At the age of 20, most people are still thinking about what they want to do when they “grow up.” This is not the case with up-and-coming musician Chancelor Bennett, who is by no definition ‘most people.’ Better known by his stage name Chance the Rapper, the Chicago born hip-hop artist is riding his growing momentum on The Social Experiment Tour, which stops at the College on Nov. 2.
But the concert created as much controversy as excitement, centering around an initial lack of tickets and an ongoing uproar over perceived misogyny and homophobia in his lyrics. In response, the administration asked Chance not to sing the controversial lyric “slap-happy faggot slapper” of "Favorite Song" or use any homophobic terms during his entire performance. According to Dean of the College Shirley Collado, Chance agreed to these terms.
Releasing his first mixtape, 10 Day, after a ten day suspension during his senior year of high school, Chance soon garnered 80,000 downloads and the attention of Forbes magazine, which featured 10 Day in their ‘Cheap Tunes’ column. This growing recognition landed Chance a spot opening for fellow rapper Childish Gambino on tour, and spurred further collaborations with rappers Hoodie Allen and Joey Bada$$. Acid Rap, Chance’s second mixtape released in April of this year, has already achieved 250,000 downloads and catapulted the rapper into wider national recognition. Featuring other artists such as Twista, Vic Mensa and Action Bronson, Acid Rap received critical acclaim and a BET Hip Hop Award nomination for best mixtape, landing him a spot on the famous Lollapalooza festival.
Will Brennan ’16 grew up in Chicago and attended school just a few train stops away from Chance’s school, Jones College Prep, learning of the rapper’s huge ambitions through mutual musical friends.
“He and other rappers on the Save Money label like Vic Mensa were making singles and dropping mixtapes left and right,” Brennan said. “But when I left Chicago I had no idea that Chance would make it as big as he has in recent months.”
The Middlebury College Activities Board, or MCAB, chose the fall concert because of demonstrated student interest in more rap and hip-hop and Chance’s up-and-coming potential, according to MCAB President Elizabeth Fouhey. Chance’s music was relatively well known on campus before his appearance was announced, discovered through the internet or on WRMC. Will Brennan started playing Chance on his own WRMC show because of the home connection, but became a much bigger fan after the release of Acid Rap.
“His jazz harmonies and electronic beats made a really interesting combination that I had never heard before,” Brennan said. “I didn't know what to think of his squawkish noises at first, but I realized it was a part of his playful nature as a musician. I think Chance makes music that is ultimately true to himself and more importantly true to the environment in which he surrounds himself in Chicago.”
Brennan was not the only student impressed by Chance’s distinctive sound. Adam Benay ’13.5 is a huge fan of Chance, listening to Acid Rap every day this past summer.
“I was getting so into him,” Benay said. “I heard a rumor the first or second day of school that he would be coming, and I was thrilled. Kid Cudi came my first semester and this was a nice capstone.”
When MCAB announced Chance the Rapper as the fall concert, needless to say, many people on campus were extremely excited. In an all-student email on Sep. 23, MCAB revealed the Nov. 2 concert date, announcing “Tickets on sale soon,” and directing people to look to Twitter and Facebook for more information. MCAB decided to advertise the event solely through their Facebook page and on the Middlebury Box office website, leaving many students without tickets. Late in the day on Oct. 14, the campus buzzed with news that the tickets to the concert had sold out, leaving many scrambling and willing to pay well above the $12 ticket charge to obtain a highly sought after ticket.
Fouhey explained that the organization decided how to advertise the event at MCAB executive board meetings, brainstorming for electronic advertising alternatives to the all-student email, which has in recent years experienced a push for limited use.
“MCAB made an online status which was shared by dozens of students on MCAB in the hopes that it would reach all corners of campus,” Fouhey said. “We thought that with the excitement on campus and word of mouth, the ticket release information would spread throughout the student body. Our standard procedure is to release the tickets and then do an advertising push once they have been put on sale.”
Benay, who had not ‘liked’ MCAB on Facebook, was one of the students shocked to discover that he had missed his opportunity to purchase a ticket.
“There was a huge portion of people who fell through the cracks,” Benay said. “I found person after person who said ‘What are you talking about? When did the tickets go on sale?’”
Due to uncertainties regarding the Memorial Field House construction, MCAB booked the concert in the McCullough Social Space, which only allowed for 600 tickets to be sold. In addition, the event was limited to students only and each ID holder could only purchase two tickets.
Many students may not be aware of the multi-step process involved in bringing an artist to Middlebury, including the important role of a middle agent to assist in communicating with MCAB which artists fit the desired genre, dates and price range. According to Associate Dean of Students JJ Boggs, bringing a desirable artist to rural Vermont for the right price is no easy task, and the MCAB committee decides which of the suggested acts fits the College.
“[MCAB has] a challenging job, and they have been criticized in the past for hosting unpopular shows,” Boggs said. “They are simultaneously trying to meet student interest, manage their budget responsibly, offer a variety of programming, and at the same time, consider ‘what might the social ramifications be for Middlebury College?’”
The problem with MCAB’s marketing strategy, according to many students, is that not every student is on Facebook, and even those who are may not check their accounts on a regular basis. At the time of the sale, MCAB had a little over 1,100 followers in a student body of 2,500, many of which were alumni. The organization had previously used posters and emails to advertise concerts and many criticized the decision to publicize through social media accounts that students had to join and actively use to be notified.
Fouhey acknowledged that the ticket release issue is a learning experience for MCAB and that the organization never meant to cause the dissatisfaction resulting from the social media marketing idea.
