LOS ANGELES — There was hardly a better time to be an aspiring rapper coming out of Chicago than 2012.
That year, label scouts began flocking to the city like never before, allured by Chief Keef's thunderous "Finally Rich" mixtape, along with buzzing music by King Louie and Sasha Go Hard. While drill music ran the city, heading the left-of-center-scene was a squeaky-voiced talent named Chance the Rapper, who'd just turned a suspension from high school into a breakout mixtape, "10 Day."
"[MTV2's 'Sucker Free'] did an episode in Chicago," Chance recalled, speaking between hits of a vape pen at the Pendry West Hollywood. "Within a week, every label flying their reps to Chicago, trying to find the best drill artist and the best 'alt' artist. I, my friends, people I grew up with, anyone who'd started rapping in 2011 or 2012 were taking label meetings. A lot got signed."
Famously, the man born Chancellor Bennett, now 30, would spurn the labels and go at it as an independent artist. In 2013, he released "Acid Rap," a mixtape so potent that he proclaimed it would be your "favorite f— album" before the intro track had even finished. Over the ensuing 50 minutes of music, he backed up his claim, delivering soul-piercing wordplay centered on love, death and drugs over gospel-tinged production. The album was met with immediate critical acclaim, appearing on numerous year-end best-of lists; Pitchfork would rank it at No. 84 in its top 200 albums of the 2010s.
Ten years after its release, Chance will bring the mixtape to the Kia Forum for an arena-size celebration, playing songs from "Acid Rap" along with some recent hits. The show, set for Thursday, will be a wholly Chicago affair — longtime collaborator Vic Mensa will open the night with a throwback performance of his own cult classic "Innanetape," which turns 10 this month.
"We made 'Innanetape' and 'Acid Rap' to inspire ourselves first, and the people after," Mensa said. "I think Chance and I have grown a lot since then."
Since "Acid Rap," Chance has achieved the highest heights and endured some surprising lows. His 2016 mixtape, "Coloring Book," became the first digital-only project to win a Grammy, for rap album. But in 2019, his wedding-themed album "The Big Day" was largely panned by critics and listeners, and a subsequent tour was first postponed and eventually canceled.
In response, Chance broadened his artistic horizons. Last year, he collaborated with visual artist Mia Lee for an installation at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring an emotive painting by Lee themed to his song "Yah Know." Months later, he helped organize the Black Star Line Festival in Ghana, which drew 50,000 people and featured performances from Chance and Mensa along with Erykah Badu, T-Pain, Sarkodie and more. (A second edition of the festival is set for Jamaica in January.)
"I've been saying for a year and a half that we're in a renaissance, and this will be a time period that people look back on — especially Black folks — that exceeds all our past understandings of community, wealth, education or art," Chance said. "All of those things are being revolutionized, with a larger goal of reconnection."
Your music has shifted pretty far from what you were doing on "Acid Rap." Is it a strange feeling, re-immersing yourself in 2013?
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