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Chance has three Grammy Awards, a new concert film, “Magnificent Coloring World”, and is now partnering with Starbucks for the Made Ready campaign, inspired by Starbucks ready to drink coffees.
CHICAGO – It’s almost like his fingers can’t help it. On a recent May afternoon, whenever Chance the Rapper has a pause in his busy schedule, he reaches over to the nearest sample machine and starts tapping out a new beat. The staccato sound soars all the way up to the high ceilings, wraps around the room and flows right through anyone who is nearby.
It’s a hot day, just on the brink of summer, and he’s sitting in the living room of the House of Kicks, the spacious home outside Chicago where he creates music and films many of his Instagram videos and other projects. At 28, he’s already won three Grammys, but he’s still always reaching for whatever is next, whether it’s music, hosting “Saturday Night Live” (twice!), acting in a movie, making his own full-length concert film or inspiring the next generation through his nonprofit SocialWorks.
“I feel like I’ve always been ready for the moment and made for the situations that I’ve been in,” he said. “I think being made ready is an understanding of who you are and knowing that whatever you are going up against that day, you will prevail.”
Being on the precipice of promise and ready to seize opportunities is a theme that comes up often in his work. His song “Blessings,” from the Grammy-winning 2016 mixtape “Coloring Book,” features the lines, “Are you ready for your blessings? Are you ready for your miracle?”
The newly released trailer for his full-length concert film “Magnificent Coloring World,” which will be in AMC Theaters this summer, begins with the question, “Are you ready?”.
Now, Chance is teaming up with Starbucks for the Made Ready campaign, inspired by Starbucks ready to drink bottled and canned coffees. On June 28, Chance will drop his #MadeReadyDuet TikTok challenge, inviting customers to duet with him and share their “Made Ready moment” – showing how they are ready for whatever is in front of them. Three winners will receive a personalized shout-out from Chance and a bottomless mini-fridge* with a one-year supply of Starbucks bottled and canned coffees. One grand prize winner will also win a live one-on-one video moment with Chance where he’ll hype them up for their next big moment.
“I wanted to partner with Starbucks because I’m made ready, and I’m always proud of what I have going on and what I’m going into,” he said.
Making his own destiny
Chance, who was born Chancelor Johnathan Bennet grew up listening to Michael Jackson on cassette tapes (in elementary school he won a Michael Jackson dance contest) and the gospel and R&B music his parents played at their house in West Chatham on Chicago’s South Side.
An early home movie shows a glimpse of the performer he’d become as he and his little brother Taylor, now a rapper himself, dance in their pajamas together to the song “White Christmas”.
Their mom, Lisa Bennett, worked for the Illinois Attorney General as the director of outreach. Their dad, Ken Bennett, worked as a state director to Barack Obama when he was a Chicago senator, and also worked for him in the White House as a special assistant during his first term as president. At a White House reception, President Obama said to Chance “You are both fearless and compassionate if you remain this way, there is absolutely nothing you cannot do.”
But he wasn’t always met with that kind of support. When he was in high school, several of his teachers ridiculed his dream of making music – so he set out to prove them wrong. He released his first mixtape, “10 Day,” named for a 10-day suspension during his senior year, in 2012 when he was only 18.
On it, among other things, he pays homage to his hometown and his family. “Let’s land in the land where the Famo stay; grind all day ‘til the fam OK; it still warm my heart to hear my grandma pray.”
He credits his dad with being one of his biggest inspirations to be ready for whatever life has to offer – and to do his best, no matter what.
“I feel like since I was able to watch him and his work ethic, attention to detail and his pride in a job completed and done to the fullest extent, it shaped a lot of how I view things that I work on – whether it’s something as important as getting the arrangements together and set design for a big performance or award show, or sweeping the floor or cleaning up after yourself,” said Chance. “Having pride in my work is something I learned early on from my pops.”
Part of that pride is being true to himself and his vision for his art. Since the beginning, Chance has always turned down offers from labels so he could be an independent artist. He released his early mixtapes for free to anyone who wanted to listen.
