Irreproachable Golden Boy: Leaving Charity to Chance
- Chance the Rapper makes a lot of money for businesses with whom he collaborates
- Chance the Rapper benefits personally and professionally from his charity and social impact efforts
- Is Chance the Rapper a credible authority on the social issues about which he cares?
Lil Chano From 79th is golden.
Chance the Rapper is like Midas…
These companies do well to associate with Chance. In June of 2016 Kit Kat began a new marketing campaign which would come to rely on Chance the Rapper. As described by the director of Kit Kat regarding the 2016 marketing campaign:
“the company’s goals were twofold: The first was to increase the amount of social commentary on the brand among the target audience and engage with them. The second was to make Kit Kat the preferred brand of Gen Z and young millennials.”
The Kit Kat executive goes on to add:
“We also wanted to align with someone who passionately loved candy, has sung about candy, has candy references a lot in his songs. We felt he was very relevant and of the generation we wanted to speak to.”
(See also: Sunday Candy)
The above quote encapsulates precisely why Chance the Rapper is valuable to brands…
…If you want to achieve either one of the two following goals:
(1) “to increase the amount of social commentary on the brand”
(2) “make [insert brand here] the preferred brand of Gen Z and young millennials”
…Chance can help you do it.
“The results of the campaign have been terrific for the business,” says the Kit-Kat executive. He goes on to claim “we grew the Kit Kat business’ top-line sales almost 6% last year, which is about 10 times what the category grew.”
*that’s-the-MI — das-touch*
Chance, like other rappers, cares about money. It’s part of the job. But when working on social issues there is a clear conflict of interest.
Sure, Chance the Rapper is building dreams …but he is also selling Kit Kats which students in food deserts — among others — will clearly buy.
Chance the Rapper’s recent foray into the charity arena seems to indicate that part of the operating premise is designing interventions that are maximally profitable for Chance’s personal brand and affiliates thereof. This is an effective strategy for marketing and making money. This is not a credible solution to systemic challenges faced by Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
Chance the Rapper implying that he is David in a battle against corporate Goliath (as he does in “No Problem”) is disingenuous; his story contradicts his words. Again, Chance the Rapper makes a lot of money for himself and businesses with whom he collaborates especially through merchandise, and only sometimes via sugary products. Kit-Kat is just an extreme case of the norm.
At this point in his career Chance the Rapper relies on Goliath for investing in the communities and initiatives about which he seems to care deeply. In exchange he makes them money. And helps them achieve goals (1) and (2) aforementioned. Conveniently his personal brand is thereby enriched as well. When on the song “Blessings” from Chance the Rapper’s recent Coloring Book mixtape we hear “when the praises go up, the blessings come down,” …The blessing in question might profitably be thought of as dollar bills.
Chance does indeed have an army of fans who will march with him as evidenced by the impressively effective Parade to the Polls. But are all the causes about which Chance the Rapper cares so defensibly positive developments?
In casting record labels as the villain Chance carries a banner of righteousness that is undeserved and brazenly representative of contradictory positions. Here is Chance the Rapper, with two of the most commercially successful industry giants of rap, on Ellen claiming he is not bought and sold:
Chance is co-opted by older rappers for the same reason he is copied by Kit Kat:
Goals (1) and (2) aforementioned…
…But there is an additional dimension involved with aging rappers. Age is a notable taboo in rap. Rap is a young man’s game, or so the presumption goes; older artists are often insecure about their age — no surprise. Older rappers are vulnerable to assailant criticism pertaining to their age or their being “old”. There seems to be a perceived political value in associating with youthful artists. Beyond the confines of the rap industry many American pop-stars have known this for quite some time.
…Sure, they are both from Chicago and have commonalities …but they are also both people who understand the politics of the rap game. Notice too that 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne, 34 and 39 respectively are relatively old in rap years.
Rap’s own critique of older rappers is misguided, especially considering rap is often at its best as it ages (see a reflective HOVA on 4:44, career transformations of Andre 3000, and even Kanye West himself “we just blessed to be alive; ain’t that the truth”). Watching rap mature is not too dissimilar from contemplating fine wine.
