“When the praises go up, the blessings come down, I promise you!”
This wasn’t the voice of a preacher at a gospel church in Brixton but that of 6-time Grammy-nominated Chance The Rapper at Brixton Academy on a rainy Sunday evening in November.
The performance was Chicago rapper Chance’s first major gig in London, supported by his band and musical accomplices The Social Experiment, with the soulful Nico Segal on trumpet behind him.
Chance The Rapper first came to mainstream prominence with the release of his second mixtape, Acid Rap. The Chicago native’s distinct style, tongue-in-cheek wit and notorious ad-libs struck a chord with thousands of fans. His direction since than has focused on music which infuses gospel and soul to create the religiously infused Coloring Book.
Revoking the conventional routes toward releasing music, Chance chose to stay independent despite lucrative offers from record labels, driven by a unique vision to revolutionise how music is listened to but to also liberate the artist from the all too tempting venus flytrap which record labels offer. Musicians have notoriously chequered relationships with their labels; Prince once told young artists, “don’t sign” if a label comes knocking. Exploitation and particularly exploitation of black musicians has often meant the artist themselves see very little of their success in material terms.
Despite Prince’s struggles, artists and particularly black artists have seemingly heeded his warnings and are reclaiming ownership over their work, notably Frank Ocean buying back his music from Def Jam and releasing his latest album Blonde independently.
Chance’s independence has meant he has full control of his music and it has also meant his 3 albums and the latest offering, Coloring Book, has been free to stream and download. There is a redistributive air to his approach which is evident in the kinds of activist work Chancellor Bennet engages in, in Chicago. Chance hosted one of the Open Mike evenings, inspired by his mentor of the same name who set these nights up, to provide access to young artists in Chicago to cultivate their talents.
This kind of activism is embodied in the kind of album the Coloring Book is. It is a distinctly religious and spiritual album. Often with religious works, there is a perception that political quietism comes hand in hand with them, whether it is the Christian idiom “Turning the other cheek” or the misinterpretation of the verses of Islamic poet Rumi as too transcendent to be relevant to society. Chance reinforces that “being a man of God”, as he told us at the Brixton Academy, does not necessitate inaction or occultation but rather, as Chance’s live performance on The Ellen Show showed, can be a support mechanism to speak truth to power.
Doing just that during a well deserved break from the high octane performance, Chance takes a moment to take stock of President-elect Donald Trump.
“People ask me if I was shocked. I tell them, I wasn’t shocked because there’s a history of racism and classism in America.”
In a post-Trump, post-Brexit world, Chance provides some recompense, echoing a similar message that Mos Def gave 20 years prior in Fear Not of Man, that ultimately, despite the misuse of power historically, God is in control.
Before launching into his last reprise, Chance tells the audience:
“I want you to remember one thing before you leave here tonight: when the praises go up, the blessings come down.”
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