Chance The Rapper Makes History with Magnificent Coloring Day

Photo by Nolis

Photo by Nolis

words • Jake Krez // photo • Bryan Lamb, Chris Brown, Nolis

Thirty seven years ago a cross-section of the music-loving Baby Boomer generation flocked to the home of the White Sox on the south side of Chicago to celebrate the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one. Dancing around a flaming heap of disco records in center field, my parents took part in the 'death of disco' on the Comiskey lawns under the tutelage of local DJ Steve Dahl. Just under four decades later, yet another Chicagoan is leading the charge for a new understanding of how music is seen and understood. This past Saturday, Chancelor Bennett, better known by fans and the general public as Chance The Rapper, hosted his day-long 'Magnificent Coloring Day' festival at U.S. Cellular, Guaranteed Rate, Comiskey Park. Proving the kind of upward mobility available to a city that is increasingly finding itself in the crosshairs of national and international headlines, Chance packed the place 40,000 strong to join in on a celebration of a local kid made good, the ascent of yet another superstar from our ranks, and the positivity and freedom that come along with his message.

Photo by Bryan Allen Lamb

Photo by Bryan Allen Lamb

For his part Chance proved that his music is more movement than passing fad and handled himself like the kind of self-assured leader he has projected in his work. The sentiment is reflected beyond his own words though. As the crowd took a collective breath, nearly asphyxiated from a surprise midday Kanye West appearance, Chance calmly strutted onto the stage to perform his verse from the pair's single "Ultralight Beams" off West's The Life of Pablo. As Chance took his first step down the long catwalk, something interesting happened. West, the epitome of self-serving ego and first-person interpretation, lept down from the stage. Proving he too understood the gravity of the moment; two young black men from arguably the country's toughest area standing before thousands just miles from where they grew up, West continuing the passing of the torch that began at the top of this year when the pair performed on 'Saturday Night Live'. Standing amongst a sea of unruly fans and aggressive security guards, 'Ye watched like the rest of us as Chance rattled off his now-iconic verse with easy deference, doubling down on the second half with a show of strength, backing off with his mic in the air to let the crowd take the rest. Since emerging over a decade ago, West has long been known for his strong opinion. On a sunny September day on 35th and Normal, his thoughts on Chano seemed readily apparent. 

Those feelings reverberated throughout the stadium on a sunny late-September day as throngs of fans from across the city and beyond descended on the home of the White Sox, many doing their best impressions of Chance, reflected in everything from choice of clothes to general disposition. Inside, fans from all walks of life crammed into the narrow aisles of the park or stood tightly-packed around the massive stage, looking past differences in a peaceful appreciation of music that comes at a time of increasing national racial strife. On Saturday, I watched as kids and young adults from the suburbs, city and elsewhere mixed in a melting pot of cultures tied together by a singular thread of regional pride that goes beyond racial and socioeconomic differences. For one day, the music and sense of larger community shone brightly under the Magnificent Coloring Day banner.

Years later, the ripples of that day will surely be felt. As the sun set and the park's bright lights illuminated the elaborate festival set up, a certain unorganized, organic aesthetic set in. At a time when festivals come tightly-wound, carefully-orchestrated productions, MCD felt like a neighborhood barbecue on steroids, a throwback of sorts that put locals front and center. Between sets, local rappers like Supa BWE, Sterling Haze, Morocco Brown and Qari, among many others walked the field, stopping to take photos and share hugs and handshakes with fans. While the festival may have been a display of those at the top, it also served as a sort of communal meeting place with enough downtime for everyone to enjoy one another as much as the acts themselves. In an increasingly digital world, the opportunity for facetime in front of the areas fans was a welcome aside.

Likewise, the show put the city front and center, serving as a reveal for his community-service endeavor, 'Social Works' which put a name on a collection of local activists and community organizers who have championed efforts like his Open Mike series for high school students. On the mezzanine level, boutiques like Jugrnaut and Fat Tiger Works that have supported him since day one ran pop-up shops, hurriedly hawking original t-shirts, hats and locally-sourced streetwear in a furtherance of the independent spirit of the city today. More than just another festival, the smaller details of the show itself served a unique opportunity for more than just those onstage.

As for his performance, Chance once again proved he is the pre-eminent performer of his generation, taking the bar even further by offering up an inspired set that was a reflective experience packaged as a musical, taking cues from the last few years while pushing whole-heartedly forward. Without and other locals on the bill, save for West, and his fellow bandmates shrouded as shadows in an amazing stage set up, the focus was squarely on Chance. For an act that often puts other before himself, it was a welcome decision. A fully hometown affair, Chano rocked an Emma McKee-made jacket, came styled by fellow local Whitney Middleton and utilized every side of his myriad network to put together a show that was paced by his ongoing conversation with Carlos, an animatronic lion that served as MC and DJ for the show, a nod to his love for The Lion King theater play. Despite having the support in-house, he performed solo version of "No Problems", D.R.A.M. was transformed into a wild-looking animatronic squid that sang "Special" from a throne while Eryn Allen Kane and Jamila Woods got similar treatments. Touching, endearing and endlessly involved, the performance was one that only Chance could deliver; at once childlike, serious and experimental while staying true to himself in a way artists like Drake could only dream of. 

The sounds throughout the south side of Chicago on a typical Saturday are often marked by sirens and gunshots breaking through the everyday bustle of any neighborhood. On September 24, Chance was able to change that narrative for at least a few hours, offering his voice and the sounds of his colleagues throughout the oft-forgotten neighborhoods south of the Loop, soundtracking the weekend night with the sounds that have carried his undying message of tempered positivity for a city sorely needing it. If the expectation is everyone do what they can, Chance certainly did his part and in turn opened eyes across the city and beyond as to what is possible with a little effort. 

Over the course of the last five years we've watched the systemic ascension of a new kind of star from Chicago. Growing from Chancelor to Chance, from Chano to Dad, from high school suspension to family man and cultural leader, Chance The Rapper has evolved into a person that his city can rally behind and be proud of. The festival and performance, both in size and production, proved that Chance is much more than just a rapper from Chicago, he very well may come to represent the city he grew up in. Musicians have made history before: big concerts, unforeseen collaborations, eye-crossing lineups, but what Chance and his team accomplished this weekend went beyond that.

For a generation of Chicagoans and fans in general, Chance once again adjusted the narrative, continuing to put it in the hands of the people who live and feel it rather than the corporations that try to pimp it to their own profit. Similar to the way Dahl and a cross-section of local music-lovers took it into their own hands to move the needle of public opinion, Chance and his friends and followers took to the stadium erected across the street to wave the flag for forward-thinking independent music. It's a furtherance of everything he's championed since breaking onto the scene in 2013 and a narrative that speaks to the past and will most certainly continue to pace and push forward the idea of a Chicago Renaissance.