By Nick Chhoeun
“Oh no, you’re into that crap, too?” a woman on campus said to me. I was sitting on a bench next to her wearing my Chance the Rapper hat with the word “Coloring Book” on it. She told me her kids listened to that type of stuff and that it was ridiculous.
I attempted to explain to her the artistic elements in his music that don’t fit into the common stereotypes of the rap/hip hop genre as being overly raunchy. She reacted as though she was enlightened by my words but I knew she didn’t fully believe me.
All of us in the MFA program are motivated by something or someone that pushes us to make our best-written pieces. Chance the Rapper is one my inspirations for pursuing creative writing. He started as a poet, after all.
Eventually, he brought his poetic background into the medium of rap, where his fame took off. He is currently one of the highest earning rappers in America. It wasn’t his fame that inspired my writing, though. It was the impact his words were making, using the genre of rap. He combined his passions for poetry and music to speak out for a purpose and continues to advocate for others to push for art to do the same.
Earlier this year Chance donated over a million dollars to Chicago public schools and started a charity called SocialWorks. SocialWorks aims “to empower youth through the arts, education, and civic engagement while fostering leadership, accessibility, and positivity within the youth throughout Chicago.” It not only raises money but hosts events like OpenMike, a platform of self-expression for Chicago’s youth.
Chance the Rapper hasn’t strayed from the poetic realm as his music gained popularity. In fact, the lyrics in all of his songs contain poetic elements. His most recent mixtape is Coloring Book and contains many uses of metaphor, allusion, alliteration, and other traditional literary techniques. For example, in this mixtape there is a song titled “Same Drugs” where he repeats the line, “We don’t do the same drugs no more.” On first impression, people may dismiss this as a song about rappers and their stereotypical fixation on drugs. But on further interpretation, it is evident to see that Chance is using drugs as a strong metaphor for diverging passions.
His lyrics further state, “Wendy you’ve aged/ I thought you’d never grow up,” then later, “The past tense, past bedtime/ Way back then when everything we read was real/ And everything was said rhymed.” Chance alludes to the Wendy in Peter Pan, who eventually decides to go home and become an adult and the innocence in the childhood where imagination is at its high. “And everything was said rhymed,” like the common saying “we finish each other’s sentences” speaks personally to Chance’s past relationship of this person and how similar they were. He is reflecting on growing up and losing relationships to differing interests. He misses a time where certain people in his life were all at the same mindset, but now everyone has their own passions and worries. “Same Drugs” is really referring to this common lifestyle he used to share with people. His ‘drug’ is music while people in his past relationships took on different “drugs,” or life goals.
“Acid Rain” from Chance’s mixtape, Acid Rap, was on former President Obama’s Summer 2016 Playlist. In the main verse he says, “Yeah, I inhaled, who believed me not breathing in/ Cigarette stained smile all covered in sin.” The first part criticizes former President Clinton’s famous statement when he was asked whether or not he ever smoked weed in which he replies “I didn’t inhale.” Chance, in a way, makes fun of this by saying he smoked because who would really believe him for not breathing it in? The second part shows his use of alliteration in ‘s’ sounds and the personification of ‘sin’ as something he can be covered in. The “sin” is being covered in the smell of cigarettes.
Chance still performs his poems. This past summer he performed for the NPR Tiny Desk Concert series. His brief set list included two songs and a poem.
Chance the Rapper inspires writers through his lyrics. He constantly leads by example in promoting the arts. Words have power and he is one of the people at the forefront strengthening the influence of them. His lyrical structure shows the strength of poetry and words when he uses specific details, references, and emotion. Then, he brings his words into the medium of rap to reach larger audiences.
As MFA students, we believe writing has a higher purpose than what is on the page, and that it can make an impact in people’s lives. I want my writing to have a higher meaning, and it’s people like Chance that inspire me to create work that matters in the larger scope of the world. He is a role model those trying to use the arts as confrontation or expression. Artists like Chance the Rapper are continuing to make the rap an expressive, creative art form. If the woman I met ever comes across this post, I urge her to give his music a chance.
Image: Rolling Stone
Nick Chhoeun is a staff editor at Café Américain and a first-year candidate in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.