“We understand the frustrations of students about ticket sales,” she said. “It was never our intention to limit or restrict who would know about the ticket release information. We fully acknowledge that we could have done a better job navigating this ticket release. We will certainly learn from this mistake, and in the future we will look to broader methods of communication.”
Boggs reacted to an impassioned letter from Benay, first published on middbeat, and other general student concerns over the way the ticket sales were handled, quickly taking action. On Friday, Oct. 25, Boggs sent out an all-student email announcing that the College was able to secure Nelson Arena, and that more tickets would be made available for purchase soon due to the larger venue. The move to Nelson was motivated by safety concerns, as administrators realized that McCullough did not have the capacity for the crowd or the extensive set and entourage that travels with Chance.
“The real hero of this story is JJ Boggs,” said Benay, pleased with this outcome. “People are reasonable here and it’s very reassuring to know that things can get done.”
In the email, Boggs also referenced student concerns expressed over the perceived misogynistic and homophobic language in Chance the Rapper’s lyrics. But for students like Luke Carroll Brown ’14, Co-Chair of the Community Council, limiting the lyrics and song choice was not enough.
“I think we can all agree that violent homophobia and misogyny are clearly out of bounds and have no place on this campus,” Brown said. “Multiple songs on Acid Rap depict actions that are in clear violation of our community standards, a reality that should prohibit Chance's presence on campus. This performance is especially upsetting in light of the recent hate-letter that managed to combine homophobia with the threat of rape against a student at this college; at a time in which our community should be finding ways of making maligned groups feel safer, we instead chose to hire an unabashedly homophobic singer to perform a concert.”
“The Concert Committee co-chairs and I were completely unaware of the content in question when we booked Chance,” Fouhey said. “The concerns over some of the lyrics were brought to our attention last Monday, Oct. 22. I do sincerely apologize. We never intended to hurt anyone.”
Besides Brown, the controversy has sparked a debate from a variety of other opinions about discussing homophobia on campus and applying community standards to artists visiting the College.
SGA President Rachel Liddell ‘15 said that Chance’s content is disrespectful and offensive to many students on campus, but worries that talk about completely canceling the concert would have crossed a line from concern to censorship.
“I find the content offensive, yet I respect the right of others to tell me things with which I don't agree,” Liddell said. “I don’t want people to be censored. I think that saying ‘bringing Chance to campus condones homophobia’ is an overstatement.”
Liddell further explained that if the concert had been canceled, Middlebury still would have been obligated to pay Chance for a show that never happened. She also believes that the debate resulting from the controversy is a positive outcome, asserting that, “the concert will spark the conversations people wanted to have.”
Boggs added that a complicated conversation took place when considering what to do about the concert.
“Right now we don’t have criteria for evaluating these kinds of decisions. Our struggle was to figure out how to be compassionate and effective allies amid all the complexity in a short period of time. We have a lot to learn from this situation, and we need to figure this out together,” Boggs said.
Collado personally spoke with Chance’s management, requesting that the artist leave homophobic lyrics out of his performance.
“[Chance] is aware of our concerns and our plans for an engaging and honest community forum,” wrote Collado in an email. “[Chance’s manager] said he understood and respected our request and that he was looking forward to being on campus and performing for us.”
Cailey Cron ’14 appreciated the censorship of the lyric, but feels that the controversy should be channeled to discuss a larger campus issue.
“If a lyric is missing, it’s not going to matter unless we seize the opportunity to have a conversation about homophobia on this campus,” Cron said. “Chance will come on Saturday and then on Sunday he will leave. This is not about Chance the Rapper. What we need to fight is blissful ignorance. Chances to address homophobia have come up twice in the past few weeks, and as a campus we need to talk. I’d like to see the administration take a strong, public stand against homophobia. I’m at a loss as to why that’s controversial.”
Benay disagrees with the idea of canceling the concert.
“Of all rappers, Chance’s stuff is way more about drugs and how hopeful he is about his future, and he has lyrics about anti-violence.”
While Benay disagrees with Chance’s use of the word ‘faggot’, he thinks that the compromise between Chance and Collado is reasonable.
“It sort of bums me out that he uses that word, but the idea that he would not come just because of that is sad especially because MCAB hit it out of the park in terms of choosing an act this time.”
To address this issue, Boggs announced that at 7 p.m. on Monday, November 4 in Axinn 229, Student Activities and MCAB will be hosting an open forum to discuss how decisions are made about all kinds of possibly offensive art forms at the College. The forum aims to allow candid conversation about the application of community standards to artistic expression and how they should affect choices about who is invited to campus. MCAB also hopes that this conversation will help to better inform the student group’s decision making in the future.
Cron does not think that the controversy should revolve around two groups of students pulled to join one extreme opinion or the other. “We’ve created a false choice between having performers violate community standards and censoring all dissenting opinion,” Cron said. “I hope we can use the concept as an entry point to a far more important conversation that has to do with us as a community and the relationship between the student body and administration. It is a hard conversation to approach if the administration hasn’t publicly stated its commitment to protecting and welcoming the queer community and concerns.”
Boggs has high expectations regarding the potential impact of the forum.
“I hope that while we wrestle with these issues, we can commit to listening carefully, act in ways that foster inclusivity, and bridge the divide that’s happening right now,” she said. “Knowing that this is just an initial conversation, I’m hopeful we can both show support for students who feel marginalized and influence MCAB’s work in positive ways.”
[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article, as well as that in print, stated that "the administration asked Chance not to sing Favorite Song." This was incorrect; they asked Chance not to sing the lyric “slap-happy faggot slapper” or use any homophobic terms during his entire performance. ]