With Daily Show Appearance, Kevin Coval Underlines the Chicago Renaissance

The names and faces that have been familiar here in Chicago are quickly finding their ways into the households and phone screens and stages the world over as the scene in the Second City continues to ascend to the first place in popular contemporary culture. While the likes of Chance The Rapper, Hannibal Burress, Vic Mensa and many more have come to be the image of the city that the rest see, it's layers are beginning to similarly see the light of day as fans, journalists and vultures dig deeper into the dense creative network of the city. Last Thursday, just before the weekend hit, one of the more important voices in that network appeared on national television to underline the mentality and spirit that have pushed those locally to affect the world at large. Sitting across from Daily Show host Trevor Noah, Coval coolly and effectively embodied all that this scene and this moment in Chicago has come to be.

Over the course of the last half decade and beyond a movement has been boiling. A movement based in words and understanding of authentically telling one’s own story, a movement that has benefitted greatly from the attention of one precarious figure: Kevin Coval.  Appearing on The Daily Show last week, Coval served as an underlined reminder that the scene establishing itself here in Chicago goes far beyond the music and surface-level theatrics. 

Whereas trends, talking points and political correctness tend to drive conversations and word choice elsewhere in the country, the Renaissance here has been driven by a stubbornness for the authentic underlined by an innate mutual respect thats apparently plentiful in the middle of the country. In that way, we often talk about the problems we’re forced to face, rather than we choose to because in Chicago adversity punches you in the face before slapping you awake from the pavement to put you to work. In that way, Coval embodied much of those tenants, making a point to realign the conversation last Thursday as Noah began to discuss the perception of a “common narrative” around Chicago youth today. 

As a perceived leader within the scene, we couldn't ask for much more than Coval. While the music scene locally has become a national obsession that has yet to truly peak, the Renaissance stretches far beyond notes and vocals and in many ways, the interview with Noah was the first peek into a side that Coval described as "(Chance is) part of a moment we're having in Chicago. Hundreds of young people who are taking the tools of Democratized technology to find a fan base and speak to a larger audience. I think young people in Chicago have always affected how the world gets down." While not the central focus of the interview, the sentiment is a wildly important one that has been a large catalyst in why the city finds itself somewhat leading the coasts in thought and art. While the rappers and singers may be the most easily recognizable, they would have a much tougher time ideating and executing their work without the thoughts, sentiments and general disposition of the loyal communities of writers, managers, painters, spoken word artists, session musicians, photographers, stylists and assorted other creatives who help create the spectrum from which the artists emerge. If the support side, the less easily recognizable side, is a few layers below Chance and the gang, it appears the public is beginning to dig deeper. Our luck is that they found Coval first, as his understanding of what it means to be a writer or a creative mind from this city appears to be perfectly in line with the greater movement. 

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I’ve always been proud to come of age in this city at this particular time, felt blessed to exist in the orbits of so many talented individuals, but more than anything else, I truly value the fact that the city and the scene as a whole tend to reflect the values I’ve tried to embody in adulthood. Our stars come equipped with broad hearts and shoulders rather than heads & egos, independence is at a premium and in the smallest big city in the world side eyes abound at the scent of anything lacking in authenticity or conscious thought. A sort of code exists in Chicago. One that quietly erodes those who violate it or choose to cheat it’s steps without speaking them to the world. Instead, their absence is characterized by raised eyebrows and elaborate stories with simple messages. To exist for any amount of time here in Chicago you have to have thick skin, quick wit and an ability to recognize and execute a hustle. And it’s not easy. It’s from these unspoken, time-worn Chicago traditions juxtaposed against the thematics of legendary writers and poets like James Baldwin and Gwendolyn Brooks results a contemporary writer in the classical sense, aiming to create distinct change through a focus on the written and spoken word. 

It's no secret at this point in time that there's something special happening in the Second City. By being himself and talking from the heart, Kevin Coval made sure that the rest of the country understands it goes beyond the music.