Chance The Rapper’s Saturday sermon; why there’s room for God in hip-hop

There’s a lot to like about Chance The Rapper.

Chance the Rapper performs during the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

In the class of charismatic young MCs with at least one eye on the tradition of hip-hop’s first generation storytellers he’s an easy valedictorian, and is about to lap everyone else.

Say what you want about the current state of Kanye West’s psyche and mental health, but if the last gift he gives the world is imparting his fellow Chicago lyricist with the confidence and presence to own every square inch of any stage he’s standing on, then his disappearance down the Kardashian/Jenner wormhole will not have been in vain.

From the moment Chance took the Honda stage with his vice grip-tight backing band on Saturday he was in firm command, easily alternating between moments of almost folky storytelling (“Same Drugs”) and the nuanced rhythmic wordplay of “Summer Friends” and “Mixtape.”

And a look around at the many thousands of fans in front of him showed something truly special: a mostly young melting pot of fans having no reservations about celebrating the positivity and message of the God-soaked songs that were being laid on them by a performer blessed with the zeal and command of a veteran Sunday preacher.

It’s hard to say how many of the assembled would mark themselves as believers beyond bouncing and singing along to the messages being delivered by the young Grammy winner. And maybe that’s not the point.

While Chance The Rapper’s enthusiastic spirituality is certainly a foundation of the better world message that predominates his songs, he’s ultimately presenting himself as an on ramp for listeners to look inward and reflect and grow the best parts of themselves to the rest of the world.

So while God is there, it’s the young and gifted MC who is leading the walk he’s taking with his listeners.

This is an odd dynamic in otherwise secular music, and to see an unapologetically spiritual performer flourishing and thriving in terms of audience buy-in can seem… if not jarring then at least eye opening.

To those for whom hip-hop is more often a confrontational and occasionally overtly political venture – present company included – Chance’s many religious invocations in the course of sterling pop songs can become stumbling blocks for the uninitiated listener. This is not a bad thing, but it’s a far different flavor from what is the norm on a music festival headliner stage.

 

Set list:

Mixtape

Blessings

Angels

Juke Jam

Waves

Ultralight Beam

Sunday Candy

I’m The One

All We Got

No Problem

Summer Friends

Finish Line/Drown

Same Drugs

Blessings (Reprise)


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