The mixtape, his second, came out April 30, 2013, though the show won’t be till August 19. I suppose this will give me adequate time to reflect on Acid Rap, since I can’t quite process that it came out ten years ago. I realize the actual anniversary date is Sunday, but I’m not sure the next four days will help me catch up.
I started writing about Chance in early 2012, when I was a freelance Reader contributor. I first interviewed him for a story about a local hip-hop collective called The Village, whose members were in community with Chance. When he dropped his debut mixtape, #10Day, that April, he won me over with his earnestness and bravura. I didn’t care for all his creative choices—his decision to rap over Beirut’s “Nantes” on “Long Time” rubbed me the wrong way then, but I understand it represented a cavalier sensibility that coursed through the best blog-era rap, and also made him such a promising MC. I could sense he was onto something big when he first played me snippets of what became Acid Rap later that fall for a Reader story previewing his first Metro headliner.
I had no idea how big we were talking.
I remember sitting in the Reader offices the afternoon Chance dropped Acid Rap and crashed Chicago hip-hop blog Fake Shore Drive. I’d written another story about Chance in anticipation of Acid Rap; this time it was a feature, and it landed on the Reader’s B-side cover. I’d made plans to swing by Jugrnaut for the public listening party that afternoon, and I wanted to listen to the mixtape beforehand. I’d heard Acid Rap by that point—most of it, anyway. But in the second song, “Pusha Man,” I noticed something new, a verse that wasn’t there when Chance first played it for me just weeks prior. This line caught me: “See my face in the streets, in the tweets / And a Reader or a RedEye, if you read Sun-Times.”
It took me back. My work has been referenced in song before and since then. But this felt different. Part of what I loved (and still love) about Acid Rap is what Chance captured about Chicago in that moment—he did as much to document a changing of the guard in Chicago creativity as he did to help engineer it. Many of his peers, including those who contributed to Acid Rap, have become stars in their own right while expanding the notion of what it means to be a Chicago rapper. Acid Rap captured all the youthful euphoria and optimism of the moment, and all the history that the city went through in order to arrive on April 30, 2013.
I’m glad I got to witness it. I’m honored I got to document it for the people who picked up the Reader that week. And, unbeknownst to me, I ended up, in a small way, as part of the larger story.
I pursue this work because I want people to get excited about the music of our city, and the music they might not know about; I want them to know what makes it special, and all the small details that went into bringing an album or a song to life. It’s a privilege and a responsibility I don’t take lightly; the knowledge of how this music came to be is crucial to showing why the music is important. So many people are a part of the process of making music, and putting musicians onstage, and often aren’t noticed, or their work goes undocumented. I love writing about them; one of the ongoing Reader projects I love having helped launch is the “Chicagoans of Note” series, which spotlights people who are part of the larger music scene but often not the center of a story. Part of my approach with the Acid Rap cover story was to bring Chance’s community to the foreground, because I could feel the love he held for people in his scene in the music, regardless of whether or not they appeared on the album.
In all my years of documenting and reporting on music in Chicago, I still have a hard time reckoning with my role in it. I’m still the only music reporter employed full-time by a Chicago newspaper, which can sometimes stress me out; this city requires a team of music journalists to properly report on what happens here day to day. I feel the responsibility of the role any time I have to pitch a new story, or pick up the phone to call a source out of the blue, or get a tip I want to pursue but can’t because I’ve worked through several nights and some weekends and can’t find the space to do it. The position also gives me a certain amount of power and authority in the field, which I don’t take lightly either.
Chicago is a huge city that can feel like a small town, all of which is to say that reporting on local music also makes me a part of the community in a small way. I feel that anytime I run into people I’ve met at shows outside of a venue. I’m not a performer, nor do I want to be, so I’ve been able to maintain a certain amount of anonymity even while my name appears on the front of the Reader and in your inbox, and maybe your Twitter feed.
All of which I generally enjoy; it’s a nice life in an industry that sheds jobs so frequently that most of us involved in journalism have learned to live with the ambient stress of our field crumbling before us. I didn’t expect to make it in this field this long. I didn’t expect to make it as far in music journalism as I got back when I wrote about Acid Rap. So when I heard Chance’s Reader reference on “Pusha Man,” I felt seen. And I know a lot of other people have felt the same way listening to Acid Rap since then too.