Here in Chicago, there are two distinct movements when discussing the local hip-hop scene. For most, there are two important eras that pace the scene: the Kanye wave and the ‘New Age’ wave. The former took place from roughly 2002 to about the time ‘Ye became a household name capable of upsetting even the President of the United States. The second is still going. Having developed over the last five years or so, it has grown out of a combination of separate movements in the city that culminated this past week in the crossover of Chance The Rapper as West appeared to pass the torch in a way on the stage of Saturday Night Live. It’s a collaboration that has been dreamed of by those locally for years and comes at a time when each is at the most influential points of their respective careers. It’s a collaboration that essentially sees ‘Ye interacting with the embodiment of his own influence. More than anything though, it’s a closing of the gap between the pair of movements that have positioned Chicago as the next great center of music and hip-hop.
To be sure, this has been coming for some time. The first tease that the influence and the influenced would come together came with the signing of Vic Mensa to Jay Z’s Roc Nation and subsequent appearance on ‘SNL’ alongside the young MC as well as the single that followed, “U Mad”. Then we got photos of Chance and ‘Ye together backstage at Coachella, his calling out Chance at a performance in 2015 and then the rumors over the last week or so in circles around Chicago that the pair had been spending a lot of time together during the week leading up to the new album’s release.
Watching Chance walk to centerstage as Kanye looked on from the side, it was hard not to see the moment as a literal passing of the torch in some ways to the next superstar to emerge from Chicago. The same way Jay-Z blessed ‘Ye with the Roc-A-Fella chain, Ye put Chance front and center on Saturday Night Live in a way he didn’t even allow Vic a year earlier. The harmonies came somehow tighter. The moments were just a little more on point. It was apparent the confluence of Chance and his team and the genius that is Kanye West came together to create something in “Ultralight Beam” that will stand the test of time. There were rumors leading up to Kanye’s performance this weekend that Chance and him had been spending a lot of time together, a sentiment underlined by Kanye’s blaming and subsequently thanking Chance on Twitter for pushing the album release back and helping with “Waves” and “Ultralight Beam”.
Whereas Vic seemed to take the Kanye co-sign as a reason to follow behind the leader, Chance seems to have proven to ‘Ye that he can stand alone, or rather side by side with one of his heroes. While it’s addressed on this album with an entire track, there’s a lot of us that have been waiting for Kanye to find the soul again and through Chance, it appears as though he may have done just that. The fact that Chano did it his way, bringing Donnie Trumpet along to boot, says a lot about what will happen moving forward.
The only way to grow larger once you're on top is to make or anoint the next king and by placing Chance front and center on this project he essentially could be responsible for Chance possibly earning the first truly Independent Grammy win, a goal that Chance has mentioned several times over the last few years. Similar to the way Jay pointed to 'Ye to carry on as the central figure in hip-hop, so too could Kanye be blessing the next star out of the 'Go as he finds success in fields outside of music.
Chicago is a city with a chip on it’s shoulder. We don’t care about what happens in New York, we feel like we’re overlooked, we’re upset we have to deal with winter but there’s no way we’ll leave. It’s with that sort of backdrop of thinking that one can begin to contextualize the importance having arguably the largest pop culture icon of the last twenty years be from Chicago means to the city. Kanye understands this. Kanye is a Chicagoan. It’s with that in mind that I believe Kanye is not only positioning himself to be the genius that propelled these two unique artists even further into rarified air that they could never have achieved on their own, but simultaneously preserving the role that his hometown currently holds as the central locale to the production of art and culture in the 21st century.