In his tenure as the Artistic Director of the youth arts organization Young Chicago Authors, writer and activist Kevin Coval has borne witness to the development of countless budding MCs from the Windy City. Notable YCA alumni include rappers Noname, Mick Jenkins, and Saba, songwriter Jamila Woods, and of course Chance the Rapper, whom Coval tapped for the foreword of his forthcoming poetry collection, A People's History of Chicago, out April 11.
The book of 77 poems, one for each of the city's neighborhoods, aspires to tell the often untold stories of Chicagoans living on the margins and amplify the voices of those who do not have their own platforms from which to be heard. It also traces the city's journey to its current status as one of hip-hop's cultural centers, with references to drill practitioners like King Louie and Chief Keef and an ode to Common's 1994 sophomore release, Resurrection.
In his foreword, published in full on Pitchfork, Chance reflects on the importance of Chicago in his ongoing development as an artist. Of his brief stint living in Los Angeles, he writes "If I were to have grown in LA, I might’ve grown into some shit I’m not supposed to be or just not grown at all, or just peaked. I can reach my peak in Chicago cuz that’s where I was planted and where I can continue to grow."
He also includes many kind words for Coval, whom he identifies as his "artistic father" thanks to his role as a mentor for his rap career. Before signing off, fittingly, as "Chance the Chicagoan," he closes the book's introduction with this glowing bit of praise: "Kevin made art a job to me. He made me feel like it was real. He made me feel like the competition was real. He made me feel that the money was real. He made me feel that the love and the fans were real. And if I didn’t have him in my life I would’ve been complacent. He took me out of that space and made me understand what it is to be a poet, what it is to be an artist, and what it is to serve the people."
Chance also recently soundtracked a video interpretation of Coval's poem "Baby Come On: An Ode to Footwork," which is included in the book.
A representative for Chance the Rapper did not immediately return a request for comment.