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.