The constraint to the Chance approach to charity is that only issues which are commercially palatable to Chance the Rapper’s consuming public make sense. This is a problem. Comfortable concepts may feel nice, but they are not up to the task of meeting the complex challenges faced by CPS and the broader Chicago community. And Chance the Activist seems genuinely invested in helping to address just such challenges.
On “All We Got” when Chance the Rapper says “Man I swear my life is perfect, I could merch it” there is (at least) a double entendre. “Merch it” is a colloquial term in Chicago vernacular. But so too we find that the merchandising aspect of the Chance operation looms at the fore of his cultural significance. There are Chance cookies, iconic Chance 3 New Era hats, hoodies, posters and of course, lighters. Not coincidentally “I could merch it” is an example of how Chance the Rapper uses Chicago culture to advance a merchanting agenda which is in turn affirmed by his fans in a self reinforcing cycle.
It goes like this:
>Chance draws from cultural activities like those which take place through his non-profit SocialWorks’ programming.
> Chance like the eyedropper tool accompanying graphic design software, soaks up experiences from such venues.
>He uses his platform musically, through social media, promotion, features and otherwise, to communicate these cultural activities to a broader market while benefiting financially and otherwise— After all: he has access to major distribution channels.
>His fans in Chicago hear themselves in his music and tweets in an almost literal sense. And then these fans submit what they’ve learned back into the system via Chicago community cultural endeavors represented by programs like OpenMike.
>How could fans not affirm — speech, for instance — which they already affirm in practice through usage in their conversation across the city? This is part of the reason Chance the Rapper is worshiped. It is part of the reason Chicagoans are reluctant to criticize the hero of their city; in a way doing so amounts to self-criticism, which often puts us in a vulnerable position which we would sometimes prefer to avoid. And this is also part of the reason criticism of Chance is proffered at one’s peril.
Chance the Rapper advocates for people who did not benefit from the same kind of access to Chicago power brokers that he enjoys and has benefitted from since he was actually a son of the city (not just mythologized as such). Chance the Rapper maintained privileges which were uncommon to his peers. He ostensibly sings about privileges he had in contrast to his fatherless peers (contrast Summer Friends and “All We Got”). Meanwhile, Chance the Rapper has a dad; his father is and has been for sometime connected with the most powerful people in Chicago, and arguably in the world.
Chance advocates to receptive listeners the importance of art education. When Michelle Obama tweets “Thanks for giving back to the Chicago community, which gave us so much. You are an example of the power of arts education” she, per usual, is spot on.
But arts education is a safer bet if you can be assured that even if you are not doing well in school, you will probably, nonetheless, come out fine on the other end. Many CPS students do not have this type of security. Most do not.
Everyone deserves access to arts education. We must demand equity in arts education. But we may also point out that there is a case to be made that substantial investment in supplementary literacy programming, especially digital literacy, could better equip CPS students to be agents of change. But, alas, such a case is beyond the present scope of consideration.
Not every Chance fan in CPS will become a Rapper like Chance …nor can they. Vince Staples in BagBak encourages the youth: “We need Tamikas and Shaniquas in that Oval Office.” But such a scenario becomes less credible if students are focused primarily on artistic endeavors. If we tell students that the prioritized avenue for contributing to social growth is through artistic routes — represented for instance by the recent suite of SocialWorks grant funds as well as their broader programming initiatives — we limit their horizons and capacity for things like STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) endeavors or debate.
Besides, black kids (and there are some in Chicago who are Chance the Rapper fans) hear this message quite a lot already: the only credible way to change your community is to profit from your art and thereby enrich kin.
Chance the Rapper in his SocialWorks address for Support CPS: Chance the Rapper Arts Fund, is talking about funding and this matters. If we prioritize arts education funding because someone personally, or an organization particularly, thinks it is worthwhile it may inadvertently have the effect of making funding less available (i.e. scarcity) for other types of education programming. Literacy programming comes to mind. Such is not an insignificant consideration in a city with dramatic differences in lexicons from student to student depending on where they live and upon where they go to school.
Chance the Rapper’s emphasis on arts education also promotes a narrative that suggest arts education is where school funding should go. Remember, Chance is hugely influential among people represented by goal (2) aforementioned. So they hear “school”, “funding: ” “arts education” …And then they see Chance on Ellen at which point thought may arrest yielding instead to admiration of a dreamy photo:
There is of course a deep need for art as well as a culture of arts within our communities. This is especially the case in communities which have limited access to public art and especially when contemporary museums and gallery collections are too often informally reserved for the well-off.
