Artists almost always face an excess of expectations when they've set a standard of greatness. When there's a lengthy gap between a precedent-establishing project and its follow-up, the stakes only get higher.
This is where we find Chance the Rapper, hours from the release of his third mixtape and three years since his last solo project -- a span that has raised the desire for and potential burden on #Chance3 to absurdly high levels.
The standard-setter was Acid Rap, Chance's most recent solo mixtape, released in April 2013, which helped propel him from a hometown favorite in Chicago to a nationally known name. It featured nimble rhymes, diverse cadences, subjects playful and somber, an array of sonic moods, and well-selected features.
In the years since, Chance has proven singular and deliberate in his methods both as a businessman -- he seems intent on subverting the music industry's commercial rules, and has never sold any of his music, instead earning through touring and merch -- and as a musician. When the world was itching for a new Chance project, he instead used his platform to usher his friends and collaborators Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment into our iTunes with the jazzy group offering Surf, released last May.
That project, while widely acclaimed, left a bit to be desired for those eager for a Chance showcase akin to Acid Rap: His vocals appeared on only nine of the album's 16 tracks. He's delivered plenty of other fresh rhymes over the last three years -- in addition to Surf, there have been outstanding guest spots on songs with everyone from Justin Bieber and James Blake to Kanye West and Lil Wayne. But the moment fans have been waiting for is this one — the moment when, finally, Chance plays leading man for a full-length project. That's what we'll get with Chance 3.
He's remained relatively mum in its lead-up, but did give a hint about its sound this week.
“This stuff is way better than Surf,” he told Complex, perhaps briefly forgetting the expectations that the project was already holding. “I’ll say that on record. Donnie is awesome, and the project was awesome, but this is all of us focusing our efforts into some very hip-hop and very dance-y shit, and it feels good. So I’m excited about that.”
I'm excited, too.
The brass-centric jazziness of Surf was sublime, but this sort of pivot back toward his earlier work is a welcome one. And, according to his statement and what we've heard of late, that's what we'll get.
Our recent tastes of Chance's new music suggest a gospel slant that has permeated his work for some time but has risen to the forefront of late: "Ultralight Beam," his appearance on Kanye's The Life of Pablo, as well as his recent solo offerings "Angels," "Somewhere in Paradise," and "Blessings," all contain spiritual elements.
On each of these songs, other aspects of Chance's past work have carried on, too. He's having constant fun, but not at the expense of treating each of his words as indispensable tools. He's trying to elevate his city. He's asserting his independence. And he's playing with his flows, keeping us on our toes.
Those few new songs he's recently released have also consistently included references to Chance's young daughter. He became a father in the fall, and has spoken in interviews about how profoundly the experience has changed him. I'd be surprised if this life change didn't have a substantial effect on the new project's direction, whether overtly -- say, with a song dedicated to her -- or more subtly.
Like lots of Chance the Rapper fans, I've been craving a new project since Acid Rap fell out of daily rotation. But I can appreciate his approach and the time and care he's decided to take. When Chance 3 drops, I'll try to swim upstream against the accepted Internet procedure and not make snap judgments. I'll try to throw the snowballed expectations out the window.
All I can ask is that Chance continues to follow the artistic vision that has gotten him, and us, this far. If he persists on that path with his newest music, we'll be in for a follow-up worth the wait.