View From Evan Mack
Chance The Rapper released his most recent track, No Better Blues, Thursday and like most of Chance’s songs it has generated a barrage of opinions. Some have called him pessimistic while others have called him genius. Even after Chance tweeted early Friday morning that the piece is “satirical,” which, in a world without the Internet, should have settled the debate (yes, I know that Twitter requires the Internet), the interpretations kept coming.
In light of the more recent tracks that Chance has released, the crazed attempts to find direct meaning in his words are understandable. Chance’s verse on “Fight or Flight” by Lil Herb, incites discussion about the obvious struggles facing Black people in America today. Chance’s take on Arthur’s theme song, “Wonderful Everyday”, also has a clear message to it, albeit a much more positive one. In fact, most of Chance’s songs are incredibly deep. Acid Rap, the mixtape that catapulted Chance onto the world’s stage, is full of thought-provoking and emotional tracks like Paranoia, Everybody’s Something, and Acid Rain. His image as a figurehead for political change, most notably as a leader for the #SaveChicago campaign regarding the violence plaguing Chicago’s South and West sides, adds even more weight to his music. Though I deeply admire his role as a leader in Chicago (an opinion I’m trying to eschew for this piece), it can cause a listener to look for meanings that may not be there.
When No Better Blues was released Thursday, it was no surprise that people had wild opinions about its meaning. Given his background lyrically and socially, lines like “I hate money, I hate change, I hate hope” don’t make sense. For those who take the lines literally, they are confused by the conflicting stances. For those who interpret the lines as satirical, per Chance’s acknowledgement, they hear a sarcastic example of normative lyricism in hip-hop. Others think he is exercising his artistic muscles and showing off his poetic background. Chance’s music has become more than music.
In a sense, Chance’s deliberately nonsensical lyrics show that he is handing the power to the listener. Maybe the meaning of the song is the appreciation and acceptance of interpretation itself. Maybe he reposted websites’ reviews because the act of reviewing is what’s important with this track. Maybe it shows how he views art and music.
Regardless of what Chance’s original intent was, the debate itself signifies that his music is relevant. It reaffirms Umberto Eco’s “Death of the Author” theory: after leaving his hands, the song was no longer his. It doesn’t matter what Chance was trying to say. It matters that he said it.