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How Chance the Rapper Rode on Top of the El

Behind the scenes of the rapper’s latest music video, “Angels,” with director Austin Vesely

Chance the Rapper rides the el in style   Image: Still from

Chance the Rapper may seem like he’s on top of the rap world right now, but he’s not stopping there.

After several spotlight-stealing performances (including one where he outshined Chicago’s other favorite son, Kanye West), the Chatham native climbed atop an el car in the Loop to film his latest music video, “Angels ft. Saba,” directed by frequent collaborator and member of the Save Money crew, Austin Vesely. (Scroll down to watch the whole thing.)

Vesely, 25 and living in Logan Square, chatted with Chicago magazine to explain more about how the video—sure to give any true Chicagoan a case of the feels—came together, from getting Chance on top of the train to making it look like he was flying through the clouds to save his city.

Let’s dive in. I think what everyone wants to know is, how did you get Chance on top of that train?

Well, we met with the CTA and kind of just asked. [laughs] We drew on their white board what we wanted to do and how we thought we could do it safely. There’s this guy over there, the CTA’s liaison for film and TV production, Bill, and he was like super stoked about it. He thought it was a real fun thing, so that helps, to have somebody who’s on their side who’s enthusiastic about stuff like this. We got a whole train that was just ours and rode around the Loop all day long. We put Chance up there on the safe parts of the track, you know, where he’s not going to get hit by an awning or something.

Whose idea was it?

Me and Brandon Riley, my director of photography and producer, wanted to do something spectacular, something we hadn’t seen before.

Were you on top of the train, too?

I wish I was! I was inside watching the monitors, and Brandon was up there [filming Chance]. They were both tied down with these harnesses that our stunt guys provided. He was shooting handheld for all of that.

So how did you keep other people off the train while you were filming?

The train said “not in service” and when we rolled into the stations, someone would announce, “Do not get on this train. It’s a movie train.” It was wild, there were people intending to ride the CTA and we’d pull up and get out with our ladder and put Chance the Rapper on top of the train.

You collaborated with some other great Chicago artists for this film, including street artist Hebru Brantley. How did he get involved?

It was a happy coincidence that Chance’s character, with the goggles and stuff, resembled Hebru’s Flyboy character so much. We decided to lean into that. Because the video already had this sort of comic book superhero nature to it, we thought, let’s get Hebru involved. His style was perfect for this, and it was really cool for me personally to work with him.

Part of the music video is filmed in the Financial District. How did you choose that location?

It was at Lasalle and Jackson—we chose it because it’s iconic to Chicago. It’s the place in The Dark Knight where Batman fights the Joker. There’s a big funeral scene there. It’s just such an interesting visual place. There’s a canyon there that terminates at the Board of Trade—just a spectacular visual look.

And how about the dancers featured on the train and in the Financial District scenes? How did they get involved?

The main cats we called on were Ian Eastwood, DLow, Pause Eddie, Lil Bit. Just fantastic Chicago footworkers who were also in the “Sunday Candy” video. [The little boy in the video] was the friend of a crew member—he spent most of his time with the dancers around, and he started busting some moves. I tried to have him dance for the camera but he wouldn’t. Maybe he’ll build that confidence in the future.

How long did it take to get all the footage?

Mainly we did all of this in a day. The stuff where he’s flying, we shot at Cinespace. We had him on wires in front of the green screen. The second day, we started at about 6 or 7. We got on the train for about 8-9 hours, and were running around the Loop over and over again. Then we napped for a minute and shot the stuff in the street that same night.

If you could do another video on top of a CTA train, would you do it?

It was pretty intense—with moving parts and safety and all this stuff. I’d do it again if only to take a ride myself. It was super cold when we filmed [in late December] so no one was really itching to do it, except the thrill seekers.

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