You probably don’t recognise the name Chancellor Johnathan Bennett, but when it comes to his stage name, Chance the Rapper, there’s more than a chance you’ve heard the 24-year-old’s hit songs.
Making his mark on the rap scene with the widely acclaimed mix tape Acid Rap in 2013, it was his latest album Colouring Book that highlighted him as one of the most compelling rap artists of the decade. Scoring three Grammy awards for the release (a good effort, considering it was the first ever streaming-only release to pick up the award), Colouring Book features Chance narrating stories about his upbringing in Chicago, fame and his faith in God.
Unabashedly unashamed of his faith, when he accepted his award for best rap album, he said “Glory be to God. I claim this victory in the name of the Lord”, before thanking his parents for their support; and this same boldness translates into his music and his life.
Yet Chance is clear about one thing: while he is a Christian, he doesn’t make ‘Christian rap’. Instead, he pushes the envelope with his lyrics so they are accessible to everyone.
“When I was going out and trying to fully give glory to God, in my setting, I feared that people would be dismissive of it, like, ‘This is Christian rap, I’m not trying to hear it.’ But it’s the total opposite: People were very accepting of it,” he said to Teen Vogue. “I think that’s always the goal of art, is to make people ask themselves questions.”
Crediting his father as the person who taught him about integrity, Chance lists Kanye West, Barack Obama and comedian Dave Chappell as his greatest influences growing up.
Today, like many of his heroes, he has been identified as ‘cultural leader’—he donated $1 million to Chicago public schools and discusses racism in the US, of which he says, “I’m very into…strengthening what it means to be a rapper and to be a black dude from Chicago. I just want to show expansion in those things and remind everyone who is similar to me that there’s a lot of power in being a black man with integrity.”
Chance’s road to fame and faith hasn’t been easy: he was once suspended from school for 10 days for marijuana possession, and is a single father, sharing custody of his daughter Kensli with his ex-girlfriend.
Given this, what makes his music so compelling is his authentic exploration of what redemption means as a Christian. Songs like ‘Blessings’ are a reminder that irrespective of our circumstances, God provides us with all we need, while ‘All We Got’ reinforces his commitment to base his life on Christ’s teachings and devote it to praising God.
While Colouring Book has been heralded by some as one of the best albums of 2016, it’s important to note that it is peppered with strong language and themes most wouldn’t define as ‘proper’ for a Christian. But perhaps that is what makes Chance such an endearing performer: he has the ability to welcome God into every facet of his life. The light, the shade, and the moments most of us would rather forget.
As Chance says, “When the praise goes up, the blessings come down”, and he shows that, no matter what you’ve been through, there’s always room to lift God up in your life. You may be surprised by what happens.