Chance the Rapper is in the middle of what he calls “The Social Experiment,” a project of new songs that emphasize his band and choir that breaks away from what people typically associate with the rap genre. Here is the lab report from the Wednesday night iteration of the experiment.
Hypothesis: Rap loving 20-somethings will enjoy a more musically-infused sound.
Materials: Eastern Michigan University’s basketball stadium, large stage, intricate lighting and sound systems, security guards, Young & Sick, Sweater Beats, Travi$ Scott, Chance the Rapper, roughly 2,000 college students, a handful of uber-excited high school students, alcohol, marijuana, vaper pipes, giant glow sticks and DJs who “aren’t here to mess around.”
Procedure: 1) Set up stage, lighting and sound systems inside of basketball stadium. 2) Administer alcohol, marijuana, tobacco products to the college students and record how they react with security guards. 3) Have a promoter throw glow sticks from the stage and ask college students, “Are you ready for Chance the Rapper?!” for 20 minutes of slightly drawn-out hype time. 4) Bring artists onto stage and observe.
Results: The most notable observation of the evening was the stark contrast in stage presence, philosophy and overall mood between Travi$ and Chance.
Travi$, an up-and-comer out of Chicago and recent addition to the Good Music label, brought plenty of energy to his set, warning the crowd early on that he likes to “rage, mob and sweat,” at his shows. Travi$ himself was fully committed, hopping from either end of the stage through his best known songs like “Upper Echelon” and “Sin City,” his lyrics entirely screamed amongst gasps for oxygen. It was a little crazy, essentially mindless, but overall pretty entertaining. Still, he had some pretty high expectations for a Wednesday night.
A majority of his songs were paused 30 seconds in so he could admonish the audience for not being loud enough, jumpy enough, “turnt” enough, etc. After about his fourth re-started song, it was clear the crowd would have settled for a solid three minutes of continuous music. Travi$ wrapped up his set awkwardly after abruptly ending “Don’t Play.”
And then there was the other Chicago rapper.
It really was remarkable how much more excited the crowd was to sing along to Chance’s melodic opening number, “Everybody’s Everything.” Chance and The Social Experiment band have found the mid-point between traditional musical proficiency and 2014 concert explosiveness and it’s hypnotizing to watch.
The first 20 minutes consisted of the Acid Rap staples like “Pusha Man” and “NaNa” before moving into the new “Social Experiment” project works, currently being promoted via Sound Cloud but not from any official album. Chance took a moment to explain the meaning of the project and the audience’s role as guinea pigs for the group to try their new work. The results were truly spectacular.
Short of the rebranded “Arthur” theme song, “Wonderful Everyday,” attendees knew sporadic pieces of the other songs like “Back Up in this Bitch.” It didn’t matter, the place was fully committed to everything Chance was spitting.
Each new song featured a deadly combination of Chance’s already exceptionally written rhymes, a veteran-level performance from the band and noteworthy lighting arrangement. Chance made sure to highlight his trumpet player in particular, fellow Chicago native Nico Segal, who now runs under the stage name Donnie Trumpet. Segal is a show himself, demonstrating a soloing ability and wind instrument stamina beyond his years. As far as the social experiment goes, these millennials showed nothing but love for a band that is essentially a retooled and modernized jazz ensemble.
Chance’s rapping was crisp, his dancing impressive and his even his singing was good. While not always perfectly pitched, Chance sings fearlessly, leaning into his falsetto and commanding his melodies.
What made Chance’s time on stage so different than Travi$’ was that he didn’t demand the crowd get excited to see him, he asked them to have fun with him. The atmosphere was notably more inclusive than most rap shows you might see (think Kanye’s wheelchair debacle) and this was best highlighted during “That’s Love” when Chance literally stood at the edge of the stage, pointed from person to person saying, “I love you, I love you, I love you.” Were it anyone else in the world, it would have been a strange, awkward mess of a stunt but there was a unshakable sincerity in his words that had the crowd calling back, “we love you too.”
Conclusion: It’s clear that the Wednesday night crowd enjoyed the show, in both the original mix tapes 10 Day and Acid Rap and the “Social Experiment.” What’s less clear is whether they even cared that they saw a rebranded version of Chance’s sound or if it was just Chance himself that they were there to see. Probably the latter.