For Fuse's 2016 Breakout Week, we're spending each day commemorating one undeniable act that jetted into the mainstream this year. Today we're looking at Chance the Rapper, whose third mixtape, Coloring Book, was the catalyst for finally gaining a truly global platform. The fiercely anti-label 23-year-old is cosigned by Kanye West and President Barack Obama and was chosen as Chicagoan of the Year by both Chicago Magazine and the Chicago Tribune in 2015.
But Chance is about so much more than just music. Here are eight ways he's been a leader and voice for social action so far.
1. The night before America elected Donald Trump as its 45th president, Chance led thousands of people in a march to the polls. The move came after a Get Out the Vote event in Grant Park, and showed up all over the internet as the sun rose on Election Day.
He told fans at the show:
"I'm here to make sure you all stay woke and vote. ... Thank you to all the people who want to be a part of how democracy works and want to make their voices heard. You've got the spirit. If you wake up in the morning and feel like you're just one person ... man, you're so much more than that!"
2. He co-created the Warmest Winter campaign in December 2015 to raise $100,000 to get 1,000 EMPWR coats out to Chicago's homeless. The high-tech garments were water-resistant, self-heating and could turn into a sleeping bag, all aimed at reducing death by hypothermia. They were also made at the Detroit nonprofit Empowerment Plan, which employs "homeless parents from local shelters to become full time seamstresses so that they can earn a stable income, find secure housing, and gain back their independence for themselves and for their families."
They made $117,571.
3. He's given to Chicago's youth in a ton of ways. In partnership with the Chicago Public Library, he's hosted more than 15 free Open Mike Night events (exactly what they sound like) for high school students, one of which drew Chicagoans Vic Mensa and Kanye West.
Thank you to DA STAFF. Just a group of my friends, no sponsors, no 501c3 NotProfit. Just friends that volunteer. We are for the people.— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) May 12, 2015
He went on a summer camp field trip, part of a larger effort that gave 50 elementary school students what a press release called "a wide variety of public spaces all over Chicago, some for their first time," giving them "the opportunity to learn through music and showcase that knowledge at the end of the summer."
He also put on the first Teens in the Park, a free festival that brought 3,300 people to Chi-Town's Northerly Island.
4. In June, a couple weeks after dropping Coloring Book, the University of Chicago Institute of Politics hosted an hourlong event titled Chance the Rapper and the Art of Activism. Watch the interview, conducted by journalist Bakari Kitwana, whose books include Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama Era and Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop.
5. In 2014, he teamed with his father and brother for the first #SaveChicago, a movement that went to great lengths to prevent any murders from happening on the typically violent Memorial Day. The result was 42 hours without a shooting.
when i was in LA My pops asked me to help with a project. He was tryin to get Community Org's in CHI to prevent every murder on Memorial Day— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) May 27, 2014
He had talked to Churches, Schools, Outreach Prog's and Business's, trying to get them to commit to saving every life possible yesterday— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) May 27, 2014
The plan was to get these mass numbers of people out on street corners Friday night with posters and banners with the plea "#SAVECHICAGO"— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) May 27, 2014
all he asked of me was to say something on social media. and so i did ambiguously through tweets that hinted at an album, or a song #MAY23rd— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) May 27, 2014
And even though i was outta town i checked in constantly. come to FIND OUT WE WENT 42 HOURS FROM THURSDAY TO SATURDAY NIGHT W/O ONE SHOOTING— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) May 27, 2014
not one reported shooting from the day before we stepped on those corners til the day after. http://t.co/pYuDCiJcwa— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) May 27, 2014
In 2015, they did it again, expanding the effort and adding #FaithInAction and #PutTheGunsDown hashtags.
We finna party and protest and protect all wknd. I watched the city go 42 hours without a reported shooting this same wknd last year— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) May 21, 2015
everyone's goin out tonite I kno but 7PM TO 9PM I NEED U OUTSIDE IN THESE STREETS PROMOTING THE SAFETY OF YOUR CITY https://t.co/2vEPnnJBwf— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) May 22, 2015
6. He's spoken truth to corporate power and remained label-less, having released his first mixtape in April 2012 and not sold a single song for profit since. He became Saturday Night Live's first independent musical guest in 2015 and, with Coloring Book, notched the Billboard 200's first streaming-only top 10 album debut. To promote independent hip-hop on radio stations nationwide, he launched RapperRadio.com, a site that lets you tweet a request to your local DJ in about five seconds.
In 2015, he told the Wall Street Journal:
"Label deals suck, that’s just the truth of it. That feeling of getting something free—it’s a complete turnaround from what the industry feeds us. Why charge a dollar for [a song] when that’s not doing anything but making people undervalue music? None of my songs are worth 99 cents. They’re worth a lot more."
He remains vocal about the truth behind label deals, with Coloring Book lines like "labels told me to my face that they own my friends." In a live performance of "No Problem" Ellen, he, 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne led a revolt against an imaginary record label.
7. He's explained how leadership, action and getting informed are constant learning processes—and that no one voice can be responsible for solutions. He told Complex in 2015:
"I think, as a black man, I have a responsibility to have knowledge and have an opinion. I don’t necessarily think, as a person of influence, that it’s always my job to influence people regarding my opinion. I try to explain to people a lot: There is no singular black experience or black opinion or black thought. We are united in a lot of experiences. Because I’m a black man, the life that I live is a part of the black experience, but it’s not something I can just pass off as the ultimate. I think it’s important for me to be qualified to have an opinion on it, and it be informed, but I don’t necessarily think using my platform is always the right thing. It’s more important for [people] to have information. I don’t necessarily always have information."
That same year, he told Hot 97, "They trust me and understand my views. I can't necessarily save everybody that's my age, because people gotta make their own choices."
8. In September, Chance officially revealed his own nonprofit organization, SocialWorks.
A press release cited many of the above movements as early SocialWorks endeavors, noting connections with Covenant Faith Church of God’s Kids of the Kingdom, the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Public Library. It also gave a concise mission statement:
"By creating accessible interactive spaces and experiences, SocialWorks hopes to nurture local talent and open new doors much like what its cofounder Chance the Rapper has done in the music industry. Chance has pioneered a new approach to music business. ...Together, SocialWorks and friends hope to move forward with the same spirit of innovation, bringing the city and its youth together."
For more Chance-y reflection, watch Fuse's Acid Rap–era interview: