When Chance the Rapper appeared on the cover of Complex’s October/November 2013 issue, it was the first time the Chicago MC had fronted a major magazine cover, an accolade most unsigned artists only dream of. Almost four years later, Complex’s print incarnation has transformed into a video series called The Complex Cover and Chance remains unsigned. But he’s won a few Grammys—no big deal. And he has a kid—definitely a big deal.
Today, Chance is focused on making the most of his new life—as a musician, as a parent, and as an activist, fighting for Chicago and its public schools. In Complex's first video cover story, Chief Content Officer Noah Callahan-Bever—a new father himself—sits down with Chance to talk about the birth of his one-year-old-daughter Kinsley, his trailblazing path through the music industry, and his ambitious plans for the upcoming project he considers to be his first album. Click above to see the video, or scroll below to read the interview.
Complex: You and I met in 2013.
Chance the Rapper: Yes, we did.
A lot has changed in both of our lives since then. Most notably, we both have children.
We’re both dads now.
What does being the world’s best dad mean to you?
Man. Well, I have the world’s best dad currently. Most of the stuff that he showed me has been his dedication, his time management, his commitment to being truthful. It’s all about what he’s instilled in me. So, I wanna have the type of relationship where I’m a trusted figure beyond a dad. I wanna be a good friend and a good example.
Has being a dad changed how you think about your parents?
Definitely. My mom and dad have always been really close to me and very hands-on with everything that I’ve done. Good people.
I feel like it humanized my parents to me. It made me feel a lot more forgiving towards them, because they’re just people trying to figure it out.
I’m in a unique position [with] a lot of the things you would think you would get past because of the “successes” that I’ve had. Like, I’m honestly, in real life, thinking about moving in with my parents right now. I think, anybody, if they were in my position—if they were 23 with a kid for the first time and were working—they would find comfort in being able to stay with their parents. If their parents are willing. I guess that’s just what it all comes down to; if they’re willing. I’m in a position where I want to be closer to my parents now, because I realize how important that is. There was never a point, ever, in my life where I can remember loving someone as much or more than I love my mom until I met my daughter. So, it made me understand that my mom loves me more than she loves anybody in the world, and that’s crazy to me. So of course I wanna be around her.
Do you feel like you understand when they worried about you when you were a teenager? Does that make sense now?
Definitely. I’m understanding that cyclical thing of it all: I’m realizing, “Oh shit, my kids are probably gonna try and sneak out and smoke dope and argue with teachers or do whatever.” And my parents probably did the same thing. It’s kind of sobering. To a certain extent, it’s just gonna keep going. I’m gonna have kids, my kids are gonna have kids, and so on and so forth. But, there’s also a lot of beauty in it and something romantic about it.
"I’m honestly, in real life, thinking about moving in with my parents right now."
Take me back to finding out your lady is pregnant. What is the first thing that shot through your head?
Holy shit. I think most people go into denial, if you’re a dude. You know what I’m saying? I’m not shy in saying it: I didn’t expect to become a father when I was 22. It had a huge impact on what I was doing. I was touring a lot, trying to figure out where I was going in the world. At the time, I hadn’t started on Coloring Book yet. I was about to release Surf when I found out. I was in limbo, kind of. It was three years out from Acid Rap, still figuring everything out. I’m still figuring everything out, but it was just another thing on my plate. I was scared and I was in denial, but every day it became a little easier. I’m talking pre-having a baby — because after having a baby it just gets harder. I went from a place of just rejecting it, to not just being optimistic but beckoning it, like, “I’m ready to have this baby. Let’s fucking go!”
Were you in the delivery room for the birth?
Yeah, fucking intense right?
I was too, dude, that shit is super crazy.
I’m having images now, actually. Fuck. It’s also so fucking beautiful, though. Did you cry?
Yeah. Oh yeah.
You gotta cry.
When the baby came out, they patted her on the back, and you get that first breath—tears were pouring down my face and I had no control over it.
Yeah. It’s a strange process. It opened my eyes to understanding, like, the other side of death. I knew people that had kids; a lot of my friends had kids when they were young. But I had never experienced joy like that before. I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my life—I didn’t realize it was a lot until I realized Chicago is different than a lot of places. Seeing the antithesis of that and all of this light and joy made me be able to say things that I could never say on record. I couldn’t say I swear my life was perfect on Acid Rap, because my life wasn’t perfect.
So, tell me. You have the baby and begin working on Coloring Book shortly thereafter. As a writer and a creative person, for me, it’s been incredibly difficult to find that space to think to work on stuff, to sequester yourself. How did you approach that when you were working on the record with the baby?
It was kind of impossible. I didn’t have any space or anything like that. I talk about it a lot, how we camped out at the studio with, like, 17 air mattresses in this huge building. My daughter and the mother of my child were also staying at the studio with me in a room on a terribly uncomfortable inflatable mattress. Trying to build a home inside of a studio—it’s impossible.
But getting to take my daughter places when I’m not on the clock—that’s like, a fucking surreal experience. Going around your family or around her mother’s family and having them interact and having kids around, and really just delving into family life, is so fucking dope and so separate from any joy that you can experience being creative.
Lauryn Hill talks about it a lot. I met her recently, and I have a sideways picture of her hanging up in this house. When she wrote “To Zion,” it’s in a lot of ways a resignation letter from making music. But it’s her debut album, and so it’s hard to understand how [she] could do that. I understand the song so much more [now], because art just reflects life, or examines life. Anything you create, it’s secondary. It’s a reflection to what is actually going on. Existence is the most beautiful thing, and when you really get to experience life with your kid, you know—you know!
"There was never a point, ever, in my life where I can remember loving someone as much or more than I love my mom until I met my daughter."
Has your attitude towards success changed as you've enjoyed it?
There was definitely that whole dust settling feel. When you win a Grammy, you don't get to take it home.
So, the Grammys—damn, I hope I don't get like, killed by the Grammy Illuminati for saying this, but when you go onstage, those Grammys have no name on them. There's no imprint on it, or anything. And you literally only get to walk with it from the stage to backstage, and then there's a short guy who takes it from you.
So, the next day, I kicked it with my uncle and my aunt and their three kids. My nephew just turned 7. This is the year of the seven, by the way—there's gonna be a lot of cool things that happen with the number seven this year. But, anyway, it's his birthday. He just turned seven. They came over, and we just kicked it. And my uncle asked me, is this like, the dust settling thing? Is it like—he gave me an example of Felix, who's my little cousin that just turned seven. He was saying that Felix was great all week and had an amazing birthday and was so nice to everybody, and then the day after, he was seven year-old mean to everybody. They were trying to figure out why he was so upset. She asked him right before he went to bed, "Are you upset because you were so excited for it to be your birthday and now your birthday's happened and it's the next day and it's, like gone?" And he was like, "Yeah. I think that's probably why I'm upset."
So, after [the Grammys], it was definitely kinda like where do I go now? But it reminded me of how I've been thus far. [It's] so important to look at everything as milestones and not, like, the grand achievement. I never made music so that I could win Grammys or so that I could play SNL or so that I could throw a festival. Those are all really, really, really important things to me, but they're just checkpoints along the road to heaven.
Is it harder to make connections with new people after reaching this new level of success?
To a certain extent, yeah. Going to parties is different. I used to be the most outgoing person at a party. I used to get hella phone numbers, and I also just made mad friends. That's why I've been able to be successful in the industry, 'cause a lot of people that I would work with ended up still being my friend afterwards. Because I like to make friends. But now, I go out and I'm not really trying to talk to nobody. I'm kinda sitting in the corner or hanging with the group of people that I had just left another place with. They're like, why did I even come to the second party? I think it's good that way though.
When you have a kid, people on the inner rung you still see, 'cause it's important. All those people on the second and third tier who you'd see like, once every three months—
Whenever you'd go out.