Solving problems faced by CPS and Chicago communities more generally does not comprise only of solving funding issues. And solving such problems does not comprise solely of funding arts education. And certainly the mere funding of pet projects of people, principles or pop stars is an inadequate solution to serious problems.
It may be noted that sound social policy sometimes suggests to esteem and seek to listen to, work with, and on behalf of dedicated school leadership under certain conditions. The Broad foundation, for instance, places high valuation on school leaders and school leadership; premising administrators as key agents in school change. There is a research basis for this approach. Still, administrative leadership is part of the formula for school success. It is a major variable but one that is necessarily constrained within a broader framework of relationships between teachers, parents, students, politicians (and apparently rappers).
Chance says its a problem of care (14:25). He has said this before. This supposition is not a full story and is counterproductive to genuine efforts to solve problems. There are emphatically people who do not care about the interests of some or all or each of the CPS community. But I believe, perhaps naively, that people like Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of the City of Chicago, and Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois do indeed care about the impacts of their decisions. They have different ideas on how best to care for CPS and thus engage in a critical dialogue of consideration. But might we focus on methods not motives? — though motives do matter — Lets instead presume reasonably that some politicians and often people in CPS care. For if we do not, working together on issues of mutual concern becomes even more of an uphill climb, perhaps to the point of impossibility. And let us also recognize that the problems faced by the CPS community rarely have clear solutions: all the low hanging fruit has harvested.
When Chance the Rapper does a PR stunt from which he and his collaborators benefit financially does he consider how it affects the broader education policy environment? …or the political circumstances more generally? …in the city, in the state, in the nation? …Does he “care” about such considerations?
Professionals in the non-profit sector may be familiar with the question of treating problems rather than symptoms. Doctors certainly are, preachers maybe not. Chance the Rapper gives money to schools in a budget crisis and looks like a hero. But does he consider the possibility that such actions may have the unintended consequence of creating an additional disincentive for much needed political action on the part of elected officials?
Politicians notice when even in their inaction they will not be held duly accountable — not when righteous angels like Chance swoop in to save the day like some strange version of Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl”. In this way Chance the Activist sweeps up symptomatic dust while deep structural issues are left unabated …or even more troublesome: less likely to be addressed. Politicians and community organizers are trained to think of such considerations. Are rappers?
When the Church of Chance takes unilateral action in the guise of grass roots who is there to critique?
…Businesses? No, they are too invested.
…Media? …no, critique of sacred cows is a gamble which newspapers like the Tribune may be unlikely to take given the previous backlash to doing so.(see Chance and Chief Keef article). Media might sell, but it might hurt the brand too so there is a clear risk.
…Okay, so maybe public officials whose job it is to engage in critical dialogue for civic aims?…Ah, but surely, no politician could be stupid enough to risk — even the possible perception of — speaking unfavorably about the city’s golden boy. Notice Rauner’s and Rahm’s caution (notice there is no link here) in managing their respective Chance fallouts.
People represented by goal (2) aforementioned might find Chance cute, handsome and charming but are they willing to critically consider the question:
should charity be left to Chance?
Chance bears a banner of righteousness and even religiously so. This implies that those who stand in opposition are not righteous. We have already seen that the David and Goliath casting is (what we may politely call) phony.
Chance uses the religious good vs evil casting at every turn in his music and in his dialogue with fans.
Such a mindset precludes appreciation of nuance and uncertainty. Binary world views tend to work that way. If the scenario is always presumed to be in black and white it becomes hard to see gray.
More concerning however is a recent occurrence where his management seems to have put considerable pressure on MTV to suppress a critical review of Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book mixtape. Presumably this critical review must have either cut deep or jeopardize someone’s profit. It’s hard to tell which.
Now, motivations matter….
While the televangelist who peddles divine message for personal pecuniary gain may perhaps be a knowing party to their own mischief and greed we do not suspect the same of Chance. Nor, in my opinion, should we. That which can be chalked up to fallibility needn’t be mistaken for malintent.
