Chance the Rapper’s long been known as a rap iconoclast, with a persona largely centered around humility. He’s a rapper with a bashful embrace of fame, but bars he can’t help being famous for. He raps about his relationship God, about the grit of Chicago’s South Side violence, and the bores of bling and materialism (his clique: Savemoney). He’s laid waste to so many archetypes that the modern day, flex-addicted rapper ostensibly needs. Chance the Rapper is, as far as they go, a Good Guy.
All of which makes this story about him and MTV brutally disappointing.
This week, journalist Jordan Sargent’s published a piece for SPIN about MTV News and their overlords’ decision to pivot their decision strategy from well-reported, smart (if not controversial) writing to video content. Of course, that pivot also involved layoffs of some of its most celebrated writers and editors. It was a thoroughly reported, well-sourced deep dive into the motivations behind the move, and it produced a number of fascinating tidbits behind the struggles MTV News faced covering the subjects it was often otherwise promoting.
Chance the Rapper was one of those names.
According to SPIN, the 24-year-old rapper and the publication came to a head when David Turner, a writer for the site at the time, wrote a piece about the “emotional disconnect” he felt while listening to Chance’s 2016 album Coloring Book. The album, Chance’s most popular, leaned on religion in an overt way that his previous work hadn’t. And Turner’s piece—which he later published on Medium—dissected his reckoning with that realization while at a concert in New York. (Of note: Turner wasn’t the only writer that felt this way.)
After the story made its way onto MTV’s Snapchat Discover channel, according to SPIN, Chance’s management saw the piece, contacted MTV, and allegedly threatened to never work with MTV again as a result.
MTV’s Music and Talent (“M&T”) division soon requested the piece be deleted, to which MTV News eventually obliged. Following the decision, editorial director of music Jessica Hopper sent the following message to her team on Slack, according to SPIN, citing screenshots that were affirmed by several MTV employees:
“Chance and his management became aware of David’s piece via the repost on Snapchat Discover and subsequently told MTV, amid high-level negotiations for linear specials, that he was never working with MTV again because of it,” wrote Hopper. “M&T asked us to unpublished and scrub it from social media as they attempt to repair this with him and his management. It is upsetting for obvious journalistic reasons—we stand behind everything we publish. Right now, we are unsure how it may impact Chance-related projects both in and outside of News if the relationship cannot be repaired. Everyone agrees it was a fair and reasoned piece of criticism…”
SPIN then reached out to Chance’s manager, Pat Corcoran, for a response, to which he replied:
“Upon the publication of the article, Chance and I got together & both agreed that the article was offensive. When we brought our concerns to MTV, our rep agreed that the article was ‘a harsh shot’ & took ownership of the editorial misstep. From there, MTV chose to, on their own volition, to remove the piece. We have a long history with MTV, which we cherish. You may notice, Chance will be appearing in the season opener of Wild ‘N Out tmw night (6/29) on MTV.”
The article was never republished on MTV News. And yeah: Chance was on Wild ‘N Out last night.
Look: Chance has become such an important figure to so many groups of people, this author included. There’s no disputing that. I saw that firsthand, living in Chicago for two years—continuously being bombarded with headlines and tweets about violence and shooting that never, ever stopped. Chance felt like an antidote. A bright, unrelenting force of good from Chatham that existed in a place where there seemed to be no hope left.
He felt like a relatable, hyper-talented kid who used the brightness of his star in ways many before haven’t. He dedicated a bar of his career-vaulting verse on “Ultra Light Beam,” to call back the coat drive he did some two years ago in which he gave 1,000 winter coats for Chicago’s homeless. During his first appearance on SNL, long before The Hand of Yeezus propelled him into pop star lore, he rephrased the last few bars of “Sunday Candy” to call out Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago Police officer who was charged in the 2014 shooting death of black teenager Laquan McDonald. He gave $1 million to Chicago’s public schools. He’s held free open mic after open mic for the city’s youth.
All of which just makes this so indefensible.
So maybe Chance, or his management, never explicitly asked MTV to take down the article, but threatening to never do business with MTV, and using the weight of his celebrity power to diminish dissent and critique? It’s hard to square with the rest of Chance, as we know him. It’s a toxic way of thinking, especially at this moment in time—the kind unhealthy use of fame more often exhibited by, say, politicians imploding in their own cascading waterfall of narcissism, than artists who dedicate and attach themselves to generally decent ideas and causes. People who can’t face criticism do this. Like the kinds of egos so big, they’re not capable of stomaching any kind of discomfort about what they do, let alone, allowing it, from people in far lesser positions of power and influence.
The kind of people who hide behind their small thumbs and a Twitter avatar.
Diverse journalism, diverse voices—varying in opinions, tone, and viewpoint—are more valuable and important than they’ve ever been. Discourse can be divisive, of course. But it can also act as a force empathy and reason. It’s better than silencing people. It’s better than siloing ourselves into echo chambers that reinforce what we already think, and make us more distant and hostile toward one another.
That even means reasoning with journalism that produces truths you might not enjoy, or opinions you might not see eye-to-eye with.
The MTV News piece wasn’t hate speech. It wasn’t fake news. It was one writer’s ideas, the kinds of ideas published by outlets every single day. It’s possible to go to a concert of artist you’re a fan of and come away disappointed—just like it’s possible to still love an artist, but be disappointed by the way they handle bad press. Those opinions are valuable. And now’s not the time we should be hushing voices, or media. Now’s the time we should be protecting it.
That’s why it’s so disappointing: Chance, in all other endeavors, respects those values. Chance has become such a necessary figure in today’s landscape of music, capable of doing so much for so many—just listen to the piercing, bone-chilling hidden track “Paranoia” on Acid Rap if you don’t believe me. But this whole MTV News situation is an indefensible move, no matter how likable or important you’ve become, or how great your episode of Wild’n Out is. There’s not much else left to say. Just: