Chance the Rapper gives high school students a platform to speak

Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper and Chicago poet Malcolm London at Open Mike Monday at UIC. The event was for high school students only. Photo: Joshua Clark/UIC Photo Services



There are only two rules at Chance the Rapper’s open mic series for high school students: Respect the mic. No racist, sexist, homophobic, gender bias language allowed.

Chicago-area high school students gathered Monday evening in UIC’s Education, Theatre, Music and Social Work building to hear their peers perform and make a statement.

It was the third night of Chance’s Open Mike series, which began last month at the Chicago Cultural Center. It now operates biweekly as an event open to any high school student. Students are selected from the audience and allotted three minutes to speak their minds through performance.

“A lot of open mics are traditionally at bars or clubs,” said Colleen Mares, an organizer for Open Mike.

“In terms of a safe space for kids who are under 18, I think that’s what we saw the need for. We just wanted something that they could go to, that starts after school, as an alternative fun space,” she said.

The series was created by Chance (Chancelor Bennett), 21, a Chicago performer recently listed as No. 7 on Forbes “30 Under 30” music list. The series is named for mentor Mike Hawkins, better known to the community as Brother Mike, who died in December. Hawkins was known for starting YOUMedia at the Harold Washington Library, where Chance had some of his first opportunities to rap.



Chance sponsors Open Mike in memory of Mike Hawkins, who worked with Chicago teens at the Harold Washington Library. Photo: Joshua Clark/UIC Photo Services

“Mike was a really great inspirational guy, so I definitely see his memory living on through this,” Mares said.

Creative sparks were apparent in the room Monday as students performed, listened and supported each other.

One of the opening acts was Johann Tacke, 18, a student at Evanston Township High School who received a standing ovation for his rap about police violence. Tacke belongs to a student group of rappers called Rebellious. “It’s more like rebelling the cliché of today’s rap,” he said. “People focus too much on the beat rather than the actual lyrics, whereas I try to keep substance.”

Deba Obaseki, 17, a student at Northside College Prep, used slam poetry to address police brutality. His poem described his relationship with his younger brother, who likes Power Rangers. “In the future, when he gets older, the people he thinks that will protect him might have alternative motives,” said Obaseki.

Joe Frankel, 14, performed a freestyle dance to the poem, “Music Found Me” by Nico Segal, also known as Donnie Trumpet. “It’s like something takes over you,” he said of freestyle. “You go with what you know. It’s in my heart.

“I’m definitely going to keep coming back to Open Mike,” he said.


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