Over the course of the last five years, a contingent of young Chicagoans have put their city on the map through a sustained push forward of careful wordplay and integrated community. While plenty of names have risen to the top in the time since, the movement has arguably been led in one way or another by a pair of old friends in Vic Mensa and Chance The Rapper. While the two have certified their longstanding relationship on wax several times, there has always seemed to exist a certain amount of tension, a tension that was all but erased on the Grant Park stage this past weekend at Lollapalooza in Chicago.
Since exploding onto the national scene with his Acid Rap mixtape in 2013, Chance has largely served as the toast of the town. In the time since, he’s performed at the White House, won three Grammys, squared off against Spike Lee and Governor Bruce Rauner, hosted his own festival and generated more headlines than Donald Trump. While any friend would be hard-pressed to not be proud of all the achievements, it likely came a little tougher to Mensa. That’s because in a story that’s becoming almost fairy tale-like, it was Mensa who intitially appeared to be the one to break through first, and largely did as the frontman for Kids These Days, a high school group which counted Nico Segal, Greg Landfair and Macie Stewart amongst its ranks. That band broke up a month after Acid Rap‘s release before the ink could dry on a potential record deal. By May of 2013 Mensa’s path forward had been knocked off course, just as Chance’s hit full stride.
While never truly discussed in the media or anywhere for that matter, the attention bestowed upon Chano towards the end of ‘TLOP’s creation and the eschewing of Vic’s verse on “Wolves” when the project made it’s larger than life debut at Madison Square Garden seemed telling. If the ‘Defiant Ones’ series is to be believed whole-heartedly, ego has no place in art, but Chicago is a city chock-full of it. Only a few months removed from “U Mad”, his RocNation signing and an appearance alongside Sia and ‘Ye on Saturday Night Live, it seemed Chance had once again stolen his thunder, capitalized more efficiently on a path he’d stepped into prior. Understandably, Mensa spent much of 2016 seeming to look inward while using EPs and loosies to keep fans at bay. Meanwhile, Chance took the alley-oop from his ‘TLOP’ appearance and parlayed it into one of the most memorable album releases in recent history, becoming a household name both in his hometown and the world over.
Given that timeline, it’d make sense if there was a bit of bristling between the pair of Chicago Public Schools alumni. While never taken to the sort of digital back and forth or sneak dissing in songs that have come to plague the contemporary hip-hop scene, the separation was always evident in the unspoken distance between them. Contrary to early in each artist’s career, the time between 2013-2017 saw neither address the other publicly. In fact, it seemed as though the last moments we caught of the pair onstage was Chance’s Lollapalooza debut in 2013 on the BMI stage and the short run to the University of Illinois that followed it.
While whatever it was that kept the two apart during that time was, it doesn’t matter all that much. In hindsight, the separation could well be a positive in both artists careers; an opportunity to truly find their own lane and progress at their own pace. For two acts as talented as Mensa and Chance, the time apart allowed each to create a name, following and undeniable place in the game that rested squarely on their own shoulders without leaning on one another. The decision to reunite for the last song we’d all see them do together seemed to be a confirmation that the two now stand at the top of the national rap scene.
Chicago’s most recent rise, coined the ‘Chicago Renaissance’ has long been underlined by an understanding of positivity and support that has vaulted one act after the next into the larger discussion. With that in mind, the move falls in line with both narratives of Chance as the hopeful hero and Vic as the redemptive antihero: the two teenagers in the after school poetry program now standing onstage as the toast of their city. It’s a city that’s messages are informed by reality and Chance and Vic have been focusing on the same subject matter framed through different angles. With the two of them fully in tune with one another the art should similarly find a smooth lane.
With they way things are going, we very well may see these two assert their full control over the game a la Jay and Kanye sometime soon.