The corridors of the coliseum seemed empty and haunted. Not a soul in sight and a great wave of wails and cheering bellowed across the tiled floors, crawling across the walls adorned with memorabilia and posters of all the great figures who had ever come to the Triad. As the DJ played the top hits, revving-up the waiting audience, the chanting began.
“We want Chance, we want Chance….”
Amid the darkened arena glowing with cell phone lights, the beloved rapper took the stage, humble and meek, the crowd nearly oblivious to his presence. With the few calm words, “How’s it going, North Carolina?” the coliseum erupted, and any reserve the excited and nearly frothing crowd had was lost as the stage burst to life with fireworks. The stadium was filled and ticket-holders rushed into the aisles to get even a few feet closer to the stage. The halls and merch booth lines and even the bathrooms were empty, as if, for the moment, there could be nothing more important than seeing Chance the Rapper perform firsthand.
Entering into the third month of his expansive Be Encouraged tour, June 7 marked Chance the Rapper’s entrance into the Triad. The tour is supporting his third mixtape Coloring Book, the same album that earned him a Grammy for Best Rap Album and Best New Artist in 2016.
As Chance came onstage at the Greensboro Coliseum, he was left smiling in the first moments as the crowd’s roaring praise drowned out any music, or any other thoughts at all. Shedding a light jacket to get more comfortable and wearing his signature flat-billed cap with the number 3, a tucked-in T-shirt and skinny jeans, the rapper began the show, moving around the stage on quick feet, a smile fixed on his face. But aside from the usual modes of performance — flashing lights, booming bass — there is something natural to Chance’s show. Something compelling and nearly hypnotic.
While most performers wait until the show’s end to give laconic words of gratitude, Chance the Rapper paused after the third song. Introducing his brother on the drums, backing vocalists and horn player Donnie Trumpet, Chance held an aura of humble magnanimity surrounding him beneath the glowing lights. Avoiding the clichés, Chance has garnered a loyal fanbase that appreciate his genuine care of his art and down-to-earth approach to the fame he has earned.
The 24-year-old rapper remains an independent artist, despite numerous multi-million-dollar recording offers. After self-releasing two mixtapes, the young artist caught the eye of such acts as Kanye West and Childish Gambino. The success of his first albums earned him a spot opening on tour for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
On the massive screen behind the stage, images of album art, music videos and illustrations rolled as Chance performed. And having won a Grammy for “Best Rap Performance,” Chance proved his place among music’s great performers. From the middle of the stage, a platform raised, carrying Chance high into the air as he performed his acclaimed hit “Sunday Candy,” singing above screaming fans in the front rows. As the show carried on, a catwalk descended from the rafters, providing a path above his fans towards the back of the arena in an awe-inspiring scene you could only expect from top pop acts such as Lady Gaga.
While Chance’s style abides by the rap traditions, they become merely nominal moments when compared to the songwriting for which he’s become famous. Blending old school flavors of Motown, gospel and R&B into his songs, Chance’s complex lyrics flow effortlessly above the music — music performed by a live backing band.
With drums echoing and the trumpet blaring, Chance never lost his gratitude for the audience. Between numerous songs, he thanked the crowd, thanked those who have helped with the tour and shouted out his family’s North Carolina roots, referencing Winston-Salem explicitly. He seemed incapable of refraining from smiling while performing his songs.
While the fame and glory are the ultimate boon and acme of many musicians, Chance the Rapper has separated himself from this tribe. Following in a vein of artists such as Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen and the Clash, Chance is beginning a new era of popular music; an era that deviates from the usual trends of show business, bringing a genuine, songwriter and performer into the popular light. He disposes with the holier-than-thou attitude that many celebrities become addicted to at such a level of fame, and promotes true gratitude and kindness across the ocean of music fans.
Chance’s style and performance brought a new and refreshing approach to hip-hop and popular music. While electronics and samples of his music backed his raps, his fervor and talent radiated into the arena, powerful and unrelenting until the coliseum was empty.
Enter true artistry once more into modern music — enter Chance the Rapper.