Culture

Chance the false media savior

An artist notoriously hostile to negative press buying a media outlet raises questions about what he really wants.

Culture

Chance the false media savior

An artist notoriously hostile to negative press buying a media outlet raises questions about what he really wants.
Culture

Chance the false media savior

An artist notoriously hostile to negative press buying a media outlet raises questions about what he really wants.

“The novelty of rap’s biggest star engaging with Sesame Street-esque characters quickly wore thin as they began to overshadow Chance’s own presence on stage,” wrote David Turner in “Chance the False Prophet,” his 2016 review of a live performance by Chance the Rapper. It’s the most critical excerpt of an article, published by Turner’s then-employer MTV News, that addressed the growing emotional disconnect between him and Chance, who’d begun making music about fatherhood with clear appeals to childhood nostalgia. “Where before it felt like we were on a similar path, wrestling with taking friendships into adulthood and the role that parents play in one’s life as an adult, suddenly Chance’s accelerated life priorities had created a noticeable gap between artist and listener.”

This is pretty standard fare for music criticism, but it was too negative for Chance, whose management contacted MTV and allegedly said Chance “was never working with MTV again,” according to a Spin report. (Disclosure: I worked at Spin when this story was being reported, and I know Turner personally.) In an attempt to mend the relationship, the higher-ups at MTV had the piece scrubbed from the site (and today it lives on at Medium). “Upon the publication of the article, Chance and I got together & both agreed that the article was offensive,” Chance’s manager Pat Corcoran said, when contacted for comment by Spin. “When we brought our concerns to MTV, our rep agreed that the article was ‘a harsh shot’ & took ownership of the editorial misstep. From there, MTV chose to, on their own volition, to remove the piece. … You may notice, Chance will be appearing in the season opener of Wild ‘N Out tmw night (6/29) on MTV.”

The network didn’t attempt to hide its calculation, probably because music criticism is so disrespected by the general populace that there’s no social repercussion for openly manipulating coverage like that. And it’s all newly relevant because Chance, whose hostility to the press was crystallized in this incident, has just purchased the assets of the now-defunct Chicagoist, a former arm of the Gothamist/DNA Info media empire that was shut down by billionaire Joe Ricketts in 2017, just after the staff had unionized. “I’m extremely excited to be continuing the work of the Chicagoist, an integral local platform for Chicago news, events and entertainment,” Chance said in a statement. “I look forward to relaunching it and bringing the people of Chicago an independent media outlet focused on amplifying diverse voices and content.”

More local journalism is a good thing, especially in Chicago, whose print outlets — The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Reader — have taken a dent due to the vagaries of the industry, even as they continue publishing meaningful work. There is no argument against the revival of a digital publication like Chicagoist, which at its best provided consistent coverage about what was happening in Chicago. New publications sprung up in the wake of its shuttering — Block Club Chicago, another similarly-focused website, is run by former DNA Info employees — but iron sharpens iron, competition nourishes the soul, etc.

On the other hand: Does Chance really care about any of that? Here’s a passage of lyrics from his new song “I Might Need Security,” in which he announced the purchase:


And I can’t do nothing right, they gon’ always be at me
I missed a Crain’s interview, they tried leaking my addy
I donate to the schools next, they call me a deadbeat daddy
But Sun-Times get in that Rauner business
I got a hit-list so long I don't know how to finish
I bought the Chicagoist just to run you racist bitches out of business
Speaking of racist, fuck your micro aggressions
I’ll make you fix your words like a typo suggestion
Pat me on the back too hard and Pat’ll ask for your job
And in unrelated news, someone'll beat your ass at your job
I'm the real deal

In a literal interpretation of these lyrics, one could read that he’s upset at coverage received by local outlets (Crain’s Chicago, The Chicago Sun-Times), he bought Chicagoist in order to put these outlets out of business, and he has no problem directing his manager Pat to demand the firing of anyone who criticizes him too hard. This is not an extension of benevolent, happy-go-lucky Chance the Rapper who covers the Arthur theme song. This is more akin to Elon Musk throwing a tantrum about “bias” in the news and pledging to start a website aimed at ranking journalists. And while it’s too soon to answer some of the relevant questions — Will old Chicagoist staffers be hired back? Will the site’s purview change at all? — we already have a sense of what Chance’s mentality about the relaunched publication is… because he literally told us.

Chance does plenty of legitimate good around Chicago and beyond, such as donating $1 million to the public school system via his youth empowerment charity, so one might ask why the feelings of a writer should impact how anyone feels about that? Why can’t everyone just get on board and trust the vision? But this is obviously anathema to an unbiased press dedicated to cutting through the bullshit and telling the real story, even if it inconveniences the more favorable narrative: Chance as local hero, a shining light in a city plagued by income inequality, imbalanced schools, an ineffective mayor, and so forth.

Now, one of the publications that could theoretically serve to balance out the hype is being run by someone who has declared his lack of interest in humoring dissenting voices. And given Chance’s presence in the city, which means regular coverage of what he’s up to, how could Chicagoist not pull its punches, given the owner who’s just a phone call away from voicing his displeasure? What if Chance does something unflattering? What if one of his friends does? This is maybe putting the cart before the horse, but given what we already know — because Chance has made his feelings clear, and on the record — it’s fair to ask. Chance the Media Savior has a nice ring, but only because he’s saying it.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Joe Ricketts’ name.

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