Then you can't go out, 'cause you have a kid, and you start to realize, "Oh, we never went to the movies together or fucking just chilled at my crib before. I only see you when we're outside, and now I have a baby in my house, so why would I want you in my house?" Then you're like, "Oh. You're not really my friend. You're somebody I know." So, yeah. I've fully figured out who's in that inner circle and a lot of those people I ended up hiring. So I see them all every day.
Your celebrity has grown dramatically in the last 12 months. I'm sure your finances have also grown in tandem. Has that put stress on many of your relationships?
No. A lot of the people I've been working with have been my friends for years now. I do get stressed when we're trying go to Navy Pier or we're trying go to the movies or we're trying go somewhere, and I'm slowing up the group by stopping and taking pictures with people, or [when I'm] not able to come hang out at all 'cause I have to do something. But my real good friends kind of got filtered out in that in-between period between Acid Rap and Coloring Book. All my in-between friends got lost somewhere in between. So, now I'm in a good place—I hang out with who I want to see. I don't really have a lot of people that are like, "Oh, you changed!" 'Cause I'm still here.
"I’m not shy in saying it: I didn’t expect to become a father when I was 22."
So, I noticed that you were one of the writers on “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” from Kanye’s record. Were you the brains behind the infamous "bleached asshole" line?
No, I didn't do that line.
Yeah. No, I didn't.
He has a knack for coming up with lines that are right on the borderline of being cringe-y, but somehow they make the song memorable.
'Ye is a comedian in a lot of ways. He writes stuff that is painfully funny and painfully true. And that's why you respect comedy and that's why you respect his work. His best lines are lines that are just funny, whether it's, like, a word being mispronounced, or a weird take on something that a lot of people wouldn't necessarily say out loud—not making light of [it], but in a clever way exposing something that's socially wrong, you know? We've had some very good conversations and some very good hangouts. I went over there a couple months ago—I was staying in Malibu for a little while, working on some new stuff, and he was out there, and we had like, a little play-date with Saint and Kinsley, and it was awesome. We kicked it, and we talked about everything going on in the world.
Are you an anxious person? Do you deal from anxiety?
Yeah, definitely. But I don't know if it's necessarily more than anybody else in the world. I think anxiety is also something that I'm just now being exposed to. A really big conversation and idea that I'm getting introduced to right now is black mental health. 'Cause for a long time that wasn't a thing that we talked about. I don't remember it. I don't remember people talking about anxiety; I don't remember, when I was growing up, that really being a thing. Now I'm starting to get a better understanding of that part of my life, [ but] I'm scared of medication and shit like that. I'm cool with self [medication]—I like to smoke weed and shit, to chill out, but now that I've gone through so many different stages in a short period of time I'm not really trying to try no new drugs, even if they prescribed. I'm chilling.
You've talked about seeing friends literally die in front of you, and going to more funerals than a person should go to as a teenager. Do you see behavior after that and think it might be the result of—
Yeah. I think I could to a certain extent have PTSD. But, nah. I don't got no PTSD. I'm chilling. I don't ever want to convince myself that I'm hindered by any of my experiences. I also believe in G-O-D. Everything that's happened in my life, [someone] already knows that that shit happened, and what's going to happen, and put things in place for certain things to happen. So I can't look at anything like this is a crippling event that happened in my life and now shit has changed. I don't feel like that. Maybe it was supposed to happen, I don't know.
There's definitely a lot of things that have happened in my life that would cause me to think a certain way or feel a certain way. But I don't label those experiences as traumatic events. They are events that were paradigm shifts in my life, but I don't know if they cause a disadvantage.
Both musically and it seems, in your personal life, you've embraced faith in a newfound way. What denomination are you?
I guess I'm a Christian. I don't get to go to church every Sunday, but I still do attend church. I have church at home. But I think one thing that everyone gets caught up in is the organization of it and the church itself. A lot of people that are quick to tell you that they're an atheist or that they're not Christian or whatever, you could talk to them for a long time about spirituality and about a God and how their God exists. [But I'm] not trying to convert everyone, you know? I'm just talking about my faith. Like, that's just what I believe. So why wouldn't I tell you about the good news? I've seen that shit, you know what I'm saying? You should trust me!
