Chance The Rapper on the Making of His New Album, Festival in Ghana and Changing Hip-Hop
Ending a three-year gap since The Big Day album, Chance The Rapper is ready to pop back out with a new album, a festival in Africa and a whole lot of inspiration from political activist Marcus Garvey.
Interview: Kemet High
Editor’s Note: This story will appear in the Winter 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands soon.
Chance The Rapper is turning a new page. Ten years ago, the Chicago native came into the rap game and has since become a maverick in the world of independence with a string of classic projects like 10 Day, Acid Rap and Coloring Book, among others, to soundtrack it all. The entire world has watched the Grammy award-winning wordsmith take his talents from the depths of SoundCloud to the history books of hip-hop in an unparalleled manner. Even with a résumé real enough for two millennia, the 29-year-old rapper isn’t quite done fulfilling his legacy.
The next chapter of Chance’s career was shaped by a trip to Ghana last January with his Chicago brethren and fellow artist Vic Mensa, who also has roots in Ghana. There, the two members of the SaveMoney rap collective visited locations like Labadi Beach, Elmina Castle and the mausoleum of Kwame Nkrumah, who was the first president of the country. Those eye-opening experiences stimulated Chance to revive the dream of famed early 20th-century activist Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line shipping company in the 1920s, which connected the dots between the Americas and West Africa.
Actualization of that is soon to come in two forms. One being Chance and Vic’s Black Star Line Festival, which will take place on Jan. 6, 2023, in Accra, Ghana, and will consist of panels, brunches and a free concert, among other initiatives at the hands of Black joy. The second is Chance’s next album, Star Line Gallery, slated to arrive in 2023. With these next endeavors, he hopes to inch his people closer to liberation, all while building on a sound and brand that has turned him into a household name.
While speaking with XXL, the father, husband and newly stamped cinematographer discusses his upcoming album, traveling to Africa, his legacy, the best rap album of 2022 and more.
XXL: How have you been spending your time personally and artistically over the last few years?
Chance The Rapper: I’ve been trying to have new experiences and create new relationships and new friendships and new habits. And musically, we’re always growing as writers and musicians. And even in what influences us and what are the soundtracks to our lives, in terms of what we listen to.
What’s the last thing that inspired you?
The last thing that inspired me is not something new, but I was just rewatching the Lauryn Hill [MTV] Unplugged [2.0]. The fact that it’s just her vocals and a guitar for a couple of hours of straight. New material is just like a very potent way of sharing music.
How did you educate yourself on Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line?
I’ve become more interested in Marcus Garvey and Garveyism after having a conversation with my grandmother. She told me that her grandfather was a Garveyist and that she was raised very militant. And not just in her political activism, but also in her faith. It was something that surprised me. It made me want to learn a little more about Marcus Garvey, about the Star Line shipping company that she was telling me about.
What Marcus Garvey did was he created industry for a lot of Black folks all across the East Coast and through the South, where they basically created businesses and worked in tandem to create opportunities and economic stability for Black folks. And a lot of Black people flocked to this idea of righteous indignation that was taking place out of the idea that Christianity was meant for Black people and meant as a means of revolution for Black people.
I was going to learn that history at some point, but it taking place right before I came to Ghana and figured out how influential and global this understanding or this conscious self-recognition was definitely made the concert, it made the words, it made everything else obviously more possible and more understandable for me.
What made you want to throw a festival in Ghana?
Me and Vic, on the last day when I was in Ghana during my first trip was [last] January, we went out to this spot called Labadi Beach. We were actually at [Ghanian singer] Black Sherif’s birthday party. I had never seen the ocean from this vantage point. Looking at the water and being there in a time of joy and thinking about all of the Black people that I’ve met throughout my life, and thinking about the fact that we’re getting closer to having the agency to have our own network and our own relationships.
And it brought me back to this goal and dream that Marcus Garvey had of having his own shipping line that could connect the Americas and West Africa. I’m a musician. Vic is a musician. So, our first step and main means that we know is through music and creating community through concert and event and through panels and conversations. That’s what the Black Star Line Festival is.
What can fans expect sonically and thematically from your next album, Star Line Gallery?
I think what fans can always expect is for it to sound like Chance. I don’t think it sounds like anybody else. I actually know it doesn’t sound like anybody else. But it is very influenced by a culture and a lineage and a legacy that precedes me. You can expect it to be very Black.
It’s not necessarily drenched in trauma or it doesn’t necessarily have that Black sense of humor. It’s really me and my travels, creating new friendships, getting better in my different art forms such as videography and cinematography. And it’s me just bearing witness to what I see and bearing who I am.
How do you get better at this point in your career?
I think in all things you get better by repletion and practice. So, one thing that’s helped me out a lot is doing writing exercises by myself or working with other writers, like Aja Monet and Vic Mensa, to do prompts together and continue to create at a high level.
I think sometimes as writers, you start creating because you have to and that sometimes becomes frustrating. But when you create because you can, you amaze yourself a lot.
How did you shift your approach artistically after the release of The Big Day album in 2019?
I know when I made The Big Day, there were a lot of changes happening in my life. Not only was I getting married and planning a wedding, but also about to have my second child. The same thing with Coloring Book. I had just had my daughter and was moving into a new place at the time. Life is happening always and it’s an important thing for it to be an inspiration. But sometimes when you’re creating, because you feel like you need to create, it doesn’t produce an environment that’s liable for you to express it the best way.
