Music

Why the Internet Soured on Chance the Rapper

The hip-hop star has gone from beloved to polarizing.

A man in a beige hat, black shirt, and black pants holds a microphone while he is pulled off-stage by fans.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Has the internet finally turned on Chance the Rapper? A quick browse through Twitter these days—which, for better or worse, remains a dynamic platform for us rap fans and our uniquely cursed Discourse—shows increasing amounts of signs that his reign as our most lovable, affable hip-hop star is perhaps definitively over. And signs are, after all, what Chance believes in.

The consensus among Rap Twitter, whose skewering of certain artists often influences or determines public opinion of them, is that Chance—full name Chancelor Johnathan Bennett—is a corny sellout and secret villain who sucks at rapping now. Yet it wasn’t all that long ago that Chance was an ubiquitous, universally beloved figure among music listeners, championed by everyone from local Chicago rap fans to the Recording Academy to prominent dilettantes like David Brooks and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. He even was invited to appear on Sesame Street and guest-host Saturday Night Live multiple times; Nickelodeon tapped him to host the annual Kids Choice Awards in 2020, before the pandemic canceled the event. But over the past few years, following social media outbursts and lawsuits and spats involving journalistic outlets, Rap Twitter has decided that none of that matters anymore.

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The internet turning on a doted-upon star is not a new story, but with Chance, it feels especially surprising: It really did seem at one point—perhaps around the time he won multiple Grammys in 2017—that Chance was untouchable. When he released 2013’s Acid Rap mixtape at just 20 years old, Chance was not only praised for his fresh, thoughtful music; he was also perceived as an advocate for his home neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side—often demonized by outsiders for struggles over violence, segregation, and whittled public systems—as well as for independent artists trying to find new platforms as the record industry nosedived. The fact that Chance had blown up the way he did, without major label backing or distribution beyond free mixtape websites, made his a particularly notable success story.

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There were hints even in the immediate aftermath of Acid Rap, however, that Chance was a dubious ambassador in both regards. As people learned more about Chance and his life, they read about how deeply his parents were connected to the very local politics whose effects and policies Chance decried in his music and elsewhere. His mother was director of community relations for then–Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and his father had worked for Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, Barack Obama in his capacities as both Illinois senator and president, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the notorious Obama administration alum who received frequent criticism for his handling of the city’s school system and brutal police force. These familial connections weren’t inherently suspect, but it didn’t take long for them to cause a flare-up. In December 2015, Chance lashed out at Spike Lee for the director’s infamous film Chi-raq in multiple tweets, saying that it was “exploitive and problematic.” Lee then responded: “[Chance has] not criticized the mayor. Why? His father works for the mayor.” A Chicago Magazine item quoted Chance as claiming that he didn’t “comment on that many things dealing with Rahm because I don’t really follow Rahm’s politics,” in a conversation that was only made public a week after Lee’s response. But in following years, after his father stopped working for Emanuel, Chance would repeatedly call for the mayor’s resignation—in one instance even citing a Chicago police killing from December 2015.

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Not long after, in May 2016, came skepticism for Chance’s bona fides as a champion of musical unknowns. The grumblings began around the release of his third mixtape, Coloring Book, a gospel-themed work that chronicled Chance’s transformation from an existentially adrift, saddened youngster to a religious father of a young daughter. The tape was first released exclusively on the then-nascent Apple Music streaming service, which was already infamous for its sabotage of iTunes’ song-library service. (It’s also worth noting here that iTunes, before it was reduced and replaced by Apple Music, was once a well-regarded interface for storing digital files of mixtapes and songs that weren’t available on other commercial digital marketplaces.) As a promotional tactic by both Chance and Apple, Coloring Book was available only for streaming on Apple Music for two weeks; after this time, it was released to other services and for free download.

