Across three singles this week, Chance the Rapper reminds listeners that he’s settled into his sanctified sound.
How do you tell yourself that you are doing a good job? Self-reflection isn’t an innate skill — it can take years of practice to be able to silence the voice in your head that judges your every breath. Meditation works for some, but for others, music is the dam that stifles self-conscious scrutiny.
In 2015, I was applying for jobs fresh out of an overpriced political science program. That summer, I earned a job interview at a company that compiled statistics and research to inform public policy. The pay was $32,000 per year, full-time. It was a step up from the $12 an hour I made at my local library, but not by much. By the end of the interview I was offered the job, and despite my heart racing with excitement over earning my first, “adult” job, I told the interviewer, I’d have to think about it.
What followed was the 15 minute drive home during which I played Chance the Rapper’s “Good Ass Intro” on repeat. The song encompassed my elation. A job offer in hand, I was, in fact, “better than I was the last time” (I interviewed).
But somewhere over that 15 minutes on repeat I changed my tune. Why settle for a job with awful pay and long hours just because I needed a steady paycheck? Quickly “Good Ass Intro’s” supportive excitement turned to self-reliant brashness. As soon as I stopped driving, I called my interviewer up and informed him that I would not be taking his low-wage job, and he’d be better served finding some other fresh graduate to cannibalize.
All of that is to say, Chance the Rapper’s self-empowered confidence was the catalyst for my own conviction. But in the seven years since “Good Ass Intro” and Acid Rap dropped, the self-proclaimed rapper has not-so-subtly transitioned from a self-confident stalwart of independent hip-hop into an aimless artist whose name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to his past life.
Over the last week, Chance the Rapper graced a trio of singles from Justin Bieber, Ludacris and Francis and the Lights. The first two, titled “Holy” and “Found You” respectively, follow suit with Chance’s sanctified love ballads, akin to the fodder on The Big Day. “Holy” is a reunion of the Bieber-Chance duo that first formed in 2013 on Bieber’s “Confident,” the final song of the Canadian singer’s Music Mondays campaign. Seven years later and both artists are shades of their former selves, though Chance wears the time-lapse worse.
Though Chance’s verse on “Holy” is his deepest run at rapping across the three singles, his bars are dull, showcasing his continued preoccupation with maintaining his consecrated persona. In the four years since Coloring Book dropped, Chance has used his faith less of a lyrical engine and more as a shield from scathing criticism. He responded detractors’ comments around The Big Day by focusing on anonymous calls that he kill himself instead of legitimate musical critiques.
“I just want to reiterate that I don’t want to kill myself, nor am I ashamed of loving my wife. I think I just wanted to say out loud that I see the vibes,” he said on Twitter, lashing out at faceless avatars despite very real comments about the album’s subpar quality. Chance straying from addressing his musical divergence is effectively dousing himself in holy water — when his music falls short, he can claim immunity by focusing on his effort to combat negativity, rather than an effort to make enjoyable music.
“Found You” and “You Still Take Me To The Light,” are similarly reductive affairs, stripping any lyrical ingenuity from Chance’s toolbelt and replacing it with a Fisher-Price kit. Chance is relegated to the hook on Luda’s Timbaland-produced “Found You,” scratchily singing to his wife, or God, about the same pure love that dominated The Big Day.
It’s increasingly clear that the alter boy persona that Chance has crafted has become his mainstay. The Francis and the Lights cut, which is merely an official update and release of “Take Me To The Light” from Sept. 2019, fills its warm, harmonious production with yet another Chance verse aimed squarely at salvation. He sing-raps, “You ain’t lyin’/ Heaven is a ride, I just wanna ride/ I just wanna try, somethin’ new tonight/ Heaven is a flight, don’t leave me outside.”
The problem with Chance isn’t his spirituality — religious or spiritual reflection is a perfectly reasonable musical subject, whether it’s played straight or subverted, as Azizi Gibson’s verbal manifestations of the grim reaper suggest. Rather, Chance’s packaging as the Uber-positive wonder boy has outworn its welcome. He’s crafted an uncompelling narrative. I refuse to support Kanye West and his spastic fits of incoherence, but even in his worst hour he makes a case to examine his latest tirade or music single with a careful eye.
Unlike West, Chance has ceased being a conversation piece. His musical output fails to ignite anything but lowbrow hatred of an artist who seemingly shirked his vocal and lyrical talent in favor of ecclesiastical shilling. It’s fitting that Chance dons his trademark “3” hat in Bieber’s “Holy” video. Four years in, and the path he paved with Coloring Book remains his visible security blanket.