Chance’s approach to charity is clearly not a case of ill-intent. Chance clearly has skin in the game especially given that his daughter will be a CPS student. Chance the Rapper is invested in Chicago, and Chicago is invested with him. His name is all over the SocialWorks programs, his merchandise, and he does indeed put his money where his mouth is. But this last point is not necessarily a positive development that comes without potentially harmful implications to those Chance claims to act on whose behalf.
The myth of King Midas is a cautionary tale against greed.
But greed is not the primary concern when someone donates a bunch of backpacks to students who need them. A more troubling concern would be that of being irreproachable, or above critique…
Chance The Rapper is not a credible authority on issues of CPS education. Chance attended Jones College Prep selective enrollment high school. This fact relates to the earlier point about Chance the Rapper advocating on behalf of many who did not enjoy the same kinds of opportunities as said Mr. Rapper. Chance is relatively candid about Jones Prep being a “really good school” in interviews and is comfortable offering commentary about the school through his music. Diehard fans know Chance the Rapper is from a relatively privileged background, and they do not seem to mind. And why should they? Chance is not the only nor the first person with considerable privilege to make art and become and activist.
Chance describes his experiences at Jones Prep:
“…I got suspended a lot, but senior year I got suspended for smoking weed right before spring break, which was sick because I had three weeks in a row off. I wasn’t really good at high school or getting good grades and shit, and at that point, I wasn’t going to graduate. I was looking at my life and just like, ‘Who am I supposed to be?’”
…So what then, we might ask, is his claim to authority in discussing charity or the complexities and nuance of the CPS system?
Consider for a Moment Chance the Activist
Chance by certain criteria has been successful on some social issues he supports. This is an admirable characteristic and critical to the broader efforts to support learning in Chicago. Let’s take a look:
As an isolated case-study this is exactly the type of programming from which students stand to benefit greatly. (But I will here too suggest that in his recent SocialWorks announcement when he talks about this event it is telling that at first he begins using the term “we” regarding the effort and then switches to the term “I” when he describes “I had a kid come onstage and just eat tacos while voguing”(4:46). This seems innocent but perhaps speaks to the way he perceives his role; it seems a self-aggrandizing advocacy. And one that uses cursory glory-sharing with teachers and organizers perhaps as a shield against this very criticism.)
“Breaking the city record for early voting”, was accomplished in part by the Chance and SocialWorks’ ‘Parade to the Poll’ event. This is no small accomplishment. This event represents a tremendous achievement for the citizens of the city, for often malaise millennials (those represented by goal (2) aforementioned), and for people who care about democracy.
SocialWorks and the Chance the Rapper operation more generally seems savy to the needs of the communities it serves. Chance and representatives of the like speak like sensible non-profit organizations do; focusing on its professed core mission. The aspirations SocialWorks make sense, seem clear, and they even look like they have a good plan for success and sustainability… Particularly Impressive is their ability to help steward productive collaborations with diverse institutional partners, to mobilize rapidly, and to listen.
The above successes do not make Chance the Rapper an expert; but they do make him a credible practitioner in social organizing. And like any credible practitioner Chance the Activist benefits from criticism. We are perhaps all too familiar with the dangers of leaders surrounding themselves with eager yes men, lit fans, and/or fanatical worshipping followers. We find that despite our most earnest intentions we are fallible and prone to err especially on issues which evoke strong emotions.
At present one may be forgiven for asking the following:
> is Chance the Rapper indeed irreproachable?
> if perhaps he has been put on a pedestal?
Everything Chance the Rapper touches is commercial gold. Will this be true for social endeavors? It may seem reasonable to suppose so given his modest but formidable track record. But theoretical social successes too could create its own problems.
Chance represents a privilege and political connection known to some of Chicago’s residents on the north side, but perhaps less common in the communities where young fans adore him. Chance the Rapper is an artist. There is no preconception that he would be an academic. But is this who we put forward as someone well equipped to lead us on complex social issues of tremendous import to our communities?
Leaving Chance to Charity: What Could go Wrong?
Chance the Rapper takes comfortable mainstream positions and there is a financial incentive to do so (see also: disincentives to not do.)
Who could possibly be against arts education, or funding public schools, or supplying back packs?
What sorry fool would disregard Chance the Rapper’s heed in “No Problem”; suggesting instead that no one is beyond reproach — not even Chance the Activist — nor the business interests he represents?