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This unique arrangement immediately catalyzed semantic disputes among listeners: Is a musical project really a “mixtape” if it’s a polished product that can only be streamed? Can an artist still be “independent” if they work with a major corporation that already has multiple tentacles in the music business? The mass acclaim for Coloring Book still outshone these debates—until early 2017, when the tape won Best Rap Album at the Grammys, and Chance felt the need to clarify his independent status following growing questioning from fellow artists. He revealed in a series of March 2017 tweets, not long after the Grammys, that Apple paid him a clean half-mil for their release deal, which constituted the exclusive release as well as a half-minute commercial promoting said release. He further clarified that he thought artists “can gain a lot from the streaming wars as long as they remain in control of their own product,” implying it was wrong to “try to discredit [his] independence” since he still held control over his music. According to legal documents from 2020, the Apple deal allowed Chance to “secure the funds necessary to clear the album while still maintaining complete creative rights and control over the project and without sharing royalties with Apple.”

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But the Apple relationship would continue to engender some distrust in Chance’s industry-opposition image. This was compounded in the summer of 2017, after a Spin Magazine investigation into editorial turmoil at MTV News’ website reported that Chance’s management had seen a piece about the rapper from the site on Snapchat Discover—and had been so angered that they claimed Chance “was never working with MTV again.” The offending screed? A personal reflection by music journalist David Turner on how he felt an “emotional disconnect” with Coloring Book, despite loving Chance’s older work. Chance’s then-manager Pat Corcoran told Spin that “Chance and I … both agreed that the article was offensive,” and they’d “brought our concerns to MTV.” However, they also claimed that “MTV chose … on their own volition, to remove the piece.”

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After this spate of digital media controversies, Chance would invite vitriol in early 2018 for defending his idol and mentor Kanye West, who’d called President Donald Trump “my brother” in a series of April tweets. Chance tweeted, “Black people don’t have to be democrats,” spurring outraged fans to point out his earlier criticisms of Trump. Chance then released a lengthy apology, clarifying what he meant by that statement.

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Political spats wouldn’t end there, however—after all, politics had defined some of his earliest controversies. In a summer 2018 single titled “I Might Need Security,” Chance lashed out at the Chicago Sun-Times; his feud with the publication dated back to spring 2017, when the paper ran a controversial piece claiming that a legal case Chance was fighting with his former partner over child support could “hurt … his image.” Though Chance hit back at the paper at the time, his resentment festered, even as the child support case reportedly ended quickly and amicably (and he would later marry his baby’s mother).

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In “Security,” Chance claimed the Sun-Times was “getting that Rauner business”—referring to then–Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, whom Chance had publicly opposed—and revealed that he “bought the Chicagoist just to run you racist bitches out of business.” The Chicagoist was part of Gothamist’s countrywide network of city-based news websites, which was shut down by its owner in the fall of 2017. Chance wrote in a Genius annotation for “Security” that he actually bought the website “to provide more jobs for black and brown people in the city as writers at a high profile publication.” While a few of Gothamist’s websites were rebooted following the network’s purchase by radio station WNYC, Chicagoist to this day has not published anything since Chance bought it.

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By the following year, Chance was ready to drop what was to be known as his “debut album.” (The Ringer’s Rob Harvilla aptly referred to this rhetorical turn as “an irritating bit of Drake-esque category fraud.”) The Big Day dropped in July 2019 to massive backlash from fans (including extremely elegant, thoughtful criticism by yours truly), who derided what they considered to be corny rhymes, saccharine production, and a general failure to follow up the high bar set by his previous works. Chance was sensitive to both this reception and to the now-established “caricature that I only make happy songs or songs for babies,” but the rap internet’s excoriation of Chance’s new image as gleeful dad and husband was merciless. Nothing could puncture Chance’s new image of sappy, edgeless wife guy—not even when he again defended Kanye in 2020 by asking on Twitter why anyone should vote for Joe Biden over presidential candidate West.

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The Big Day ultimately didn’t receive any of the same acclaim or awards that Chance’s earlier works earned, nor did it perform as well on the charts. It seemed fated to fall out of the cultural conversation, even as Chance kept participating within it.

