There is a Dorothy Norwood song I first heard in 1994 that deeply impacted me. The song, "Somebody Prayed for Me," goes as follows:
Somebody prayed for me, had me on their mind.
Took the time to pray for me.
The song speaks to the selfless nature of communing with a divine being on behalf of another. While someone could request any number of things that would better his or her own lot in life, taking time to intercede on behalf of someone else is an intimate and generous act. Norwood goes on to say:
I’m so glad they prayed.
I’m so glad they prayed for me.
As I reflect on the song today, a rapper from the South Side of Chicago comes to mind because I think someone has been praying for this dude.
On May 12, Chance the Rapper released the mixtape Coloring Book exclusively to Apple Music. The project was met with almost universal acclaim and heavy rotation nationwide. Chance the Rapper’s uniquely melodic voice is perfect for the gospel-soul-inspired abstract hip-hop on the album. After the, in my eyes, pedestrian and uneven projects 10 Day and Acid Rap, Chance seems to have found his signature sound. His is a unique voice in black music, but it’s more than just the sonics of the album that give me reason to think something supernatural is going on. There are three reasons why:
The production and features on Coloring Book are incredible. Kaytranada, the Social Experiment, Lido, Basstracks and other high-profile producers create a musical landscape for the album that is at once soulful and trippy. The album has features and writing credits from the likes of 2 Chainz, Lil Wayne, Kayne West, Young Thug, Justin Bieber, Future, Kirk Franklin and Jay Electronica … just to name a few.
How Chance the Rapper was able to pull all this together for a mixtape escapes me. The only answer I can fathom is that somebody was tarrying at the altar—and Chance thanks them by including three, arguably four, tracks that are essentially avant-garde postmodern gospel.
Chance the Rapper doesn’t have an album deal. Let me repeat that: He is not signed to any record label—major or minor. Although he was offered a deal with Top Dawg Entertainment and could have been label mates with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, he turned down that offer to remain independent. That means he is releasing music on his own terms, and he is afforded the freedom to decide what music he wants to make instead of being pressured by record executives to adhere to a sound they think would be financially successful. Yet somehow, he was able to enter into a deal wherein Apple Music had exclusive rights to Coloring Book for two weeks.
Further, not only did Apple Music have exclusive rights; it actually promoted the album, during the NBA playoffs, with commercials during prime time. For Chance to pull this off without the backing of a major record label is unbelievable. Like I said, it’s gotta be prayer.
To my mind, the above should be considered examples of the divine interceding on behalf of Chance the Rapper. However, I could see how one could argue that they are the result of smart business decisions made by Chance and his business partners. The following, however, could be nothing but evidence of the divine:
In a stunning development, on June 16 the Recording Academy announced rule amendments. The rule changes stated that "streaming music" (read: mixtapes) can now be nominated for Grammys. This comes after years of resistance to the idea of including mixtapes because of their sometimes uneven nature and problems with clearing samples. This announcement comes after a petition created by a man named Max Krasowitz garnered over 30,000 signatures. He created it saying that he wanted artists like Chance the Rapper to be recognized for the work they do. The rule amendment is effective immediately, which means that Coloring Book is now positioned to be the first mixtape to win a Grammy. If that’s not divine intervention, I don’t know what is.
Look, it’s possible that all these things are coincidental. That they are the result of an incredibly talented, business-minded artist forcing those in the music industry to take note and make room for his brilliance. It’s also possible, as Five-Fifths said on Negroes With a Podcast, that President Barack Obama is his secret benefactor. They are both from Chicago, and if it is true that "real recognize real," perhaps Obama’s real recognized Chance the Rapper’s real and used his presidential influence to make all these things happen. But I think that's far-fetched. Using Occam’s razor, it’s easy to deduce what’s going on here.
Somebody prayed for Chance the Rapper.
Lawrence Ware is a progressive writer in a conservative state. A frequent contributor to Counterpunch and Dissent magazine, he is also a contributing editor of NewBlackMan (in Exile) and the Democratic Left. He has been featured in the New York Times and discussed race and politics on HuffPost Live, NPR and Public Radio International. Ware’s book on the life and thought of C.L.R. James will be published by Verso Books in the fall of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.