Allow me, like Chance the Rapper in the above picture, to ponder for a second and reflect. See, there's a new "short film" (a.k.a. a music video) from The Social Experiment and director triumvirate Austin Vesely, Ian Eastwood, and Chance The Rapper for the song "Sunday Candy," and it is great. Many an internet user will tell you this, and maybe you can see it for yourself. On the surface, the reasons are clear because hey, look, retro vibes! It's like a musical! It's all one smoothly choreographed shot! These are things that make for cool music videos. Then again, if I had a dollar for every single-shot music video I was sent and/or every music video that took place in an old-school diner, I would have retired to sip milkshakes in similarly old-school diners long ago. But I really, really love this! So what's up?
A colleague of mine once accused Chance of being "musical theater rap," which he meant in a negative way (understandable given that theater kids are often obnoxious, pedantic dorks), but which has come to pass in a literal and pretty positive way. With anything that is blanket feel-good, there's always a risk that it can ring out as insincere or smarmy or shallow or grandstanding, and I definitely had moments of feeling this way when I saw Chance's big headlining showcase at SXSW. You can only be told to be happy so much before it becomes a platitude.
But, for the most part, Chance does not tell you to be happy. He does not, like many artists, offer up vague statements about how you just need to believe in yourself and be yourself to make your dreams come true (which is, like, yeah, being Lady Gaga is a great gig if you can get it, but just being yourself doesn't guarantee that's the end result). Perhaps even better, he does not ever seem to push the idea that so often comes with music that there is a certain aesthetic that will make you cool, and, by extension, happy. Chance the Rapper just does things that seem to complete the sentence "what if we... ?"—an act that seems to make him and others very happy indeed.
Instead of setting out to make a music video that would get attention, that would be seen as cool, the crew behind "Sunday Candy" seems instead to have started by asking questions such as: What if we made a music video that looked like a musical? What if we did a musical theater number that was choreographed by Chicago's young footwork and bop dance talents instead of Broadway choreographers? What if we communicated that the whole thing was done live by making it a single shot? What if we, by doing these things, changed people's perception of what a music video with rap in it could be?
The result is pretty fucking cool. It means we get bop talent DLow (above, standing) in a musical, that someone is putting Chicago's homegrown dance cultures on a world stage. It means that Chance, like his buddy Childish Gambino, gets to poke and prod at the world's ideas of how a black musician should present himself and of who owns certain forms of culture (rappers aren't supposed to earnestly draw on Grease and The Music Man when they're marketing themselves). One of the first things I ever wrote about Chance, after he released 10 Day, was that it felt like a high school talent show band had captured a perfect stroke of can-do enthusiasm and made something they were really proud of. It's awesome to see that trend continuing without seeming amateurish as Chance's platform gets bigger.
If anything is going to make kids happy, it's not going to be getting told to believe in themselves but rather the feeling that their grand ambitions are within reach. This is why Chief Keef is the most influential rapper in Chicago: He showed kids that all they need to make music is a couple of beats and a YouTube account. Chance's new video does that in its own way. It's not "musical theater rap" because it goes against the insularity and insider knowledge that makes theater nerds so unbearable. Instead it says "you, too, can find a way to make your talents belong." That's a radical mission, and that's what makes this video so great:
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