Chance The Rapper live in Chicago: a new age in rap music
Adam Ramos | Monday, April 11, 2016
A 22-year old Chancelor Bennett entered the stage via an elevated platform, and cheers began to swell; he was smiling. Under the endearing “Chance the Rapper” moniker, the Chicago native has taken his vibrant blend of emotionally poignant rap all over the world, but on that night, at the Chicago theatre, he was home. The stage was flooded in a bubbly pink light. The band on stage, Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment, all donned white clothing. Having already played his opener “Angels,” Chance emerged again after a short break before beginning the opening lines of his hit, “Smoke Again.” Behind him, a massive display of flowers in bloom graced the entire backdrop. It was a metaphor.
It’s been just about four years since Chance the Rapper emerged on the Chicago rap scene with his stellar “10 Day” mixtape debut. Just a senior in high school at the time, Chance partially produced “10 Day” while on suspension for possession of marijuana on campus. Soothing like a sweet, jazzy dream, “10 Day” introduced the world to Chance the Rapper’s heartfelt, inventively creative verses and luscious hooks now so favorably celebrated. But a lot has changed since then. After another major mix tape, a collaborative album and an album alongside Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment, Chance has honed his unique craft. 2016 alone, we have already witnessed Chance drop the best verse on Kanye West’s “Life of Pablo” and announce plans on a brand new mixtape due out later this month.
Celebrating Power 92.3’s 15-year anniversary on air, Chance the Rapper joined forces with fellow Chicago hip-hop acts: Katie Got Bandz, Lil Bibby, BJ The Chicago Kid, Dreezy and Famous Dex for an unforgettable show. Most notable of opening acts was BJ The Chicago Kid: flexing his impressive falsetto on an impromptu a cappella ballad during some “technical difficulties,” and working the crowd with hits “Turnin’ Me Up” and “Church,” BJ proved to be an artist to keep an eye on. And while Katie Got Bandz and Lil Bibby brought with them the fire of Chicago drill music, it was clear quickly that it would be Chance’s night.
Opening his set with “Good Ass Intro” before transitioning into the verse of “Angels,” Chance exuded happiness from the beginning. Performing solely with the instrumentation of Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment, Chance covered an equal distribution of his material, reworking his older songs with the live band arrangement. Hometown fans followed the young rapper on every line, which is saying a lot, considering Chance’s gift with language in lines like: “Okie dokie, alky, keep it lowkey like Thor lil bro.” As the snow of April began to coat the streets in the city he loves, Chance chose to end his impressive set with the touching “Chain Smoker.”
While the blooming flower metaphor can be easily projected on Chance’s blossoming career, on a more important level, Chance represents a new blossoming of rap. As an independent artist in one of music’s more cutthroat genres, Chance’s seemingly effortless success makes a profound comment on the state of rap music. For one thing, the mere fact that one of today’s top rap acts can be taken seriously while preforming in front of a gigantic pink flower display is astounding, especially when considering the machismo overload of rap’s past.
While there have been artists in the history of rap music who have challenged the status quo, conjuring acts like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Talib Kweli, such progressive acts never quite fully integrated into the mainstream. Today though, things have changed, and as traits like sensitivity, awareness and social impact continue to spell success for mainstream acts like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Vince Staples and, of course, Chance the Rapper, the genre only stands to benefit.
Chance also took time during Friday’s performance to pay homage to his hometown. Always known to support Chicago’s second favorite baseball team, Chance made his allegiance clear on Friday, announcing the success of his personally redesigned cap, before ogling over his ceremonial first pitch at the afternoon’s opening park game. The performance even included a cameo from the Chicago Bulls beloved “Bucket Boys” percussion group. And while much of the homage went to the city itself, Chance did take time to pay respects to Chicago’s other biggest talent and personal role model, Kanye West. Performing live his and Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam” for only the fourth time ever, Chance was glowing, climaxing on line “I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail.” The performance even included a small, white-cloaked choir helping to fill the chorus, and was succeeded by the introduction of fellow “The Life of Pablo” track, “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1.”
It would be easy to state that Chance the Rapper is an artist on the verge of something big, and frankly anyone lucky enough to catch his superb set on Friday, would likely say as much. But Chance has never been predictable. Whether he’s spending his time forfeiting the spotlight to focus on his work as a part of Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment, starring in emotionally draining short films or lecturing at Harvard, there will always be an air of capriciousness when discussing what to expect from the artist. Thankfully, dynamism is integral to progression, and if Chance stands for anything as an artist, it’s this — and maybe also that little shriek sound he makes all the time.