And I think what’s been great about this project is that I’m really inspired. Traveling to Italy and going to the Venice Biennale, which is one of the oldest and respected art fairs in the world, and being in that space, and being surrounded by Black folks from France and Cameroon and the islands and Scotland and Brooklyn and all of these different places. And being able to feel like somebody that’s still learning and giving myself the permission to grow is the first step to creating something that you can be really proud of.
How have you responded to the idea of falling off?
I think that’s a narrative that people want to push or stand on for some reason. But it still stands that I’m Chance The Rapper. There’s literally only one Chance The Rapper that ever did it like this. And that’s not just in rap. That’s period. These niggas is puppets. These niggas are controlled on everything. And I stand on what I believe [in]. I speak when I want to speak, on what I want to speak on. I’m respected by Dave Chappelle and Lauryn Hill and Dr. Julius Garvey and people that mean something to me.
I’m the independent artist with the highest-charting album as an independent artist. The Big Day was No. 2 on Billboard . Coloring Book is the only album by an independent artist to win Grammys or to do it without selling a copy. But I’m not in the part of my life where I have to tell my story yet. That’s when I get to my 60s.
Right now, I’m the first nigga to be throwing a full festival in another country, yet alone on the continent of Africa. So, maybe it’s important that they spread that narrative because maybe they think it makes my efforts less potent, but we both know that’s not true.
What’s your relationship like with Lauryn Hill?
I’m incredibly, incredibly honored to know her and to be able to be in conversation with her when I am. She’s very supportive of me and very kind and intentional about her words when she talks to me. And I just think Ms. Hill is definitely one of the greatest rappers of all time. Absolutely one of the greatest writers of all time.
As a story in itself, just the way that she even handles her family and the way that she prioritizes things in her life, both personal and business, is something that should be admired as a person. I hope and believe that our community should be perpetually in gratitude and appreciation of what’s she’s given and what she continues to give voluntarily via her music and her story.
How do you view your impact in the rap game?
I’m the boat! Like I said, it’s a whole lotta G.O.A.T.s but it’s only one boat. That’s me. I love to watch things that I’ve created, or popularized or made feel possible continue to live and breathe in the game. This is about to be the 50-year mark of hip-hop. I’ve only been in it 10 years and I’ve changed a lot of things.
When I think about myself within hip-hop, I think about myself as a grateful, very appreciative pupil of this thing that we call rap. And I think of it as an engine for our liberation as Black people. So, I’m a leader. I could be a young leader, but I’m a leader.
Looking back, would you have signed to a major at any point?
Hell nah. No. Definitely wouldn’t do that. I know that my younger self would tell me that he’s proud and that it’s beautiful that I accomplished all of these things for him. But also, I would look at my younger self and say, “I’m proud of you.” My younger self is my hero. I didn’t know anybody famous when I was growing up.
I didn’t know anybody that made it off rap. Chicago was known and is still kinda known as the city of hella hate. Niggas did not rap together, get on together, perform sold-out shows at clubs and shit really until I started doing shit at 19. If I could talk to myself, I’d just say, “Keep going.”
What type of music do you put your kids onto?
I try to be as diverse and educational with it as possible. It’s kinda hard to fully give your kids a comprehensive understanding of Michael Jackson when they’re really young because of the differences of styles and genres of music that he made across his life. So many things about him are things that I want to teach to my kids. I remember when my daughter’s favorite song was “Remember The Time.”
I remember when her favorite song was “Candy Girl,” which is obviously New Edition, but very influenced by The Jackson 5. But me and my daughters’ favorite song that we listen to all the time is “Just The Two of Us,” the Bill Withers one.
Where do you feel like hip-hop excelled and lacked in 2022?
I think it’s excelling in creating opportunities for the message and the content to be spread faster and further. It has remained the most influential art form and the most successful art form by people of different demographics, backgrounds, incomes, religions, whatever.
Where I feel like it lacks is that the leaders of the music don’t necessarily take the responsibility on of propagating a message that could liberate our peoples. The whole point of music is that it creates a loop in time for people to revisit and people create memories to it, get married to it, dance to it and sing it in the shower. It becomes a mantra almost and those things become crees that we live our lives by.
These might be the only artifacts or evidence that people have of our existence. And if we continue to spread a message or a depiction of who we are in a certain light, it becomes fact and it becomes hard to reverse the effects of it.
What do you think is the best rap album of 2022?
Man, I gotta say Kendrick’s [Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers]. Kendrick is a very personal writer, a very vulnerable writer and tells his truth, his true story. And I think that should always be respected and revered and protected. I loved “Mother I Sober.” I loved “Rich Spirit.”
There’s a few records on there that are really important to me and I just think that the more vulnerable and more truthful that we are in these records, the better history that we’ll have going forward.
What are your goals and plans for 2023?
Further liberation. More music. More video. I want to eventually make a scripted film piece, but I’m happy to continue making these very well-shot music videos and documentary pieces. Once I finish this music project, then I can take some time to work a Black Star Line film.
Buy the winter 2022 issue of XXL magazine when it hits newsstands in January of 2023 or online at the XXL store.
Read Chance The Rapper's interview in the winter issue of XXL magazine, on newsstands in January 2023. Check out additional interviews in the magazine, including the cover story with Pusha T as well as conversations with Freddie Gibbs, Ab-Soul, G Herbo, DaBaby, EST Gee, Murda Beatz, Morray, Ice Spice, Jeleel!, Armani White, Destroy Lonely, producer Dez Wright, singer Kiana Ledé, actor Shameik Moore, plus a look at hip-hop's love for wrestling, a deep dive into how new artists get on in hip-hop these days, the ways in which women in rap succeeded in 2022, the rapper-run podcasts the game has grown to love and a tribute to rappers we lost in 2022.