Chance the Rapper's life story told through 24 of his best lyrics

Chance the Rapper's life story told through 24 of his best lyrics
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

In his 24 years on planet Earth, Chance the Rapper has already experienced and accomplished more than many human beings dream of doing in their entire lives. Using his largely self-built platform, the Chicago native has raised millions for his city's public school system, re-inspired young voters, helped make it safe to talk spirituality in public again and saved Kanye West's The Life of Pablo from being a total arty, angsty mess.

How did he gain such powers? How did he achieve such perspective? Some of the answers lie in his lyrics. 

To help celebrate his birthday on Sunday, April 16, we've gathered some of the most insightful looks at his own past, which he's delivered on his three stellar mixtapes. While he celebrates in Chicago — throwing his Chance the Birthday party and raising money for his Social Works charity fund — give a read over some of the rapper's finest introspective moments that have made him the rapper and the man he is today.

Chance the Rapper
Source: 
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

1. "Nostalgia"

Mama Jann, mama Charlie, and my mama Lisa
Booster seat used to boost my kitty, Connie's Pizza
And every year we made a Christmas list
And Auntie Linda cooked a Christmas dish
And all of our grandparents made a Christmas wish
Like "Lord, let me see another year like this", uhh

On his 10 Day trip down memory lane, "Nostalgia," Chance the Rapper shouts out to all the women who helped raise him — Mama Jann, Mama Charlie, Mama Lisa and Auntie Linda. He offers a vision of how he found this sense of God-given gratitude at an early age.

2. "Windows"

This is for sand in my shoes, shout out to Oak Street
For the free train rides, shout out to Polk Street
To the ice cream man you just on hella dirt
How you don't see us can't hear us, you Helen Keller

3. "Brain Cells"

Remember I used to bang with the bad ones
'Til my grandmama told on her grandson
Mama said that I was way too handsome
To be throwing the hand's son, breaking walls like Samson

Chance the Rapper has spoken extensively about how his grandmother helped set him on the right path. In his GQ profile, he told a story about how his grandmother essentially cursed him in a prayer after she had gotten fed up with his frequent drug use and lax attitude toward life:

She looked me in the eyes and she said, "I don't like what's going on." She said, "I can see it in your eyes. I don't like this." And she says, "We're gonna pray." And she prayed for me all the time. Like, very positive things. But this time, she said, "Lord, I pray that all things that are not like You, You take away from Chance. Make sure that he fails at everything that is not like You. Take it away. Turn it into dust."

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4. "Long Time"

I wonder if Gladys smiles when angels bring my name up
Or change language and subject change up
Her boy's a long way from red dolls and green rangers
Things ain't been the same since Ms. Patterson called me famous

5. "22 Offs"

I'm off a lot, they gave me 10 days off
That's an awful lot, I was off campus, but the officer
Told the office, that he saw me from the parking lot

The 10 Day tape was born out of a 10-day suspension Chance suffered in high school for smoking weed. He gives the most straightforward account of that origin story in "22 Offs."

6 and 7. "Prom Night"

Graduation night teachers Ferris Bueller'd my name
You made a mixtape? Good job, I hope you get a good job

10 Day-era Chance had a bone to pick with the teachers who never believed in him. Yes, maybe he couldn't get school to work out for him, but he's working harder at his calling than anyone else. The mixtapes paid off.

Before we dip, Gladys said a prayer over the limo
Bumping 10 Day with the Angels with Jesus shopping my demo
And rode up out of Chatham, the whole hood clapping
And damn it would be crazy if any of this shit had happened
But it didn't, I missed prom, I missed it to spin
I did a show at AKIN and I would do it again

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8. "Hey Ma"

Ms. Brown and Ms. Pollock, little boy done grown up
Little voice done blown up, middle-class that bonus
Hey Ma, Hey Mama Jan; God just gave me another chance
Rod just gave me another line, probably gave me another fan

9. "Good Ass Intro"

Balancing on sporadicity and fucking pure joy
Nightly searches for a bed and I just came off tour with Troy

Donald Glover — aka Childish Gambino, aka Troy from Community — was one of the first artists to recognize Chance the Rapper's talent. After hearing 10 Day, he invited Chance to come on tour with him. The two have collaborated on two songs: Chance's "My Favorite Song" and Gambino's "The Worst Guys."

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10. "Paranoia"

It just got warm out, this the shit I've been warned 'bout
I hope that it storm in the mornin', I hope that it's pourin' out
I hate crowded beaches, I hate the sound of fireworks
And I ponder what's worse between knowing it's over and dyin' first
'Cause everybody dies in the summer

Some of the most disturbing and resonant bars Chance the Rapper has ever offered about mortality, his fears and Chicago's ills hide in the back half of "Pusha Man/Paranoia." A friend of Chance's was stabbed to death in front of him in September 2011. By this song's account and others', it was a wake up call for the rapper to put his career in motion or risk seeing his life snatched from him before he could make something of it.

