In a year of turmoil, renaissance man Chancellor Bennett has been the perfect remedy.
If any part of Kylie Jenner’s Kardashian Kurse that 2016 would be full of “realizing stuff” was true, it is the realisation that music has been a remedy to an otherwise terrible year. This was a year where Beyoncé slayed, Kano gave us a seminal ode to East London, Frank Ocean released a stunning sophomore album, and Skepta won Grime’s first Mercury Prize. We had Stones and Bowie albums, spectacular work from Kaytranada and Blood Orange. Craig David came back. The 1975 released music that wasn’t terrible. While 2016 has been unanimously voted as a write-off, the volume of great music output has been astounding. However, sitting above everybody else is one man: Chance The Rapper.
Since announcing himself with his 2012 mixtape “10 Day”, the ‘new-school’ Chicago rapper’s stock has been steadily growing. However, it is in the last twelve months that Chancelor Bennett has gone from NOISEY-approved internet rapper to having the music industry in the palm of his hand. If Chance’s mentor, Kanye West, had hinted at Bennett’s influence on his creative process in the build-up to February’s “The Life Of Pablo”, the ‘gospelness’ on songs like “Waves confirmed it. It was the opening track, “Ultralight Beam”, however, which stood out. Having idolised fellow Chicagoan West since his youth, the unadulterated joy at finally sharing a track with him burst through, and the fact that critics cited Bennett’s inclusion as the highlight of an album that didn’t even belong to him gave a taste of his dominance in 2016.
Perhaps Bennett had been taking lessons from Kylie, the same song referencing the Grammy’s rules that only for-sale music be eligible. Three months later, “Coloring Book” was released for free, the Grammys changed their rules, and seven nominations for Bennett swiftly followed.
This characteristically democratic release set Bennett apart from others such as Beyoncé, whose “Lemonade” was a Tidal exclusive and is still non-streamable on iTunes, and subsequently changed the music industry forever.
The mixtape itself dazzled, debuting at number eight on the Billboard 200. The gospel teased in T.L.O.P coursed through “Coloring Book”, Bennett’s irrepressibly joyful vocals meandering through various choirs, organs and trumpets. Rather than shying away from features as Frank Ocean elected to with “Blonde”, Bennett’s production saw excellent guest vocals from the likes of Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne and West himself scattered tastefully throughout the mixtape. It was for all occasions; “Summer Friends” a soundtrack to dozy July evenings, “Angels” and “All Night” ready-made club bangers. Its amalgamation of genre allowed it to be a mainstream monster and a critic’s darling, something which artists such as Bon Iver and Solange Knowles comparatively struggled with. This was also a work of unashamed faith, religion giving the wild eyed “Acid Rapper” a tangible sense of lyrical maturity, with fuzzily pleasant lines like “I speak of promised lands, soil as soft as momma’s hands…endless fields of daffodils and chamomile” reminiscent of some 21st century ‘Paradise Lost.’
This maturity transcended the music. In a year where the conversation about mental health is finally being had on a large scale, Bennett’s support for Kanye West showed an acute sensitivity, contrasting Drake’s disappointing dig at Kid Cudi’s similar sufferance. With police brutality at the forefront of debate, Bennett met with Barack Obama to discuss the ‘My Brother’s Keeper Challenge’ and help achieve racial justice for America’s young. More locally, he lent his support to the Chicago Library’s YOUmedia centre, a safe space for kids to hone their creativity. He campaigned against the city’s gun-crime epidemic. On the eve of the Presidential Election, he lead thousands of voters to the polls for early voting, made even more poignant by former Chicago golden-boy West’s pro-Trump stance. Clearly, Bennett’s claim that “I got my city doing front flips!” rings true, in a musical, social and political sense.
Chance the Rapper’ integrity remains. He is still unsigned, despite offers from every major music label including Kanye West’s. His music is still free. He released a bathtub Spotify playlist for God’s sake. It is clear that, despite all 2016 has brought Bennett, he is still ‘Lil Chano From 79th’, and it is this unrivalled combination of talent, empathy, and personality which pave the way for an even bigger 2017.