Lil Chano From 79th and soul singer Jamila Woods are putting the city’s young talent in the spotlight
My first car was a 1985 Toyota Celica that was so old and run down that it leaked when it rained, the passenger side door didn’t open, and I had to keep the heat on to cool the engine down. Despite those flaws, in the summertime I took great joy in shifting it into fifth gear on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, windows down, feeling the breeze blowing off Lake Michigan as I cruised along the expressway.
If hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper and poet and singer Jamila Woods had been around back then, maybe I could’ve made a music video depicting my Lake Shore Drive adventures in that rickety (but functional!) car. Fortunately for today’s teens, the two Chicago natives hope to tap the creativity of Chicago’s public school students for a video for their collaborative track, “LSD”, which is a love letter to Lake Shore Drive.
On Tuesday, the two artists took to social media to announce that they’re looking for video treatments from the city’s aspiring public school student filmmakers. All eligible students have to do is write up their vision for the music video—there are free how-to tutorials online—and submit a PDF version by June 2. The contest is an unprecedented opportunity for kids in the district, 80 percent of whom live in households poor enough to qualify them for reduced or free lunch, to show their talent and make vital entertainment industry connections. “The winning student will shadow the directors and production crew on the set for the day,” according to the announcement. Other students whose submission “show promise” will also get to shadow a film set department head.
The contest won’t be a surprise for those familiar with Chance’s activism on behalf of his hometown’s students. In March, the rapper, born Chancelor Bennett, made headlines when he announced a $1 million donation to support arts programs in the city’s financially strapped school district. “Everybody and their momma knows about what’s going on in Chicago, it’s constantly talked about. But we’re about to enhance the conversation,” Chance said in March at a press conference announcing the donation.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]It’s important to me that there’s not just one story told about Chicago.[/quote]
Woods, whose 2016 album “HEAVN” features “LSD,” is an equally fierce supporter of programs that teach the arts to students in her hometown. Along with making music, she’s also the associate artistic director of Young Chicago Authors, an organization that provides free student-centered, artist-led workshops to about 10,000 youths per year.
“A lot of people get Chicago wrong,” Woods told Spin last year. Media coverage tends to either dive into the struggles of the public schools or cover the murder rate, portraying impoverished people of color as monsters with guns. “I’ve developed this protective feeling about how we’re portrayed, and at the same time, I’m acutely aware of the issues we face and the root causes of these issues. It’s important to me that there’s not just one story told about our city,” explained Woods.
To that end, Woods told Spin that “LSD” was inspired by her childhood memories of riding on Lake Shore Drive from the city’s South Side to downtown, an experience she described as “magical.” But, like many things in the racially segregated city, the lake has a complicated legacy for black Chicagoans.
A white gang hunts black people in Chicago in 1919.
During one of my own childhood trips on Lake Shore Drive, my mom told me about an incident rarely taught in schools—how in 1919 a black teen named Eugene Williams was killed by white men in Chicago after he crossed an imaginary line in Lake Michigan at 29th Street and floated out of the area designated for black swimmers. The incident sparked riots that lasted for nearly a week, left nearly 40 people dead, and made around 1,000 black Chicagoans homeless. That history makes Woods’ “LSD” lyrics, “Matter fact, we can swim in it. I know you wanna get in it,” seem both defiant and celebratory.
The student who wins Woods’ and Chance the Rapper’s contest will surely be celebrating their achievement all over social media, and they’ll also get paid. “There is a stipend set aside in the video budget for the students!” Woods’ label, Jagjaguwar wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.