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But then, the lawsuit hit. On Nov. 30, 2020, Chance’s former manager Pat Corcoran sued the rapper for millions of dollars in unpaid commissions. The suit revealed that “following fan disappointment in Bennett’s most recent album and underwhelming fan support for its associated tour, Bennett replaced Corcoran with Ken and Taylor Bennett, his father and brother, and has now refused to honor the terms of his agreement with Corcoran.” It went on to emphasize Corcoran’s alleged 1) roles in Chance’s success, including by dropping out of school to manage Chance full time and insisting the rapper never sign with a label; 2) generosity in both funding Chance’s projects and deferring the due dates of payments owed to him; and 3) dedication in building the Chance the Rapper brand from scratch. Corcoran claimed that things started to sour as far back as February 2019, when Chance, “without consulting with or giving advance notice to Corcoran,” announced “that he would release his first studio album in July of that year.”

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The ex-manager’s counsel wrote that Corcoran insisted that Chance be careful with planning the project—but the effort was “compromised by unproductive and undisciplined studio sessions” that “resulted in a freestyle-driven product of sub-par quality” and “became [Chance’s] least popular project to date.” Afterward, they organized a tour to promote the album that they later decided to cancel due to “low ticket sales and poor attendance projections,” per Corcoran. The worst came when Chance had his father and brother—who had “little or no experience in the music industry” and were “inexperienced in the talent management space”—advise him on how to manage the fallout from The Big Day, which, Corcoran claims, led to a more tarnished public image for Chance as well as Corcoran’s firing in April 2020.

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In February of this year, Chance filed a motion to dismiss most of Corcoran’s charges and also countersued his former manager, claiming that Corcoran had “violated his trust,” breached their contracts and agreement, had been already paid what he’d been owed, and used Chance’s name “for his own benefit, diverting business opportunities to his separate companies, and demanding and accepting kickbacks as the ‘price’ of doing business.” Chance also claimed that Corcoran had way overstated his role in Chance’s success and undermined the work Chance’s brother and father had done throughout to support his career. (Corcoran, in turn, called this “offensive.”) Last month, per Complete Music Update, an Illinois state court “cut back [Corcoran’s] lawsuit … leaving just one claim over unpaid commissions” and giving Corcoran the option to still “amend and resubmit his claims” in a different suit. Chance’s countersuit, meanwhile, was allowed to proceed in full. Still, this wouldn’t be enough for an internet primed to hate Chance. Corcoran’s initial lawsuit became infamous among music industry watchers and Rap Twitter followers and was analyzed and quoted throughout the internet, from its stinging takedown of The Big Day to the perceived mistreatment of Corcoran, which was portrayed as evidence of Chance’s “dark side.” Subsequent coverage of Chance’s legal affirmation couldn’t possibly make up for it.

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A recent incident gave even more fuel to Chance’s critics, when the Chicagoan launched a campaign with Starbucks in late June to promote the chain’s bottled and canned beverages. The ad operation initially included a TikTok video posted by the brand on June 28, spurring the #MadeReadyDuet challenge, which encouraged fans to virtually collaborate with Chance by using the app’s duet feature to broadcast creative efforts inspired by a beat Chance produced himself. However, things went wrong very quickly: Participants noted that the beat Chance made didn’t exactly sound … great, and as you can see on the TikTok page for the campaign hashtag, plenty of participants used the slogan to mock Chance for myriad reasons instead of engaging with the ad. As a result, Starbucks reportedly turned off duets, and later set the original video to private, so the contest wouldn’t be disrupted further. (Seriously—if you look at Starbucks’ TikTok profile, you can’t find it anywhere.) Still, this didn’t stop TikTok users from clowning on the video even up through this month.

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Considering that the campaign (and its fallout) kicked off in the midst of a press tour for Chance’s new concert film, Magnificent Coloring World, released Aug. 13 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Coloring Book, the mass backlash and corporate ass-covering is notable—on the very app that now basically dictates trends in popular music, no less.

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It’s undeniable that, whether fairly or unfairly, various incidents throughout the years have added up to give Chance’s reputation a huge hit. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, of all outlets, asked readers if a 2020 single by Chance would “make you forgive him” after the shoddy reception for The Big Day, immediately concluding: “probably not.” It can’t be said that Chance is universally hated now, as he remains a well-known and generally well-liked artist, but he may never regain the overwhelming goodwill he once had. And if the internet has truly decided it’s done with Chance, well …

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