A Light In The Void: Chance’s Social Experiment

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“We ain’t supposed to be doing this yet.”  Chance The Rapper laughs as he stands on stage between two massive speakers in front of a sold out crowd at the El Ray Theater in Los Angeles.  Two years out of High School, Chance is headlining his own national tour, complete with a live band and a light show.  He’s not supposed to be here yet, even Chance is baffled by his own success.  His meteoric rise would be disorienting for anyone.  Chance was virtually a nobody in 2013.  He didn’t come out of nowhere; his mixtape #10Day from last year garnered some press due to all the attention on Chicago and he opened for Childish Gambino’s tour back when people still knew Donald Glover from Community rather than his rap career.  But at the start of this year, Chance was still a random internet rapper who was riding the coattails of the new focus on Chi City.  And thanks to his rocket to success this year, Chance The Rapper gets the #hungryhippopotamus Rookie Of The Year award.

Chance first blew up earlier in the year thanks to an outstanding lead single and some key guest verses.  By the time Acid Rap finally arrived, the hype was so huge that Chicago hip hop website Fake Shore Drive crashed because so many people tried to download it.  It has become so popular that even though it’s a free mixtape, bootleggers have sold enough fake copies in record stores that it has actually ended up on the Billboard Charts.  Acid Rap immediately made an impact on the rap game even without any radio play.  Chance earned cosigns from superstar rappers and R&B crooners.  He graduated from opening for Mac Miller on the Space Migration Tour to palling around in Europe with Eminem, Kendrick, and Macklemore.  Now he’s just wrapped up his first headlining tour “The Social Experiment” to put a beautiful cap on an outstanding year.

When I saw Chance open on the Space Migration Tour, his age showed.  He was drowned out by his DJ, didn’t finish his songs, pandered to the crowd, and even closed by playing a Drake song.  It was disappointing to say the least.  But on the Social Experiment Tour, Chance has fixed nearly all of these mistakes and delivered one of the best live shows of the year.  The concert was a painstaking ode to his album, imbuing it with all the energy and thoughtfulness that made Acid Rap such a remarkable tape.  Rather than centralizing his set around himself, Chance has brought in collaborators to flesh out the startling range of his work.  Led by ex-Kid These Days trumpeter Nico Segal, his backing band careened from taut funk to psychedelic jams to wide eyed stadium rock.  “Everybody’s Somebody,” one of the hardest songs off Acid Rap was turned into a slow soulful exploration, with Nico noodling his trumpet as if it was an electric guitar.  Openers DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn, two footwork producers from Chicago, showcased their city’s sound and dance before the show and during the raucous finale.  Even the crowd got involved, chiming in a gospel hum that Chance recorded and then looped for his song with Lil Wayne, “You Song.”  He followed that with a completely heartfelt, unironic cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” with the lyrics shown on stage so everyone could sing along.  The different sounds and genres make Chance and Acid Rap a very millennial record, but the concert showed how instead of simplifying them down into one monogenre, Chance is layering his sound so it’s bursting with ideas.  In the year of the minimalistic void, Chance remains bright, shining with musical optimism.

The end of the year shows how far Chance has traveled.  He went into the studio with Justin Bieber and the two released a song that went to number one on iTunes.  He followed that up with his first nationally televised appearance on Arsenio Hall.  There’s no doubt about it.  Chance has the charisma and the talent, hopefully he can find a pathway to even greater success without sacrificing his own creativity and ambition.  In 2014, everyone is gonna start tripping.

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