Earlier this year, President Trump threatened to “send in the Feds” to fix the “horrible ‘carnage’” allegedly taking place in Chicago—a rhetorical move that helped no one, and confused everyone. Trump’s ill-informed tweet now stands in direct contrast to the recent actions of Chance the Rapper, a born and bred Chicagoan who just announced a $1 million donation to Chicago public schools.
Despite taking home a Grammy for Best New Artist last month, Chance is hardly an up-and-comer. Famously label-less, the rapper is best known for his 2013 mixtape Acid Rap, and 2016’s critically acclaimed Coloring Book, which went on to earn him three Grammy awards including Best Rap Album. While being unsigned would be a serious impediment to any other artist’s career, Chance has somehow managed to attain mainstream success while remaining artistically unrestrained and unconventional to his core. He’s reportedly the first unsigned musical guest to perform on Saturday Night Live, and Coloring Book was the first streaming-only album to nab a Grammy nomination, let alone a win.
But for the slice of America that’s not bumping “Ultralight Beam,” Chance might be better known as the rapper Michelle Obama just tweeted about. On Monday night, the former first lady took a break from looking great and making bank to bless Chance with a social media shout-out: “Thanks @chancetherapper for giving back to the Chicago community, which gave us so much,” Obama tweeted. “You are an example of the power of arts education.” This isn’t the first time these two Chicago exports have crossed paths. Chance, aka Chano, visited the White House on multiple occasions during the Obama presidency, and even attended the final State Dinner—TBT to when our President had black friends who weren’t Omarosa Manigualt.
Chance has always been effusive about the Obamas. After they left office, he announced the #ThankUObama project, a line of T-Shirts and jerseys feting the former first family. And in a GQ interview, Chano gave Barack—“Or, uh, President Obama”—the highest compliment of all: “He’s a good man. Even if he wasn’t president, if his ass worked at, like, Red Lobster, he’d be just a good man working at Red Lobster.”
But while Chance clearly has some respect for Beyoncé’s favorite casual dining joint, he’s doing his best to ensure that Chicago’s future presidents don’t end up serving seafood. Hence his Monday press conference at Chicago’s Westcott Elementary School, where Chance unveiled his philanthropic promise with a political indictment, proclaiming, “Our kids should not be held hostage because of political positions.” While Chance’s one million-dollar investment may have been a shock to headline surfers, he’s hardly coming out of left field. In fact, Chance recently met with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to share his long-held interest in education issues. The rapper’s chief concerns were recent cuts to public school funding, including a $46 million discretionary funds freeze that was announced just last month.
Apparently, the conversation was an unsatisfying one for the Chicago-based artist. After the meeting, he told reporters that Rauner “gave me a lot of vague answers, so we’ll see what happens,” later tweeting, “The fight has just begun.” It didn’t take long for Chance to put his money where his mouth is, ending his million-dollar announcement by insisting, “Gov. Rauner, do your job!” In addition to being a boon for public schools, Chance’s conference—which was live-streamed over Instagram and Periscope—was undoubtedly a wake-up call for the Republican governor, who now needs to patch up this PR nightmare and learn what Periscope is.
Additionally, Chance has pulled another Beyoncé, replacing his personal website’s homepage with an exhortation to “Support Chicago Public Schools” through his non-profit, SocialWorks. The portal leads to a longer statement in which Chance writes, “After years of being underfunded, the Chicago Public Schools system has been forced to cut teachers, supplies, and after school programs…As the people of Illinois wait for Governor Rauner, I will push towards the goal of $215 million and for every $100,000 we receive, SocialWorks will donate $10,000 to a school of our choosing.”
Some people—like Republican presidential candidates who can’t book Beyoncé for their rallies—would like to think that hip-hop artists are bad influences. Unfortunately for them, rappers like Chance are proving every day that using explicit language in your lyrics and giving back to your community are not mutually exclusive activities. In fact, Chance the Rapper comes about as close to a cookie-cutter role model as any superstar millennial. He’s an outspoken Christian with years of outreach experience. In 2015, his charity campaign Warmest Winter raised over $60,000 to provide outerwear to Chicago’s homeless. He’s thrown free events and field trips for city kids, participated in the #SaveChicago social media movement to combat violence, led residents to the polls, and even joined the board of The DuSable Museum, a prominent African American history museum in the South Side of Chicago. Not bad for a 23-year-old.
And in the free time the prolific rapper definitely doesn’t have, he also wrote the foreword to A People’s History of Chicago, by poet and activist Kevin Coval. In the foreword to the Chicago-centric poetry collection, Chance proclaims, “There’s no other place on earth where you can go to a centralized space and see thirteen-, fourteen-, fifteen-, sixteen-, seventeen-, and eighteen-year-olds who want to conquer art and music”—a far cry from Trump’s invocations of inner city carnage. If only we didn’t have to rely on celebrities to believe in our children’s futures and literally fund our public schools.