“You guys are a lot louder and know a lot more of the words than I thought you would,” Chance the Rapper said, after kicking his 5:30 p.m. set off with “Everybody’s Something” on Sunday. He apologized for rushing the stage without introducing himself, but the crowd of thousands who pressed forward in a thick mass clearly knew him well.
He appeared with his band the Social Experiment and though a quest for body rattling bass sometimes muddied the intricacy, they cranked out buoyant grooves that formed the sound beds for his upbeat raps. With a focus on positivity and jazzy backdrops Chance’s music is an update of ’90s era New Jack Swing.
His Newer Jack Swing has exploded at a crucial moment. So much of popular rap is mired in nihilistic narcotic romanticism. Chance’s home city Chicago is plagued by a homicide epidemic, a fact he starkly addresses on “Pusha Man/Paranoia,” a song he powerfully delivered at ACL. Most of his music actively strives the counter the despair with love and hope.
His core message “believe in yourself” clearly resonated with the young crowd. When he played “Wonderful Everyday” with the uplifting refrain “everyday day it could be wonderful” he coaxed the crowd to sing along. “You might be able to transform someone else,” he said, and more and more voices were raised in solidarity.
He played songs from his breakthrough mixtape “Acid Rap,” the Social Experiment’s “Surf” and a couple older tracks. The crowd went wild for all of it, but “Sunday Candy” was a standout singalong and it was a beautiful thing. Chance’s flow sometimes skews nasal and whiny in a way that doesn’t work for everyone, but watching a young man lead a crowd of thousands in a soaring song he wrote for his grandma is something we can all get behind.