Grateful for Eli Brown’s reflection on yet another gold mine of a song from Chance. Enjoy.
Chance fans worldwide must have been sending praises up, because the blessings truly are coming down. A few weeks ago, like musical manna, Chance dropped four surprise singles: “Wala Cam”, “I Might Need Security”, “Work Out”, and “65th and Ingleside”. While all of them showcase Chance’s now well-known lyrical dexterity (to varying degrees, one could argue) and dependably superb production from his usual team, I find myself continually drawn back to “65th and Ingleside”.
The track stands out in my musical memory thanks to the defining character trait on display throughout it: humility. Humility is a rarity in rap, because it implies weakness in comparison with the work and lives of other people, and that is a luxury no rapper can afford. (For much the same reason, humility is scarcely seen in the lives of people who don’t rap, i.e. us, either.) The best example of a rapper talking about his life with an air of humility was probably back in 2010 with Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Even then, though, the humility that seeps through a fair share of the tracks on MBDTF is really only a byproduct that listeners can extrapolate from the lyrics; whether or not this was Kanye’s intention is neither here nor there. The point remains that rarely does a rapper speak so directly about his own failings as Chance does on “65th”.
The overarching theme of the track is Chance’s relationship with his now-fiancee, with whom he had a daughter when they were boyfriend and girlfriend. Chance has talked briefly about this relationship in his music before (“All We Got” and “Blessings” from Coloring Book being prominent examples) but never at such length and with such frankness as he does on “65th”. From the start, he admits his immaturity in the early days of the relationship: “I was sleeping with you every single night/But I was still tryna act single right”. The track gets its name from an intersection in the East Side of Chicago, at which Chance’s girlfriend rented a house and where Chance lived for free (“I didn’t have to pay for a single light”), and Chance uses much of the song to thank God for and praise his fiancee’s fortitude and perseverance in supporting herself and their child in spite of his own delinquency, with lines like “Moved downtown for a single life/None of my stars ever twinkled bright/Till God decide to come bring you by”. He echoes this again with some clever double entendres later on in the song: “Three jobs, you afforded the crib/F*** child support, you supported the kid”. The “crib” implying an actual crib and also the house in which their daughter is being raised, and “kid” meaning their daughter but also the juvenile behavior of Chance himself, of which he is now repenting.
While the lyrical content of “65th” highlights specific details about Chance’s life in a way that most of his other tracks do not, the song still maintains the pseudo-parable nature that makes so many of his songs such infectious earworms. In a way reminiscent of Jesus’ use of parables as testaments to certain realities of the Kingdom, much of Chance’s work functions as testaments to notions or ideas larger than his own life’s narrative. A prime example of this lies in “Same Drugs”, arguably one of Chance’s most potent songs because of its irresistible pull on listeners, forcing them to look back through time and consider the attitudes and actions that have shaped their own histories. Jesus generally ended his parables with the injunction, “He who has ears, let him hear”; on a similar but less significant level, the attentive listener can discern kernels of truth about the human experience that Chance writes (whether knowingly or unknowingly) into a large portion of his work.
“65th” is powerfully cathartic not only due to Chance’s dependably sharp writing itself but also because, like “Same Drugs”, it evokes a grander image or idea, that of a (soon-to-be) marriage relationship being restored. Chance belts out the closing three lines, declaring: “Feel like you remember every single lie/Truth is I just really need your finger size/So I can make sure that they make the ring so tight”. With these lines Chance completes the 180 degree turn of repentance and commits wholeheartedly to the beauty of what awaits him in marriage. The similarity between this and the experience of us as Christians is striking; the only difference is that we are Chance, and Jesus, our bridegroom, is the one with the ring. He has seen all our lies, all our shortcomings, all the times we’ve succumbed to vanity or lust or greed or pride or envy or comfort or anything else that led us away from his outstretched arm. But when, like Chance, we turn and repent we see that at the end of that arm is a hand holding a ring that is ever so tight and will never fall off.