Chance the Rapper: Up and coming

Chance the Rapper, real name Chancelor (get it?) Bennett, didn’t make a huge splash in 2012 when he released his “10 Day” mixtape during a high-school suspension, but he’s certainly getting noticed now. “Acid Rap” dropped late April with a stunning list of collaborators, among them Childish Gambino, Nosaj Thing, Action Bronson, and Twista.

The most notable thing about Chance that is likely to either make you love him or hate him (or in my case, hate him, then love him) is his voice. Bennet’s vocal delivery is nasally, for sure, somewhere in the realm of Danny Brown, Lil Wayne, Busdriver, and…Jeff Mangum. The last two are actually more apt points of comparison than they might at first seem because Chance stands out from a lot of the hip-hop game by singing in a bunch of his tracks—sometimes just for the choruses and other times over the verses like Busdriver. His voice is actually pretty good for it too. “Paranoia,” a hidden track at the end “Pusha Man” on the mixtape, features Nosaj Thing’s production credits and a catchy, even emotional, chorus sung by Bennet: “Paranoia on my mind / Got my mind on the fritz.”

This is not to say that Chance is all sobby and none of that tough hip-hop we like. Sure, he’s not as abrasive as Danny Brown, but tracks like “Favorite Song” certainly see him bringing it his fastest and toughest, perhaps thanks to the influence of Gambino’s accompaniment. But that sensitive, melodic side is exactly what Chance can bring to the table that’s a little different, sort of like a hip-hop new sincerity to the irony of Das Racist (R.I.P.) or the vulgarity of Brown.

In the face of some of rap’s toughness and arrogance, serious or not, this kind of heart in hip-hop perhaps was foreseeable. Atmosphere had certainly been playing a similar game for a while, not to mention the Roots, and Kendrick Lamar comes to mind as another recent kindred spirit.

His latest video, a compilation of live footage embedded below, boasts back-to-back sold out shows in Chicago’s Metro. While I haven’t seen him perform, the video seems to indicate a live show that’s still a work-in-progress where hype-men add bravado and machismo to some tracks but keyboardists and female backup vocals add soul to others. Between tracks, Bennet is soft-spoken and genuine, thanking the audience for coming and introducing his accompaniment. The result is that the video feels disjointed, like maybe Bennet, only 20, is still unsure of his image and his place in highly aestheticized world of hip-hop. Let’s hope he lets that sincere side shine and maybe gives the hype-men a rest.

Any questions regarding the future of hip-hop are certainly beyond my pay-grade, but, at least for Chance the Rapper, this heart-hop seems like it might just work out or even blow up. Give his free mixtape, “Acid Rap,” a chance.