Early in August, a press release announcing the lineup for the 35th Goombay Festival was emailed to local media outlets and promptly disseminated. Among those down for the Friday, Sept. 11, to Sunday, Sept. 13, event at Pack Square Park were local acts Jonathan Scales Fourchestra and Lyric, as well as hip-hop legend Doug E. Fresh and popular Chicago MC Chance the Rapper. It’s was Chance’s name that set social media ablaze — fans were incredulous that such a big act would play a free show in Asheville.
It turns out that such skepticism was warranted, but only on a basic identification level. The following day, a corrected release was sent out, clarifying that the Sunday, Sept. 13, headliner would be gospel-rapper Chance the Artist, an Asheville native currently based in Atlanta. Though not as well-known nationwide as his similarly named colleague, Chance the Artist has a strong local following thanks to smooth, positive rhymes and a gift for selecting complementary beats. When the initial news broke, however, even his hometown friends who knew he’d be playing Goombay called him up to confirm just which Chance was coming to town. It wasn’t the first time the two lyricists have been mixed up, and it probably won’t be the last.
“I’ve learned to flow with it,” Chance the Artist says. “The funny thing is, I had my name before Chance the Rapper came out. It was so weird. I tell everybody this story: I was out, I was doing my music, gospel-rap, and next thing you know, out of nowhere this guy Chance the Rapper pops up. So, I had a decision — am I going to change my name or keep it? So, I decided to keep my name. I said, ‘You know what? It’ll be good conversation.’ It happens all the time.”
Chance the Artist grew up in the Hillcrest area and attended Asheville High School. He’s been doing music “since [he] could walk” and at age 12 started the hip-hop group The Hard Heads with a few local friends. They were focused not on gospel-rap but what the musician calls “the other stuff.” He began selling drugs and was in and out of the court system for seven years until he had what he calls “a real awakening with God” in 2008.
“I needed a life change. I decided to just take my music and say something that would help somebody,” Chance says. “There’s a lot of negative music out there — I’m not knocking anyone for doing what they do, but I just felt I needed to be different and say something that’s going to uplift people.”
Feeling the need to test the waters in a new scene, Chance moved to Atlanta in 2010 and has since established himself as a key member of the city’s rich gospel-rap community. His continued faith in divine guidance has put influential people like singer/producer Sam Collier in Chance’s life and opened doors to take his music ministry to the next level.
Chance now finds himself on the cusp of some potentially major turning points, including the forthcoming debut of an official website, a DJ to enhance his live shows and a team to assist him on the business side. Since making music his profession — he’s also a public speaker, sharing his story of hope and redemption at schools, juvenile centers and churches — Chance has been his own booking agent, manager and personal assistant. With looming attention from labels, he’s looking for help from his fellow man as well as the man upstairs.
“I’ve been really seeking God about the label thing, which I know is going to come up soon. I already know opportunities are going to come to me soon, so I’m really trying to debate if I want to stay independent or really do the label thing,” says Chance, noting that he’s wary of potentially losing creative control over his music. “The independent thing has been great. It’s a grind — the independent scene is a grind.”
Essentially touring nonstop for the last five years, Chance is currently blocking out time for his next project and is on the lookout for producers both Christian and secular. (“If you’ve got dope beats, I’m looking to rock with you,” he says.) He also continues to keep tabs on the Asheville hip-hop scene, especially the Ponkinhead Entertainment roster (which includes close friends Mr. 1NE 5IVE and producer Big Doe). And Chance is excited to perform at Goombay, which he attended regularly growing up. “Yeah, man. That was the spot,” he says. “That and Bele Chere.”
As for the rapper with whom he’s often confused, the two Chances have yet to cross paths or communicate, but Chance the Artist looks forward to the hour when they make one another’s acquaintance. It’s a meeting that he’s confident will result in more than quick salutations. “I believe we’re going to do a song together. It’s going to come up,” he says. “I believe we’re definitely going to do something dope together, something crazy.”