But, at the end of the day, I try not to get caught up with my denomination, 'cause, like, God never asked me if I was a Christian. I just know what I'm supposed to do and what I'm not supposed to do, you know? And it doesn't really tell me to tell other people what they're not supposed to do. Everybody's got their own path and they have their invitation to the seat at the table.
A lot of artists, when they get to your level of success, the next thing that they do is launch a label, sign artists, and become a mogul. But it seems like you've taken a completely different tack where you are actually empowering other artists to do their own thing.
Yeah. That's like my main goal. In order for me to continue to thrive, I need more artists to do it themselves. I try and stress this as often as possible. I don't mean do it by yourself, like literally, like, "I'm doing everything." You can bring on your friends and professionals that you know and build a business where you're the upper management. Where you're the creative, and you are the last decision maker, and you don't ever have to feel compromised.
Labels, legally, should have to release a list of names of all the people they have signed. Because if you knew how many artists are in deals with any label, you'd be like, who the fuck is this? Why did you sign this person seven years ago and their debut album is still shelved? Why don't I know anything about this artist? I don't want to see people keep going through that, and I also want to see myself thrive. I'd like to be proof that it works.
I don't want to be the one guy it worked for. That's not my goal at all. I'm trying get other motherfuckers to just do it.
"I think I might actually sell this album. That's, like, a big step in itself. I kind of hate the fact that I can't chart."
You do need a manager; you do need somebody to book stuff for you; you do need an assistant; you do need video directors and an engineer and a tour manager and a production manager. There's a lot of things that you'll need as you expand. But [when] you sign to label, you get a boss, and that shit's just fucked up to me. Why should you have a boss?
On the song "No Problem," you say, "If one more label tries to stop me." What have labels done to try to stop you?
Push me out of headline positions, so that their artists could be a headliner or, like, not cleared songs. Certain songs didn't get cleared; the samples that were good to go didn't get cleared.
Do you feel like that has to do with spite for your independence?
Yeah. And I mean, it's not like a big conspiracy theory. It's just like, niggas wanted to make money off me and I said no. In a lot of positions where it's either them getting the money or me, of course they're gonna step in the way. Also, I've in the past told people they shouldn't sign with certain people. And it's not 'cause I want them to sign with somebody else. It's just 'cause I met that person and they're not good people. So, I tell them that, and when [labels] hear that back, they tell other people bad shit about me. The cool thing is the shit about me ain't true, so I'm not worried, but it is like a little bit of a high school thing.
In the interview you did with DJ Semtex, you talked about how your next project is going to be your first album, and that everything that's preceded it was a mixtape. What is the distinction that you make between those two things?
Opening the scope. I think I might actually sell this album. That's, like, a big step in itself. I kind of hate the fact that I can't chart, really. I can chart, but the way they have the streaming shit set up is weak as fuck. It's unfair. 1,500 streams is the equivalent to one [album sale], and that's just that's unfair. Nobody listens to their songs [1,500] times when they buy it—fuck outta here! So, it makes it hard. I can't really compete with other people. Not that the charts matters at all, but like, come on. Anyways, I think having it for purchase would be dope. Also, this is all hypothetical. There is no album. I can feel fans squirming in their chair, like, "Oh shit, he's changing!" This is an idea.
It's just something you think about sometimes?
Yeah. Like, I have songs recorded, but I'm not working on a Coloring Book or working on an Acid Rap. I want to make something that's got a wider scope. 10 Day was all about getting suspended. Acid Rap was a lot about acid. Coloring Book was a lot about being a father and God. I think whatever this album is, it wouldn't be so centered. Acid Rap and 10 Day and Coloring Book was like a trilogy in itself. One aesthetic, one goal. Whatever my next thing is, it'll be a bit bigger. Like, maybe there'll be some type of visual component to it. Like it'll be a movie, or it'll be a play, or some type of tour. But something a little bit different than Acid Rap and 10 Day and Coloring Book.
Thank you for the candor and the time. It was good.
It was dope. That's a wrap.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.