The Gosh Darn Part You Can’t Tweet
Posted: by The Editor
“Let’s make it so free and the bars so hard / that there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet,” Chance The Rapper crooned playfully on “Ultralight Beam.” That verse, the first real portion of rapping on Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo, was the opening sermon for what would be an entire year and change of Chance The Preacher. The then-22-year-old was entering his third year since the widely lauded Acid Rap crashed servers, and that opening spot on Pablo’s holiest song—arguably the most gracious plug Kanye could give him—presented a rich opportunity to introduce his transformation from Ferris Bueller-esque troublemaker to venerably sober congregant. Four months later he dropped his third mixtape Coloring Book, with album artwork that quite literally depicted him as both the father (to his newborn child) and the holy spirit.
In addition to breaking streaming records, the project, on account of its star-studded cast and clever musical merging of gospel and hip-hop, was virtually bulletproof from the music press. Pitchfork gave it a gushing 9.1, Rolling Stone and XXL each slapped it with the “best so far” tag, and despite having to contend with Frank Ocean, Beyonce, Kanye, Rihanna, and A Tribe Called Quest, it still earned considerable year-end praise.
But this was an album that didn’t need music influencer validation to succeed. Chance’s fanbase was already a cult, and he knew it. His storybook recovery from xaned-out young celeb to born-again expecting father gave him the cred to become an extra-musical influencer of his own, and he crafted a public persona that mirrored the Messiah-like narrator of Coloring Book. He began making highly-publicized donations to Chicago Public School districts, using his Twitter presence to raise awareness of Chicago’s broken education system, and even met with Illinois governor Bruce Rauner to voice his concerns on said issues. These are incontestably noble motions, and Chance’s vested interest in boosting the disadvantaged communities that birthed him is, especially at such a young age, irrefutably admirable.
To the naked eye (stans, tangential fans, people who knew nothing about Chance The Rapper until his, again, highly-publicized charitable deeds) the dude seems divine. And honestly, understandably so. But for those of us who are (at least supposed to be) following his, and every other mainstream musician’s career with scrutiny, his actions since the Coloring Book cycle should set off a couple journalistic alarms.
First, during all of these check-cutting ceremonies, he was decked out in Coloring Book gear, most notably the album’s signature “3” hat that’s become his brand. There’s nothing inherently bad about musicians branding themselves, but there’s something nauseating about watching a dude, in what’s supposedly an act of selflessness, presenting a comically large novelty check in front of a press pool while wearing his own merch. To be clear, it’s not the act of charity and obvious concern for his hometown that’s cloying. Those are commendable moves. It’s that he uses these occasions to turn himself into a billboard for his own financial interests (his career) that doesn’t sit well.
A celebrity using their philanthropy to boost their own celebrity status isn’t surprising, nor is it particularly heinous. But it does become revolting when that celebrity uses their power to bully a publication like MTV News to pull a slightly negative piece of criticism for no legitimate reason. This is what Chance and his management did when a writer at MTV referenced the “emotional disconnect” he felt while listening to Coloring Book. It was, by all standards, a gentle criticism that couldn’t have even scuffed the soon-to-be Grammy-nominated artist and his cherished reputation. He just didn’t like it.
And although it likely wasn’t Chance’s intention to tank the whole publication—nor was it his sole doing, as this extensive SPIN piece on the corruption and duplicity of MTV News explains—he did, however inadvertently, help sink an entire site over a childish, egomaniacal gripe. The type of dangerous, cult of personality behavior that’s both antithetical and sickeningly compatible (depending how you look at it) with the “do no evil” character he’s designed.
Earlier this week Chance said that he’d be dropping a new album on Friday, the day before he’s set to headline the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary concert. Although he’s now tweeted that the record isn’t actually coming this week, he’ll be given an enormous platform to perform for a virtuous cause in the midst of his album’s hype cycle. Coincidence?
UPDATE: Shortly after this piece was published, Chance tweeted that despite earlier reports, his record will not be coming this week. The last paragraph has been updated to comply with this new information.
Eli Enis | @eli_enis
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