When Chance the Rapper walks into a room in Chicago, he commands the rapt attention presumably reserved for someone like President Barack Obama. No one within the city limits is able to turn heads quicker than the hip-hop superstar and his signature “3” hat—not even the city’s actual mayor. The 25-year-old is not just a three time Grammy winner, an enormously successful artist who made $21.5 million last year, or a staunch advocate of artistic independence; he’s a public philanthropist, donating millions to mental health, homeless services, and Chicago Public Schools, and he did all of it without largely leaving his hometown. All of this is why today—in the second floor elevator bank at Chicago’s City Hall, when we witnessed him endorse progressive activist Amara Enyia for mayor—many fans on Twitter were clamoring for him to announce his own candidacy to replace Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
But the artist born Chancelor Bennett had other plans. “I probably won’t ever be running for mayor of this city,” he said in the 17-minute press conference. “But I believe that me and Amara share a vision of what Chicago should be.”
For one, as a stratospherically prominent artist, governing America’s third largest city over a four year term would mean little to no recording or touring. He’s also soon to be married to his long-term fiancé, reportedly working on his own music (not to mention collaborating with Kanye West on albums Yandhi and later Good Ass Job). Plus, he’s a recent media executive, buying the defunct local outlet Chicagoist this summer to, in his words on his July single “I Might Need Security,” “to run you racist bitches out of business.” At this point, Chance’s voice is more potent as an artist and advocate for Chicago.
His endorsement of Amara Enyia shouldn’t be surprising. Enyia is a longtime social justice upholder who’s garnered grassroots support from progressive activists, but little financial backing compared to other candidates.
At Chicago’s City Hall this morning, it wasn’t just reporters. Chance’s tweets announcing the press conference also brought out 30 to 40 activists and fans who outnumbered the reporters in the room, like college students Danae Gomez and Pamela Velazquez, both 20-year-old Chicago natives. “I trust Chance, we’ve been following him since high school, but I really just want to be more informed about what’s happening in Chicago with the election,” said Gomez. “He represents hope for Chicago and it’s nice to know someone’s looking out for inner city kids.”
While they weren’t already familiar with Amara Enyia or her campaign, they told Noisey they would weigh Chance’s endorsement when casting their vote in 2019. “There’s been more news coverage of the Illinois Governor’s race. We definitely need a new governor but we were just talking about how we almost forgot there was a mayoral election,” said Velazquez.
Comparing this press conference Kanye West’s White House visit, where he donned a MAGA hat and hugged President Donald Trump, Gomez said, “That was disgusting. I really didn’t like that. It felt like a betrayal. It’s such a different Kanye than the one who said George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people. That’s why we have Chance, I guess.” Velazquez echoed her sentiment: “It felt like the artist we once looked up to isn’t there anymore.”
Chance is clearly aware of his influence. “I would like to say very narcissistically if I back you, you have a chance,” he said at one point during the press conference. “Absolutely.”
Local government has rarely inspired college students to wake up early, potentially skip class, and head to City Hall for a press conference. Gomez and Velazquez weren’t alone, as several other young people were in attendance. In other words, Chance—who’s been particularly vocal about Rahm Emanuel’s administration (and even told him to resign on this past summer’s “I Might Need Security”)—realizes there’s a new opportunity for Chicago with Emanuel not seeking reelection.
According to Chance at today’s press conference, the current administration represents “stagnation” and the antithesis of pretty much every cause the rapper has championed with his SocialWorks charity, which promotes funding education, mental health access, and youth empowerment. Velazquez said, “I’ve been to SocialWorks events like A Night At The Museum with my family and my little siblings.” Gomez added, “I love what SocialWorks stands for.” Emanuel, on the other hand, is notorious for closing public schools in underserved black and Latino neighborhoods (displacing 12,000 students in 2013 alone), gutting citywide mental health funding, and allegedly covering up the police murder of an African American teenager. Though Chance has said before that he’s not a politician and doesn’t recommend policy his activism and lyrics inform a coherent ideology.
“Amara and I share values and a vision for Chicago that includes equitable education for our kids, reforming our criminal justice system, and bringing new kinds of economic opportunities to our communities without causing displacement,” Chance said.
If Chance’s endorsement kickstarts a groundswell in the city’s youth voter registration totals and other prominent endorsements follow follow his lead, Enyia could be the first African American woman mayor in Chicago history. On top of that, she wouldn’t be a remnant of a past administration like the major candidates so far in former mayor Richard J. Daley’s son Bill Daley, Toni Preckwinkle (who is endorsed by Chance’s father and former Emanuel aide Ken Bennett), former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy (who resigned due to his involvement in the LaQuan McDonald case).
As Enyia and Chance spoke, activists from the local student organization Good Kids Mad City, which battles Chicago gun violence, stood behind the pair with banners and hoodies protesting Emanuel’s proposed $95 million dollar police academy. Talking to one of the GKMC members after the conference, 19-year-old Matthew Wilborn, he said that both Chance and Enyia, longtime supporters of the organization told them to plant their banners during the press conference. “Black women have been so historically marginalized and her campaign has been so inspiring. She’s showing what black women can do,” he said. “Chance represents everything I am. I’m a rapper as well but he’s showing that youth are more involved than people think we are.”
Josh Terry is a writer based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter.