Over the course of the last year or so, we've collectively watched as two local products have been thrust into new positions in their respective lives. It's a trajectory we've watched since at least 2012, and one which finds Kanye West and Chance The Rapper at an intersection point in each artist's career. As Kanye has made repeated headlines for cancelled shows, hospital visits and rumors of divorce, Chance has somehow continued to build on an already huge 2016, notching seven Grammy nominations and serving as musical guest for the event itself to boot. While plenty has been written about recent happenings, it's interesting to observe that at this point in each Chicagoan's career, their handling of the limelight is largely reflective of the local scenes each came up in respectively.
It was a little over a year ago that West, on that very stage, all but anointed Chance, sending him on a breakthrough year that began with his stellar and surprising performance on "Ultralight Beams" in front of a national audience. In the time since, each artist has enjoyed a considerable amount of success. For West, much of it was expected. The spectacle that was the unveiling of The Life Of Pablo won't soon be forgotten, nor will the larger-than-life touring performance that accompanied it, and the tirades and drama that ultimately saw its end. On Chance's side, the year proved to be a segue to the mainstream, releasing Coloring Book, his first project in three years and making more headlines than seemed possible, even making good on a proclamation from his Kanye collab, forcing the hand of the Grammys to finally include independent artists in their nomination process.
To understand the way each has handled fame to this point heading into Grammy Sunday, it helps to look at the vastly different Chicago's that each act came of age within.
Kanye came up in a divided, angry Chicago that he had to escape to succeed, a fractured landscape of artists separated by city lines. He came from a single mother whom he singularly placed much of his faith and compassion in. Kanye has since tried to fill a perceived void with various endeavors, relationships and high-profile actions in between. While a master of his craft, West seems yet to learn how to build a stable home unto himself, whereas his younger counterpart focused on both from the get-go, perhaps from watching his idol ascend before him.
Chance meanwhile came up in a much more united Chicago music community, one built on the collective progression that vaulted him to the forefront the world over. Born to supportive parents, one of which worked directly under President Obama, Chance came up through the local poetry programs and has always appeared realistically comfortable in front of the limelight. For Chance, a path had been realized previously, the city had seen one of it's own ascend to the highest heights and by the time young Chano arrived at YouMedia, the powers that be within the city's scene had already started consolidating in a way that spurred local collaboration like never before. Kanye's influence on the burgeoning scene was undeniable, as evidenced by the inescapable mobs of black 'Treated' hats at just about every show in 2011-2013, a flag for Treated Crew, the local collective headed by West's former DJ, Million Dollar Mano.
It's poetic in a way that it was the off-shoot collective formed by Mano that initially spurred the ideas that would manifest themselves with Chance, Save Money and the current wave of acts we've enjoyed in recent years. Both artists looked to use their newfound notoriety to bring their friends along. Kanye pumped all he could into Really Doe, Rhymefest and GLC to little national attention while Chance has been blessed with a friend group that has packed blogger's lists for 'Artists to Watch' for the better part of the last half-decade. Everything down to the way in which he goes about prodding his peers into the limelight is taken with an understanding of West's previous strategies. Like a general studying past battle plans, Chance has utilized West's journey in a way that benefits both himself and the community at large.
Many may look at West and see a brash, unforgiving artist lashing out in all directions: fashion, film, music and art in general. In the process, much of the discussion has swirled around his mental state, around his ability to be an understood star and doting father and husband. What many may not realize is how necessary it has been for West to take such varied and long-ranging risks throughout his career. Thirteen years removed from the release of College Dropout, the next intonation of artistry from Chicago studied his career moves the same way he did Michael Jackson's careful footwork. To put it bluntly: Chance might have it more together at a younger age, but he would never have had such an available path to the limelight without the hard-scrabble hustling of a young Kanye.
While this weekend will reveal just how high Chance's star is going to go, it's almost a foregone conclusion at this point that Lil Chano's face is one America will be familiar with for some time to come and it won't be without the help of his predecessors. One thing's for sure though, and that's the fact that each individual's journey to the Staples Center on Sunday have been hugely impacted by the city they came up in. Whereas Kanye had to focus on the world in order to come back to Chicago as a savior, Chance won over his city as a way to show it off to the city while staying there. We may not know what the future holds for either, but one thing is undeniable: the lineage in Chicago is as strong as it's ever been.