If you take a look at any social media feed these days you can’t help but feel that the rift between elite culture and conservative America is now a gaping chasm that can never be mended. From Meryl to Alec to Sarah Silverman hallucinating Nazi symbols, there is no shortage of celebrity outrage about Donald Trump. For every ounce of Hollywood hysteria conservative commentators and Regular (nee Deplorable) Joe Republicans take an equal measure of umbrage.
Humans’ tribal nature, the media’s willingness to expose it for every last click, and our self-selecting social media communities have created an information environment where it’s easy for each individual to find more evidence—perceived or real—of the other tribe’s atrocities but little opportunity for the opposite. These cultural bubbles are becoming so thick that you don’t see a counter example when it is right in front of you.
At the Grammys this week there was plenty for a conservative to shout about, whether it was Katy Perry’s #Persist arm band, a debate over whether Beyoncé is really queen of all American culture, or Busta Rhymes calling Trump “President Agent Orange” (ICWYDT, Busta). But at the beginning of the show there was an olive branch, subtle but unmistakable, from the winner of Best New Artist, a black hip hop artist from Chicago befriended by President Obama.
Chance The Rapper went to the stage and did not lambaste Trump or Betsy Devos. His message was simply one of praise to God and individual freedom: “Glory be to God, I claim this victory in the name of the Lord. I want to thank God for my mother and my father. For Kirsten, for Kensli. For all of Chicago. And I want to thank God for putting amazing people in my life like Pete and Pat. I want to thank God for my team. I know that people think independence means you do it by yourself but independence means freedom.”
Give Chance One
A parent taking in the Grammys with her kids somewhere in flyover America saw Chance lay out the very values conservatives often bemoan are missing from our culture. They were offered more genuinely and passionately than I can remember them ever being delivered by our new president. Yet this glorious message garnered nary a peep when I checked my Twitter feed.
Maybe that comes from our cultural drift, conservative blinders to the possibility that a celebrity could be talking to them, having been burned too many times. Or maybe it’s darker than that: an unwillingness to look beyond the fact that he’s a black man with an unfamiliar manner. Or it could simply be that it’s more fun to tweet about the obnoxious liberal than the surprisingly pleasant rapper. No matter whether the root is animus or indifference, by focusing on the outrages, we miss the opportunity for connection.
Chance’s Grammy’s speech wasn’t just lip service. His views on faith and family and freedom (I know I’m making him sound like an Iowa caucus picnic here, but stick with me) are genuine, and he’s offering a welcoming path to those who want it. Chance’s brand in the rap world is as an independent artist and entrepreneur who eschewed the big labels in order to create something that was his. You might even say he “pulled himself up from his bootstraps.” His music is littered with evangelism, family values, and personal freedom.
Chance Doesn’t Hide His Ideas, Either
His award winning mix tape “Coloring Book” doesn’t bury the message, either. It opens with a Kanye West collaboration that is in essence a glorious modern hymn backed by the Chicago Children’s Choir. The song “All We Got” offers ebullient praise to God and music and life’s beauty, with Chance rapping in part:
This for the kids of the king of all kings
This is the holiest thing
This is the beat that played under the words
This is the sheep that ain’t like what it heard
This is officially first
This is the third
I get my word from the sermon
I do not talk to the serpent
That’s the holistic discernment
Daddy said I’m so determined
Told me these goofies can’t hurt me
I just might make me some earl tea
I was baptized like real early
I might give Satan a swirlie
Music all we got
Isn’t this all we got?
So we might as well give it all we got
A few songs later is a rap devotional, “Blessings,” in which Chance channels his inner ecstasy in such an infectious manner that you can’t help but be moved to think of your own. The message he espouses therein could not be more familiar to conservatives. It begins with a capitalist trumpet: “I don’t make songs for free, I make songs for freedom” and follows with a line that could’ve come from the mouth of any social conservative objecting to President Obama the past eight years: “I don’t believe in Kings but believe in the Kingdom.”
He follows with a pro-life, pro-family lesson that comes off as part pep talk to himself and part tribute to his newborn daughter whose blessing was unplanned: “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… Like my ex girl getting pregnant and her becoming my everything; I’m at war with my wrongs I’m writing four minute songs….I’m gon praise him, praise Him til I’m gone…When the praises go up (Good God) the blessings come down.”
It’s Not All Choir Boy
Chance even offers an easy entrée into his music for fans of white Christian artists when he covers “How Great Is Our God,” which he first heard when his cousin Nicole sang the original at his grandmother’s funeral.
He offered a separate ode to his grandmother in a collaboration on an album by Donnie Trumpet (seriously, Donnie Trumpet) where he sings “Sunday Candy,” which is not some euphemism for a come-down drug, but a reference to receiving communion with his grandmother before she died. “I’ve been waiting for you for the whole week, I’ve been praying for you, you’re my Sunday candy.” (You can check out this self-proclaimed “church kids” choir doing the song).
Chance is not all Ned Flanders teetotalin’ choir boy. His music is not absent of themes and language some might object to. He isn’t shy about smoking pot. And “Coloring Book” devotes more time to partying all night at the club than it does to communion
Like all of us, he’s a sinner. But he offers honesty and his personal journey to the truth. The arc of his music, from the heavy beats and obsession with drugs of his early work to the angelic “Glory Be” of “Coloring Book,” won’t mirror the exact anecdotes or experiences of someone who grew up in Trump’s America. But the themes, struggles and moral compass very much should.
Chance ends his last record with a message that will be heard this Sunday from pulpits all across our land: “Are you ready for your blessings? Are you ready for your miracle?” For conservatives, Chance provides an opportunity to shed the grievance and alienation that that many feel from pop culture and instead embrace a common joy. He can be part of a bridge that heals our cultural rift, but only if we are ready to receive him.