is that coming back for “Acid Rap”?
Chance the Rapper: Yeah. Like I said, it’s a very heavy Jazz and instrument-based sound, even more so than #10Day. This project specifically is just way more musical with a lot more backing vocals, a lot more… When I recorded #10Day, I had never done a mixtape before. And a lot of the stuff was two-track based other than songs like “Prom Night,” “Hey Ma” or “Brain Cells” that were entire sessions that I was there for the production of and was a big part of. A lot of the songs were two tracks where it was just an instrumental that I took, or someone had sent me a beat. With this tape, every song that was made, I was there from when the song was an idea that we were talking about, to the building of all the tracks, to the vocal and the background vocal, to deciding the features. I was just way more involved in the production side of things and making it sound the way I wanted it to sound.
DX: Everybody who I’ve talked to about #10Day always says “Brain Cells” is the song that blows them away. What was the process behind making that song?
Chance the Rapper: That song is super funny because it’s been through so much. It’s funny, because Mac [Miller] is one of my close friends now. But originally Mac had that song “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza,” which was an instrumental from Lord Finesse that he ended up getting sued over. Mac’s my friend now, but when he first came out with that, I was on some super competitive, “I’m a 17-year-old rapper who can rap better than Mac Miller”-type shit. I remixed the same beat, wrote the same two verses, recorded it at my cousin’s crib and dropped it as a little YouTube mp3. Then I remade it again later the same year. Then right around two weeks before the tape came out, I started working with Peter Cottontail, who produced “Hey Ma” and “Long Time II.” I showed him the track, and he loved it, and he was like, “I’m gonna beef it up and make it jazzier.” And when he sent it over, I flowed over it completely different—it’s the same words—but I just felt it a lot better. But that’s one of my favorite songs and core tracks that I’ll always be able to play and never get tired of. It’s just a fun record.
DX: What are your hopes for “Acid Rap”?
Chance the Rapper: I don’t really know yet. It’s a completely independent project made all at home studios in New York, LA and Chicago. I worked with a bunch of different producers and a bunch of different artists. We already got dope shit set up as an independent group between me and Pat [Corcoran, Chance’s manager] and we’re just ready to see what happens. One of my biggest talents is performing live. We’re about to murk Lolla this year and make it hard for a lot of artists to perform after. I’m just excited about it.
DX: Have labels been sniffing around?
Chance the Rapper: Yeah, but we’re chillin. It’s a label of us right now—just me and Pat. Right now it’s a great system. No one’s telling us how some shit should sound, giving us a date to have the tape done by. Today it’s April 13; I’m still not done with this tape, and it comes out April 30. It’s still gonna come out April 30, but I can do whatever I want with it. I can decide not to drop it and just tease everybody with it for like four years. I wouldn’t do that. But it’s just an example of how free I am, and I like that feeling. But yeah, every label has hit us up talking millions, and it’s like, fuck it, you know? Right now, I just love making music…making the music I want to, making funny songs or making love songs or making Trap music, or making whatever I want to make at the moment. A lot more variables get involved with a partnership with a label.