Earlier I claimed about the Chance approach that the “constraint is that only issues which are commercially palatable to Chance’s consuming public make sense …comfortable concepts may feel nice, but they are not up to the task of meeting complex challenges.” An aversion to critique may work in the entertainment industry but it is outright dangerous in social work. An attitude of being beyond reproach is presumptuous. And even more dangerously than being presumptuous, such an aversion is coupled with what some might reasonably view as exaggerated religious zeal on the part of Chance the Rapper.
Is someone who is only willing to take positions which their particular publics find comfortable someone to rely on for solving problems which require many different and some unique perspectives? What about critique and peer-review?
Its easy to suggest that by not signing to a major label Chance the Rapper is therefore not the type of “sell out” so dreaded in hip-hop. People — especially people in power — especially Chicagoans — seem less inclined to notice that this very decision not to sign has been quite profitable for Chance and those who have the fortune of his favor.
As Chicago fawns over their not so Chance rapper there seems to be little to no appetite for critique. But it is required because Chance the Rapper has decided to attempt maintenance of a leadership role on social issues critical to the City of Chicago and the broader education of a nation.
Chance Charity Bags
At the recent Bud Billiken Parade Chance the Rapper gave out backpacks to students who need them. Chance, like the fictional Billiken is indeed “a symbol of pride, happiness and hope for black residents”. And yet giving out charity backpacks in Chicagloand is nothing new. In fact, Supplies for Dreams and others have been doing it for years. And such efforts indeed have a proven capacity to genuinely improve the lives of many people.
STATE Bags is what may be referred to as a buy-one-give-one company. TOMS is, famously, another such company.
“they’re flashy but flat efforts that use consumption as the vehicle for participation, and are designed more to create social capital for consumers than to make a positive, global impact.”
The article is important. As is their recognition that “there is a vast difference between conscious consumerism and actively fostering social change–and confusing them is dangerous.” The authors of the article contrast this assessment with one concerning “social innovators” who they describe as:
“catalyzing true transformative social change work to shift the entire paradigm of inequity by altering the systems that force people into lives without, rather than just addressing the symptoms produced by those bad systems.”
Chance the Activist may claim to aim at the latter but can Chance the Rapper achieve this?
The authors of the Fast Co article go on to add:
“This is the critical and fundamental difference between providing resources and facilitating access, between creating dependence and fostering empowerment, between perpetuating broken systems and revolutionizing them.”
So sure, students have backpacks they need…
…Might we be here next year giving out bags at the same parade?
..Also, importantly, won’t STATE Bags use this effort to sell stuff like this:
…Do we care?
As previously mentioned, Chance the Rapper recently announced a major gift for arts education across the city. At the event he was literally introduced as the “king of Chicago”(:29). I will here point out that the New Chance Fund, the summit and associated initiatives have been met with high praise and have also prompted the writing of this piece.
“each conversation, every contribution, every tweet brings this city and the nation a step closer to providing a well-rounded, quality education for each and every child…” (8:57)
What Chance the Rapper is here describing is not a strategy for education reform; but rather the criteria for meeting goals (1 )and (2) aforementioned. If quality equitable education in Chicago is a byproduct; it will be merely by chance.
Funding and budgeting are critical to CPS as well as to broader national equity in education efforts. But time and time again we find out that funding is not the only obstacle to a schools success. Race, class, values, even religious beliefs bear on decisions we make about education and discussion of such concerns are not always readily amenable to comfortable positions held by the consuming public. Chicagoans might reasonably seek leaders that don’t make personal financial gain as prerequisite for their social work if the city wants to credibly address some of the more serious problems facing CPS.
…But he is no Steve Jobs…
…Which made the suggestion even more important when considered as a PR stunt. Chance openly jokes at his on-the-nose ”theatrics” (1:18). We might cautiously compare Chance the Rapper to some of the pastors known to sing-a-long to the gospel music from which he draws. One is reminded of a familiar model: tell people you are selling God; when really you are selling music, merchandise, your ideology, and yourself.
For Chance the Rapper to be taken seriously it is essential that people view him as an authority on issues he cares about. Only problem is: he is not actually a credible authority on some of the issues about which he cares. Hence it becomes quite important to do things like dress up like Steve Jobs and point out his ”clicker”(1:00).
