2016 was the Year of Chance the Rapper — a coming out party and a victory lap all at once. To celebrate the real Person of the Year (FDT), here’s a list of my ten favorite Chance verses of 2016.
10. “Mixtape” – Chance the Rapper (feat. Young Thug & Lil Yachty)
Chance’s adaptability is one of his greatest talents, and while he’s obviously doing a schtick on “Mixtape,” the Windy City kid pulls off the ATL flow convincingly. Here, Chance is all bravura—“How can they call themselves bosses / when they got so many bosses? / You gotta see what your boss say / I get it straight out the faucet”—but for all the posturing, by the end he’s still the Chano we know and love, happy just to have made his mother proud.
9. “Fool Wit It Freestyle” – Supa Bwe (feat. Chance the Rapper)
This song is chill AF and Chance is chill AF on it.
8. “Church” – BJ the Chicago Kid (feat. Chance the Rapper)
Chance shows up at the end of BJ’s pillowtalk jam to rhyme “Jericho” with “church folk” with “miracle” with “Derrrrrick Rose.” If you’re planning on making a baby anytime soon, this isn’t a bad place to start.
7. “Famous” (original version) – Kanye West (feat. Rihanna, Swizz Beatz & Chance the Rapper)
It’s a shame this version of “Famous” never saw the light of day, because I’m in desperate need of a CDQ version of “Don’t say nigga, unless of course you black, nigga / Free country, they say that shit in Tennessee / ’cause I got all they white daughters drinking Hennessy.” Also: “God my only boss, even Moses had a staff.”
6. “How Great” – Chance the Rapper (feat. Jay Electronica & my cousin Nicole)
“How Great” is a six-minute church service, with Chance and the ever-elusive Jay Electronica presiding as pastors, delivering dueling sermons from on high. Jay Elec, dropping by for his annual extra-fire guest verse, compares himself to Simba (shoutout my corporate overlords) before finding deliverance, riding “a Harley from the project to the house of Parliament.” Chance, for his part, is Harry Potter with the time turner, hop-scotching through place and time—from Malachi to Nat Turner—to peep the scoreboard in the eternal fight between Good and Evil, and to do his part to tip the scales: “Exalt, exalt, glorify / descend upon the earth with swords and fortify / the borders where your shorties lie.” And woe is the man who runs counter to His cause: “Any petty Peter Pettigrew could get the pesticide.” Avada Kedavra, bitches.
5. “Girls @” – Joey Purp (feat. Chance the Rapper)
Where the mid-sized girls? Where the mid-sized girls? Where the mid-sized girls? You bad!
Even if he hadn’t rhymed “Ta-Nehisi Coates” with “SpottieOttieDope,” this verse would have still made the cut. But folks, he did rhyme those things. And for that, we’re thankful.
4. “Grown Ass Kid” – Chance the Rapper (feat. Mick Jenkins & Alex Wiley)
“Grown Ass Kid” was cut from Coloring Book but found its way into the world anyway, much to Mr. The Rapper’s chagrin:
But despite the questionable ethics of its e-provenance, “Grown Ass Kid” is a certified banger, y’all. It’s College Dropout all the way, from the chipmunked soul sample to the children’s chorus hook, and it’s a joy to listen to. Mick Jenkins and Alex Wiley are excellent, but Chance takes center stage, smiling his way through a breathless verse. He’s having more fun here than anywhere else on Coloring Book:
Everybody finally can say it out loud: ‘My favorite rapper a Christian rapper!’
It’s a well-earned moment of self-actualization, but it’s telling that it comes in the middle of the verse: this is no Mission Accomplished – Chance knows time’s wasting and there’s work still to be done, so he dives right back in. A real treasure.
3. “Summer Friends” – Chance the Rapper (feat. Jeremih & Francis & the Lights) – both verses
The spiritual successor to Acid Rap’s hidden gut-punch “Paranoia,” “Summer Friends” is the loveliest song on Coloring Book, a patchwork of precisely rendered memories in Technicolor, like the summer sun refracted through a droplet of morning dew.
This is Chance at his story-telling best: “Momma hair salon doing perms out the armchair / Dad was working late, he treat the crib like it’s a timeshare / I would mow some lawns, fold my ones like a lawn chair, ugh! ugh!” (He knows it, too: at shows he’s proudly said that the second verse is his favorite from the album, and even raps it twice.) At the risk of quoting every lyric (yes, I’m cheating and counting both verses as one), it’s remarkable how elegantly he paints this portrait of his youth:
Bunch of tank top, nappy-headed, bike-stealing Chatham boys
None of my niggas ain’t had no dad
None of my niggas ain’t had no choice
JJ, Mikey, Lil Derek and them
79th Street was America then
And as he says it, 79th Street jumps to life, and for a moment it feels like the whole world is there in your headphones—until, like a memory, it quietly drifts away.
2. “Blessings” – Chance the Rapper (feat. Jamila Woods) – verse 1
All quotables, Chance’s first verse on “Blessings” is resolute and full of purpose. He opens with his raison d’être: “I don’t make songs for free, I make ’em for freedom,” and the rest of these eight lines are just as cutting, just as precise. He ends on a mission:
Jesus’ black life ain’t matter, I know, I talked to his daddy
Said, ‘You the man of the house now, look out for your family’
He has ordered my steps, gave me a sword with a crest
And gave Donnie a trumpet, ’case I get shortness of breath.
1. “Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West (feat. Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price, The-Dream, and Kirk Franklin)
“Ultralight Beam,” The Life of Pablo’s transcendent opening salvo, is 2016 in five minutes and twenty-one seconds: it feels unwieldy and stitched together, like it might topple over at any moment; it is hopeful, but also weary—exhausted; it samples a viral video; its first words are “I’m tryna keep my faith,” and its last word is “war.”
And smack in the middle of it all is Chancelor Bennett, twenty-three.
Kanye is a master curator, an invaluable (and underappreciated) skill that is on full display on The Life of Pablo, and giving Chance the starring role on “Ultralight Beam” was a masterstroke. He’s young; he’s too hopeful by half; he makes songs for free and for freedom. There can be no God Dream without someone to dream it, and here’s Chance, willing and ready to bear the burden.
Chance’s dreams here are at once humble and grand: amid his growing fame, he wants privacy for his daughter, who “look just like Sia, you can’t see her,” but he also promises he’ll put his “foot on the Devil’s neck ’til it drifted Pangaea.” He’s a newly minted father who’s taking time out of his busy schedule to deliver us all to salvation, and he steps with such purpose that he causes continental drift. “Ugh, I’m just having fun with it,” he reassures us—he’s doing this all with a smile.
“Ultralight Beam” is a career-defining moment for Chance, and it’s every bit as earth shattering now as it was the first time we heard it. Toward the end of his verse, he silences the music—silences the whole year—and he lives in his moment:
“This is my part; nobody else speak.”
For these few precious seconds, nobody else did.