He followed up “10 Day” with “Acid Rap,” and then, in 2017, “Coloring Book.” It won three Grammy Awards, including Best Rap Album of the year, giving it the distinction of making it the first streaming-only album to win a Grammy.
Through all his success, except for a short stint in Los Angeles, he’s remained firmly anchored in Chicago, where he came up. It’s where he sometimes gives surprise pop up concerts (he performed at the VIP opening night for the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in 2019); it’s where his family and many friends are and, five years ago, it’s where he opened his nonprofit. It was time to give back, he said.
Paying it forward in memory of a mentor
In 2016, he and two of his best friends founded SocialWorks, which focuses on youth education, civic engagement, mental health and supporting those who are unsheltered.
“It’s really just a good way to stay in the city and know what’s going on and who needs help,” he said. “We focus on the youth because that’s the natural progression of things.”
SocialWorks has raised over $10 million in its efforts to empower youth. Most notably, raising $5.1 million to support in-school art and literature programs at Chicago Public Schools and a $1 million investment into mental health care and access. The organization also collected more than 142,000 coats, blankets, and warming items to support those experiencing homelessness.
In 2017, Chance was featured on a limited-edition Starbucks gift card that benefited SocialWorks.
One cornerstone of SocialWorks is the OpenMike program, which has gone virtual during the pandemic. During OpenMike, kids perform their own music and can sometimes meet artists like Chance and others advanced in their careers.
After all, it was how Chance himself came up. Mike Hawkins, widely known by Chance and others as Brother Mike, hosted open mics at Harold Washington Library Center’s YouMedia Center, where a young Chance performed. Brother Mike died in 2014, after helping provide a launching pad for countless Chicago rappers, artists and activists. Chance wants to help give the same opportunities to others.
“The reason why I even started working on SocialWorks was to start an open mic. I came up through an open mic with a mentor named Brother Mike who really shaped my worldview and, if it wasn’t for that mentorship, I wouldn’t do what I do. I think it makes sense to go the kids because (as the next generation), they can help more people.”
These days, Chance is also focused on his own kids at home. He and his wife, Kirsten Corley Bennett, have two daughters, Kensli, age 5, and Marli, 1. He thinks of the way his parents raised him and tries to instill the same principles in his girls.
“Be honorable. Be truthful. Be willing to help people and willing to admit when you’re wrong,” he said. “Those things I think are embedded in my character.”
A different kind of live concert
According to the Concert Archives website, Chance performed around 850 concerts around the globe between 2012 and March of 2020 when the world abruptly ground to a halt. As venues closed during the pandemic and people hunkered down at home, Chance channeled his energy in a new direction, making his first ever concert film, “Magnificent Coloring World,” based on footage shot during his “Coloring Book” tour four years ago.
On May 2, he teased it by tweeting, “If I made a movie would u go see it in theatres?”
The film, which will be released later this summer, marks the first time an individual recording artist and AMC have partnered to distribute a movie, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“It’s a huge deal to have a feature film be released in theaters, especially at a time when I haven’t been able to get the theatrical experience for a year. No one has,” he said. “I’m learning different parts of film and anticipating becoming a director. So you have to learn all departments, how to dress a set, how to light a set, how to frame things up and editing.”
It’s a way for him to stretch and try new things. And he said he hopes that his partnership with Starbucks and the Made Ready campaign will fuel others to express their own creativity.
“I want to hopefully inspire people and remind them that there’s an appreciation for what they’re doing just by continuing to grow – just by being willing to get ready.”
He edited the trailer of the “Magnificent Coloring World” himself, something he’s particularly proud of. “It leaves the mystery there a little bit, right?” he said, smiling.
The opening scene shows him standing on stage before it then cuts to a packed audience, cheering, just as things were before the pandemic. Just as he imagines they will be again soon.
The music swells and the refrain begins: “Are you ready?”