So I’m going to go on a bit of a hard left turn here. It’s entertaining to read (and write) pithy, snarky dissertations on the flailing state of the world of contemporary culture in toto.
But every now and again it may also be helpful to pull one’s head out of the bloody sand, and realize that there are plenty of beautiful things out there to celebrate.
Not in that blithely enthusiastic (and more than a little bi-polar) ‘Super 8 a plastic bag dancing in the wind’ sort of way, but rather in the sense that we are, collectively, offered a level of access, opportunity, and sheer relentless ability of expression than at any other period in time.
Not to say that we’re not inexorably fucked. Oh boy, are we fucked. But we can talk about that another time.
The impetus for this eureka moment? A little mixtape from a 23-year old named Chancellor Bennett. If Kanye is the devil on hip hop’s one shoulder, inciting further fear, paranoia, and ego, Chance the Rapper is the diametric Angel, the culture’s id, juking like L’il Buck with a smile so large he could poster-child that racist ass Chinese toothpaste.
We all love the story of the dark and tortured artist. Peter Silberman literally crying tears of bourbon while writing the seminal Antlers record Hospice. Rimbaud giving up on poetry before his 20th birthday (a medium he so thoroughly mastered in his teens that he probably still had a lock on its mantle until Eliot started beef with April decades later). James Dean’s professed hope for (and ultimate success with) the idea of ‘live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse’.
And, while doomed youth may be romantic, its drawing out certainly isn’t. Who really wants to think of Marlon Brando at 500lbs, airlifting thousands of cheeseburgers to his obscurantist fantasy world; the isle of lost carbs.
But I digress. Intentionally. Because these are the stories that resonate. Those of confusion, frustration, self-destruction.
When was the last time we identified with a story of celebration? Of outright, naked joy? Prince’s inciting us to party like ’99? Biggie’s thrill that honeys were finally confusing him with margarine? Slick Rick buying a girl a slice of pizza and then turning his own name into an acrostic so sublimely silly that it belonged on Sesame Street?
On the first track of his new record Chance raps “My daughter couldn’t have a better mother/and if she ever find another he better love her”. One of the larger Chicago papers praised his magnanimity. Seriously? Do you even know what that means? How about his humbleness, his wherewithal? Hell, his humanity. Why are we sooooo surprised by that sentiment? And what does it say about us?
There’s a track on this record where D.R.A.M. just sings “You are very special/you’re special too/everyone is special/this I know I know is true when I look at you”. The hook on ‘No Problem’ is him ‘threatening’ record execs who are furious that he won’t sign with them, first singing “if one more label try to stop me/there gon’ be some dreadhead n****z in your lobby” then absolutely crooning “you don’t want no problem with me”.
Even in the gangsterest mode he can muster, he still sounds bemused. Like a professional fighter gently suggesting that you don’t push him out of the way to order a drink.
And why not? Forget the fact that he’s become supremely successful. He sounded like this on his first mixtape, #10days (which was inspired by, and entirely conceived during, a 10-day high school suspension for truancy). To me, Chance is jazzed for the same reason that we all should be: the plethora of new technological mediums for producing, sharing, and celebrating the best aspects of our individual viewpoints. Of the fact that internet can be (and occasionally even is) something more than porn and puppies.
Think about how hard it was to create something two decades ago. Now, we can win a Grammy using a second-hand MacBook Pro, and go from Grandma’s basement Youtubing to SNL in less time than it takes a bartender to Google the recipe for a Death in the Gulfstream.
In n asked the toughest question I can reasonably conceive of: “When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?” Unless you’re ready to read another 132 000 words, and wait for me to source an 8-ball before I get writing, we’re not gonna get to the bottom of that right now.
But what we can all agree on, I hope, is that the future is precisely what we make of it. So maybe stop whingeing, stfu real quick, and go say what you want to say. We’re out here. And for the first time ever, we genuinely care what you have to say. Make it count.