Chance the Rapper unveils new song, artwork collaboration for ‘Child of God’
Standing before the crowd in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s first-floor hall, Chance the Rapper and visual artist Naïla Opiangah introduced the project, with Opiangah dubbing it “the right way to look at what empowerment is.”
Nearly three years since the release of his debut studio album “The Big Day,” Chance the Rapper has officially begun his full-on return to the music sphere.
The Grammy Award-winning musician gathered hundreds of friends, family, art collectors, musicians and other industry members to the Museum of Contemporary Art on Wednesday night for an invite-only premiere of his newest project, a song, video and supplementary art piece titled “Child of God.”
Standing before the crowd on a small stage in the museum’s grand first-floor hall, Chance and visual artist Naïla Opiangah introduced the project, with Opiangah dubbing it “the right way to look at what empowerment is.”
“It took me a long time ... to get back to a confident space to be the person that I am,” Chance said. “It was a long journey to get there, but I’m here, I’m standing on that s- - -. This piece took me a really long time to write.”
In the video, projected onto a towering curtain extending from the floor to high above the crowd, Chance is pictured in a house rapping along to the song, while Opiangah paints on a canvas. Lyrics appear onscreen as Chance glides through each bar, addressing themes of self-affirmation and empowerment. His delivery is steady and sober over a pared-down beat, with clever wordplay and deftly navigated changes in cadences.
As the video concluded, the song’s outro continued, building up to a dramatic drop of the curtain, revealing Opiangah’s 12-foot-tall painting hanging way up high, suspended in air by two wires. The stunningly beautiful work depicts a series of Black women cascading down the length of the canvas. Chance and Opiangah embraced, turned to take in the piece and thanked the crowd.
“The main message that I want people to leave with is that this 12-foot painting, this illustrious video, this song, this event at MCA — it all came together in a couple of months because we kept trying. It was a long process, but we learned to love the process,” Chance told the crowd.
The idea for the “Child of God” project was born during Chance’s recent trip to Ghana with fellow Chicago rapper Vic Mensa, Chance explained during a late-night interview with the Sun-Times in the museum’s Bergman Family Gallery.
In Ghana, he landed “in the arms of this awesome art collective,” he said. Among the artists he met there was Opiangah, 27, who was born and raised in Gabon, later moving to Chicago to study architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. She now splits her home time between New York City and Accra, Ghana.
The pair bonded over their interests in artists obtaining agency of their work. The parallels in their approaches are easily discerned, from Chance’s career-long aversion to music labels to Opiangah’s antipathy to art dealers and gallerists profiting off an artist’s work.
Chance showed her an early version of “Child of God,” and soon after he returned to Chicago. Opiangah headed to Chicago a short while later so they could collaborate on the piece, which will be on public display through Sunday at the MCA.
The release of this song, whose video debuted Thursday night on YouTube, is part of an album rollout that will similarly feature new songs and collaborations with artists. The goal is to bring the artists front-and-center, make their work more accessible, and celebrate experiencing art in a communal space.
“The way we usually think of collaboration always involves other parties,” Opiangah said, joining Chance in sitting on the gallery floor for the interview. “This project is really about what happens when you take all the noise out and you have one person and another person exchanging — just committing to bringing their conversations to life.”
Sonically, “Child of God” hints at a return to form for Chance, invoking the delivery and heavier subject matter heard on songs like “Acid Rain” from his 2013 mixtape “Acid Rap,” and “Summer Friends” from 2016’s “Coloring Book.” It’s also a new turn inward to a more vulnerable approach, where the rapper lets listeners in on the process of him finding the sureness in his voice and re-discovering his ability as an artist to create.
“The song to me is all about keeping that voice in your head that allows you to know that you could do it, that you could finish it,” he said. “Whatever your work is, whatever your job is, whatever your purpose is, that you could do it — you just gotta start and finish.”
For the last decade, Chance has toured, independently released music, won awards and attempted to navigate fame while focusing on family life.
“I’m a child star, people don’t understand that about me,” said Chance, noting he was 19 years old on his first tour and 21 when he had his first child. “I grew up fast.”
Now 28, Chance said he returned to writing last September and has since dug deep for a personal album of pieces set to be released later this year.
“They all come from a space of me finally feeling empowered and me finally feeling ready to go speak on all the things that I think about,” he said. “This project does explore a lot darker themes than I have in the past couple of projects. But, it’s all still from a place of understanding that it’s all a process.”
On “Child of God,” he raps, “This world will make you second guess your first mind. Remember when it was your first day the first time?” The gravel in his voice grows stronger and clearer each time he returns to the song’s refrain: “Just do your thing, child.”
It’s a line he said reminds him of his first day of kindergarten and the fear of being somewhere new, not succeeding there.
“You have those moments all the time — your first day at your first job, or your [first] time going into the interview, your first time on stage, your first time having a baby,” he said. “There’s so many moments that you could think back to where you were terrified to death of what was going to happen. And every time we made it through.”