A lot of traditionalist hip-hop fans would reject this premise, but rarely has there ever been a more diverse period for the genre. There are all sorts of colorful personalities in the game right now, from a deep-thinking, hard-hitting lyricist like Kendrick Lamar, to a stage-diving, crooning rock star like Lil Uzi Vert. There's plenty of room to debate your preferences, but there have never been more options for listeners.
Chance the Rapper's brand of uplifting positivity is another slice of that bigger pie, and he credits some artists who came before him for opening the door for him. During an interview with Stretch and Bobbito for NPR, Chance credited Kanye West for opening the door for people like him, in a sense making it cool just to be yourself behind the mic.
"The fact that it's able to be a main stage or mainstream image, and accepted and celebrated is because of folks like Kanye," said Chance. "[He] came in the game and was like 'This is who I am, and these are the type of things that I love, and I'm excited about them, and I don't necessarily have to carry myself as anybody that I'm not.' And people picked up on it."
You can definitely look at Kanye as a major influence on what people think of when they hear the words "rap music." He came into the game rocking polo and wearing backpacks, playing up his college dropout image. Though there were plenty of artists before him who showed multiple dimensions—2Pac comes to mind in particular—Kanye's particular brand of individuality is hard to deny.
This was important, Chance says, because when he was growing up, he believes artists felt they had to be or act a certain way to establish credibility. He specifically pointed to a particular brand of music during the '90s, when he felt there were too many studio gangsters pretending to be someone they weren't.
"There's always been a quiet conversation and joke that if you're not hard, if you're not from impoverished neighborhoods, if you're not certain constructs of a black stereotype, then you not black," he explained. "Niggas kinda ran with that in the '90s I think, and that's why there were so many fabricated hood niggas. But now, a lot of black people have a lot more pride in being who they are, and understanding that is part of the black experience, is living and being who you are. I think it's more accepted on the main stage."
Though it's at least a partial dig at '90s rap, it sounds like it was intended as more of a celebration of artists today, who feel like they have more options than they would have even 15 years ago. Maybe it's a reflection of how the audience for rap has grown and transformed over the last few decades, but it does feel like there's space for artists from all sorts of backgrounds, provided they have an interesting message to share.
You can listen to the full interview with Chance below, where he opens up about why he's dropped so many mixtapes, moving from Chicago to L.A., and donating $1 million to Chicago Public Schools earlier this year. The comments on Kanye's influence begin around 10:15.