Grammy Award-winning artist Chance the Rapper challenged the graduating students at Dillard University on Saturday to be better than those who came before them and to fearlessly transcend their heroes.
“Some people might find this kind of talk disrespectful, but it’s exactly the opposite. The highest form of respect that we can pay to the people who came before us, the people who sacrificed for us and gave us everything, is to be better than them,” Chance said in his commencement address at the private, historically black liberal arts college in New Orleans.
“Our parents, grandparents, ancestors sacrificed, not so that we can keep doing the same thing that they were doing but so that we can be better. To simply copy them would be almost an insult to their sacrifice.”
The 25-year-old Chicago native, whose real name is Chancelor Jonathan Bennett, said it was his first time attending a college graduation. Dillard University presented him with an honorary doctorate degree “for his philanthropy and continued service to the youth.”
In his address to graduates, Chance discussed “what it means to live into your greatness without fear,” and he referenced “the greatest performance of all time put on by the greatest performer of all time.”
First, Chance spoke of his own childhood hero and musical inspiration, Michael Jackson, whom he credited for introducing him to his “craft” and “livelihood.” He recalled the time he performed the iconic artist’s song “Billie Jean” at his preschool graduation in 1997.
“Every spin, turn, crotch grab, moon walk was perfectly executed,” Chance said. “I was pure, 100 percent Michael Jackson in that moment. I copied what he did perfectly.”
Michael Jackson “was the greatest” and “solidified his space in world history,” he said, because the craftsmanship and showmanship exhibited in his live performances was unlike any other at the time.
“Generations of little black kids have been mesmerized before the TV screen or YouTube, watching as Mike seemed to do the impossible. One of those little black kids would grow up to be someone especially amazing,” Chance said. “She would do more than just copy Mike. She would surpass him. And now, I’m going to tell you about the greatest performance put on by the greatest performer of all time, and it wasn’t Mike.”
“Beyonce,” Chance announced, amid cheers from the crowd of graduates.
Chance referenced the superstar’s stunning live performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 14. Some 458,000 simultaneous global viewers watched the extravaganza live on YouTube as Beyonce became the first black woman to headline Coachella, according to the streaming platform.
It’s the most viewed Coachella performance ever on YouTube and the most-viewed live music festival performance, period, on YouTube.
“In real time, in one fell swoop, she eclipsed every Grammy performance, every Super Bowl halftime show, every talent show,” Chance said in his commencement address Saturday. “Literally, any performance from the beginning of time in contrast became outdated and obsolete.”
Chance, who made a surprise appearance on the Cochella stage this year alongside other artists, said Beyonce’s performance was “better than any performance Michael Jackson ever did.” And that’s when he had a realization, he said.
“I realized that all of us have a responsibility to be greater than the people who came before us. We have a responsibility to be not as good as them or live up to their example, but to actually surpass them, even when it seems scary. We have to overcome that fear and be greater than our role models,” he told the crowd of graduates. “We have to erase the fear and stigma behind eclipsing our heroes.”
Chance said he will always love and admire Michael Jackson’s work, but Beyonce’s jaw-dropping performance at Coachella has inspired him to “look forward to seeing more of the greatest happenings eclipsed by even greater happenings.”
“With that performance, I realized that greatness can never be stagnant,” Chance said. “To quote Bruce Lee, we must be like water, adapting to our container, always changing with the times.”
Chance also spoke of Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously led the American civil rights movement until his death in 1968, and how today’s youth who admire King shouldn’t be afraid to go beyond what he achieved.
“If I were to say right now that someone in this room will do more for black people than Dr. Martin Luther King, a lot of people would find that offensive. But to the man who directly spoke to seeing over the mountaintop, knowing he might not get here with us, truth is it would be counterproductive to find complacency in where he brought us,” Chance said in his commencement address. “Dr. King’s service to the movement was movement. Sometimes by immortalizing someone in their accomplishments, we immobilize the very thing that they believe in. We have to create new moves.”
Chance, whose mixtape “Coloring Book” earned him three Grammy Awards last year, urged the graduates at Dillard University to study and learn from their heroes and not replicate their work but exceed it.
“Living up to your heroes is amazing, but it’s not good enough. The difference between goodness and greatness is going beyond. You have to push forward and surpass their greatness in order to pay homage to their struggle,” he said.
“Beyonce had Mike. Mike didn’t have Mike. Mike had James Brown. James Brown had Cab Calloway, and so on and so on,” he continued. “Right now, the greatest performer who ever lived might very well be in this audience. And that person has something Beyonce never had. They got Beyonce.”