I like to think I have a fairly eclectic taste in music. Thomas Tallis competes for attention with They Might be Giants on my near-obsolete iPod.
However, I must admit I have never come across the Chicago-based artiste known as Chance The Rapper. I assumed in fact that Chance must be a stage name, but as it happens his real name is Chancelor. And sure enough, just like our own Philip Hammond, he seems to know a thing or two about business.
Last night he took the opportunity to announce his purchase of a local news website, the Chicagoist; doing so – as only a media owner who is also a rapper could – in the form of a catchy song, called “I might need your security”. In the ditty he explains forcefully how “I bought the Chicagoist just to run you racist bitches outta business”. Not the usual motivation for a merger or an acquisition, but who’s to say it’s not a good one.
On the face of it, Chance is taking a bit of a gamble with his move into local media. The Chicagoist hasn’t been operational since last year, when it was effectively closed down by its then owner, Joe Ricketts, after his staff voted to seek union recognition. Since then, with its assets having been taken on by the WNYC public radio station, the Chicagoist has existed as merely an archive of historic material. It does not exactly inspire with sparkling design features.
What’s more, the current financial climate for many local media outlets isn’t exactly rosy – although with 10 million people living in the Chicago metropolitan area, there is a sizable audience just waiting to be tapped.
Some social media naysayers also questioned whether Chance was genuinely interested in what in the old days would be known as a “free press”. It was recalled that he had previously got into a row with MTV News after a writer described having an “emotional disconnect” with Chance’s latest album. The rapper and his management were reported to have told MTV that he would not work with MTV again unless the article was removed. Chance’s manager told Spin that the piece was taken down after MTV agreed that it was a “harsh shot”.
However, for all the doubts, there is something frankly admirable about Chance the Rapper’s apparent conversion to Chance the News Publisher. Indeed, after initially announcing his new-found media mogul status via an expletive-filled rap, Chance added in a rather more considered statement: “I’m extremely excited to be continuing the work of the Chicagoist, an integral local platform for Chicago news, events and entertainment… I look forward to relaunching it and bringing the people of Chicago an independent media outlet focused on amplifying diverse voices and content.”
Amen to that, Mr Chance.
Will he bring his own politics to the site? His father was once an aide to Barack Obama in his days as a Senator, although Chance – who has campaigned against gun violence – is said to be an independent voter. Certainly he is an active commentator on US domestic affairs, and has even had the great fortune to be tweeted about by President Trump – the latter offering his thanks to Chance in a message about how Kanye West had performed a great service to the black community.
Chance, who had caused a stir by tweeting that “black people don’t have to be democrats” (in apparent defence of West), nonetheless rejected the “thank you”, saying he would “never support anyone who has made a career out of hatred, racism and discrimination.”
If anything, he seems more balanced in his outlook than many media barons of longstanding. With a decent team of journalists and writers, he could take the Chicagoist to new heights. Indeed, if we’re interested in keeping local media alive in an age of diminishing journalistic return, Chance could well be a fine thing.