11. "Cocoa Butter Kisses"

Used to like orange cassette tapes with Timmy, Tommy, and Chuckie
And Chuck E. Cheese's pizzas, Jesus pieces, sing Jesus love me
Put Visine inside my eyes so my grandma would fucking hug me

12. "Juice"

Jack and Lindsey, Wiley, Kembe
Been paid, 10 Day been they FAFSA

In this shoutout to some of his childhood friends and collaborators, Chance boasts that the money he's made off 10 Day could help pay his friends' way through college, serving as their personal Federal Application for Federal Student Aid.

13. "Everybody's Something"

I slurped too many pain-kills down, I'm off a lot
I got a lot off days, but it ain't often that I'm off the clock
Ya kna wha mean, I got the Chicago Blues

Chance the Rapper had some trouble with addiction to pain pills for a brief spell in 2014 after Acid Rap launched him to heights of fame he wasn't ready to cope with, as detailed in his 2016 GQ profile. These lines in "Everybody's Something" seem to suggest the seed of that struggle were sewn a bit earlier.

14. "That's Love"

What's better than tripping is falling in love
What's better than Letterman, Leno, Fallon, and all the above
What's better than popping bottles trying to ball in the club
Is the first caveman pops with his son, ball and a club

15 and 16. "Acid Rain"

I miss my diagonal grilled cheeses
And back when Mike Jackson was still Jesus

Another vision of Chance's childhood: filled with grilled cheeses and MJ.

Mom still thinks I should go back to school
And Justin still thinks I'm good enough
And Mama Jan still don't take her meds
And I still be asking God to show his face

17. "Chain Smoker"

Still a chain smoking
Name dropping
Good looking
Muh' fucking
Motha, shut your mouth
Brain broken
Frank Ocean listening
Stain hitting, satin woodgrain gripping
Paint dripping
Motha, shut your mouth

18. "All We Got"

Tryna turn my baby mama to my fiancée
She like music, she from Houston like Auntie Yoncé
Man my daughter couldn't have a better mother
If she ever find another, he better love her

In Chance's Coloring Book opener, he gives a heartfelt ode to Kristen Corley, his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, giving perhaps one of the most honest and openhearted well wishes one lover could offer to another.

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19. "Summer Friends"

Oh I used to kill 'em with the long hair
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, hugh, hugh!
Now I'm the same way, over time all the time, every night, hey

Chance the Lawn Mower is no more. The work has changed, as Chance illustrates in "Summer Friends," but the work ethic is the same.

20. "Blessings"

Ain't no blood on my money, ain't no Twitter in Heaven
I know them drugs isn't close, ain't no visitin' Heaven
I know the difference in blessings and worldly possessions
Like my ex girl getting pregnant
And her becoming my everything

21. "Angels"

Clean up the streets, so my daughter can have somewhere to play
I'm the blueprint to a real man
Some of these niggas toss they tassel for a deal man
I ain't goin' to hell or to Hillman

There are two parts to this Chance the Rapper mission statement. In the first, he dedicates himself to helping his city so his daughter can play safely. In the second, he pledges to remain dedicated to his music, not tossing his tassel for an easy deal or a ride to "Hillman," a fictional college that appears in The Cosby Show.

22. "How Great"

My village raised 'em a child
Come through the crib and it's bustin'
You meet anyone from my city
They gon' say that we cousins

23. "Finish Line / Drown"

Last year got addicted to xans
Started forgetting my name and started missing my chance
LA for four months end up leaving right back
I'm in love with my city bitch I sleep in my hat

24. "Blessings (Reprise)"

I speak to God in public, I speak to God in public
He keep my rhymes in couplets
He think the new shit jam, I think we mutual fans
I used to dance to Michael, I used to dance in high school
I used to pass out music, I still pass out music

On Coloring Book's final track, Chance offers a full vision of his past, present and future, with bars that incorporate his faith, his high school fuckup origins and his continued dedication to the independent hustle. Thank God for Chance the Rapper.

More Chance the Rapper news and updates

Mic has ongoing coverage of Chance the Rapper's stellar career. Consider starting with the story of his rise from high school fuck-up to one of Chicago's artistic elite. Read up on his 2015 releases, including his Social Experiment single "Hiatus (Broadcast)" and Surf, as well as a review of his uplifting Coloring Book. Check out his march leading Chicago youths to the polls and his a recap of his Grammys victory lap.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Tom Barnes

Tom Barnes is a senior staff writer at Mic focused on music, activism and the intersection between the two. He's based in New York and can be reached at tom@mic.com.

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