Chance the Rapper is perhaps representative of what some Midwestern elites, some found on the North Side of Chicago, prefer from their counterparts on the South Side: don’t rock the boat too much, make sure everyone eats; don’t bring up issues which are bad for business or politically controversial. Chance the Rapper offers the appearance of substance without accountability; its no wonder people muse that he may yet become a politician.
What is missing though in Chance’s world is the type of civic accountability conferred on to public officials through democratic systems of representation under our American system of government. To be clear: such systems do not always work as they are supposed to (as we have recently noticed). But they do serve a purpose which is overlooked only at great peril.
Chance consistently talks about the profound ability of prayer, faith and God to help him through hard times. “Ultralight Beam” with Kanye West is one example. In an interview with GQ Chance talks about how complications surrounding the birth of his daughter prompted him to “pray a whole lot, you know, and need a lot of angels and just see shit in a very, like, direct way. And…you know, God bless everything, it worked out well.”
I’m glad things worked out well for Chance in his personal life. And I sincerely wish him and his family the best.
But simultaneously complex and nuanced social systems cannot run on prayer, and they cannot run on short-sighted charity. Albeit both may play some considerable role. Faith certainly does.
Its a bit cliche for me to rely so heavily on “chance” puns. I think of Drake’s line from “Draft Day”:
“And if I left this shit to chance I would’ve picked a name like Chance the Rapper / Yeah, no offense cause I don’t know that nigga / I’m focused on making records and gettin’ bigger.”
At least Young Money, OVO, and Drake are honest about their shameless pursuit of money — a la “money is the motivation”.
Chance on the other hand is cashing out with little in the way of critique, or even such illuminating self-examining candor as none other than “Drizzy’” Drake of Canada.
Chance the Rapper operates as if he is a puppet of the corporate interests he furthers — He may not be; there is much to which we, the consuming public, are not privy. Conjecturing as to whether he does so as part of a broader strategy i.e. political/religious philosophy or principles, or because he does not realize some of the more nagging contradictions of his positions is beyond the present consideration. One imagines that Chance is surrounded by people who are meant to keep him informed and operational. These people, as well as Chance, are presumably well-meaning.
We do not dare question Chance the Rapper’s motives but we might inquire as to the wisdom of his methods as well as those of his collaborators.
Under Chance the Rapper’s glorified charity everybody eats. In exchange, a few students have access to meaningful arts education. And a bunch of millennial’s feel good about helping to solve CPS’ problems. Some people may think this is a worthy trade. Maybe it is. Maybe it is not.
…Even assuming everything goes exactly right?
…We presume further than nothing?
It appears hard for Chicagoans and others to be critical of Chance the Rapper. Take for instance, Chicago-based Consequence of Sound (CoS):
A closer look:
“Chance and SocialWorks certainly deserve a large amount of praise for their efforts, and as President Trump’s stupefying plans to cut funding for the arts begin to take shape, the onus for offsetting those horrific plans will fall more and more on private citizens. As Chance himself once rapped: ‘Don’t believe in the king — believe in the kingdom.’”
The last bit here is noticeably ironic given that CoS is here suggesting reliance on a king, and not a kingdom (this is strange too because CoS is usually a reliable source for thoughtful critique as evinced by the recent review of Arcade Fire’s — “Everything Now” ).
We find a similar irony when Chance uses the lyric in “Blessings”. Remember: when the praises go up, the blessings come down — for Chance in particular — even if alongside his collaborators in general.
The golden boy has become a father of his own. He is no longer a boy but seems to remain golden. Chance is rap royalty. In Chicago he is treated like a king: his decrees are irreproachable. But Chance is no longer a class-clown from the South Side. As an adult leader in Chicago and as a father of a future CPS student will his leadership contrast or repeat some of his more youthful follies?
Cities like Chicago need leaders like Chance to be successful if they are to thrive…
…Such leaders will not be successful in facing difficult social challenges if they are irreproachable.
…The social initiatives of such leaders will not be successful if as a precondition to perusal we require the criteria of comfortability to a consuming public and/or producing financial gains for business interests involved.
*Chicago is an amazing city. Its emerging cultural leaders have great potential…
…if Chicago uncritically leaves charity to chance;
it does so at its own peril.