Chance the Rapper (photo: Robert Alleyne)
On Saturday night Chancelor Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper, performed at The Fox Theater for his inaugural show in Oakland. As one of the final dates on his “Family Matters” tour, featuring openers D.R.A.M, Towkio, and Metro Boomin, Chance was in celebratory spirits — excited both to be performing for many fans who had never previously been to one of his shows, and to be nearing his return home to his newborn daughter. Below are my thoughts on all four acts of the undeniably warm, positive, and optimistic evening.
D.R.A.M is goofy, but good hearted — he’s a natural performer who makes up for a non-traditional singing voice by simply belting his heart out. The Virginia rapper/singer hybrid has the talent of a seasoned performer, but the attitude of one who is on the stage for the first time in his life and is worried it might be his last. The dude’s passionate. It all comes across in the way he hangs on every syllable like a gobstopper, or the way he never lets out a word without it taking with it all the air in his lungs.
The passion D.R.A.M brought to The Fox Theater was balanced with an equal amount of unbounded ridiculousness. Impressive footwork was a key component of all four of the performers’ sets, but D.R.A.M easily won the biggest smiles from the crowd with his energetic gyrating executed with a relentless grin. When he wasn’t dancing, D.R.A.M was usually calling out for the audience to scream “’Yeah tho’ if you love your momma,” or “‘Fuck that bitch’ if you’ve ever been wronged” — a weird juxtaposition, to say the least. His most common declaration to the crowd during his brief time on stage was for everyone to “spread love,” which became a de facto mission statement for the performance.
The best delivered message of the night, however, came in the form of “$,” a song dedicated to motivation that was heavy on triumphant bass and trumpets, with D.R.A.M’s muscular voice cutting through the thick of it all with hints of both hype and surprising tenderness. D.R.A.M got about as soulful as he can muster on “Caretaker,” which proved captivating as he nearly screamed about how he’ll be there for you “even if you got a man now.” It all concluded in “Cha Cha,” D.R.A.M’s most recognizable hit, and a weird little tune about falling for a Dominican girl over a “Super Mario World” sample that is stupidly infectious and beloved by the audience. It was a victory lap in an already exceptional set full of color and character — D.R.A.M already knows how to sell a crowd on himself, so it won’t be long until he sells out venues like the Fox by himself.
Towkio held nothing back the moment he walked on stage, announcing “my turn” as he grabbed the microphone. His dancing was even more unrestrained than D.R.A.Ms, but far more technically impressive, and he was visibly worked up by the second song, already needing to lose the camouflage jacket he walked on stage with. SaveMoney, the Chicago collective in which Towkio is a member with Chance, was name dropped early on, and his Chicago pride was in full force during the set, his Bulls jersey waving around him as he ran like a flag in the wing. While D.R.A.M hoped to inspire his audience to spread love, Towkio announced early on that his mission was to get them turned up.
Most of the heavy lifting in achieving that outcome, however, was taken up by Towkio’s DJ — the rapper himself was rather underwhelming, his words generally falling without ever really landing. He isn’t instantly likable like DRAM, and his songs are far less interesting, offering very little in concert and echoing a similar lack of liveliness that was apparent on his debut full length Wave Theory. Towkio was prone to building his songs to a relatively weak fervor pitch and then cutting them short right at their most animated moment. One initially lackluster electro-pop song, straight out of the 80s but without any of the cheesy inflection that makes those songs crack a smile on your face, ended right after finally building to a catchy-enough hook — a disappointing cut to what seemed to be becoming a set highlight.
Most of Towkio’s set seemed to be about aligning himself with greatness. In one song he name dropped all the Kardashian sisters and pleaded for a deal with Nike. On another, a new track featuring production from Mr. Carmack, he bragged about hanging with Vic Mensa, Kanye West, and Jay-Z — all of whom I guess fall under the category of “gang with me,” a phrase he repeated endlessly during the chorus. Both songs also fell victim to the unfortunate trend of ending right when they were just starting to get going. “Heaven Only Knows,” Towkio’s most recognizable hit, was instantly memorable with its reiterations of “I love it” over a squeaky keyboard riff — but didn’t quite land without Chance’s scene-stealing verse. Although Towkio apparently hangs within the company of great artists, he is not yet capable of shining as bright without their presence.
The best way to give a sense of Metro Boomin’s fun, if slight, DJ set is to simply list some statistics about his song selection, which disappointingly featured not a single one of his own productions. Over the course of half an hour he played:
- 2 songs off the Drake/Future joint mixtape What a Time to be Alive
- 4 Drake solo cuts + 1 Drake song featuring Lil’ Wayne
- “Day ‘n’ Night” back to back with “Pursuit of Happiness” by Kid Cudi
- A song that got the crowd ecstatic but was unfamiliar to me and made me feel out of touch
- A snippet of the hook of ILoveMakonnen’s “I Don’t Sell Molly No More”
- “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” by Kanye West (which I proceeded to rap the entirety of even after he cut the track short), as well as Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music crew take on Chief Keef’s “Don’t Like
- “The Hills” by The Weeknd
- A dedication to A$AP Yams, who passed away earlier this year
Chance the Rapper
“Acid Rap,” Chance’s breakthrough second mixtape, is hardly over two years, yet it feels like Chance the Rapper is one of the biggest stars in hip-hop. His squawks and nasal inflections have gone from quirk to trademark, and over the course of a two-hour set he performed about twenty songs that can all be classified as classics. He is a compassionate performer, echoing a personal dedication to his own city and every city he passes through. The Social Experiment, his backing band featuring Donnie Trumpet, Peter Cottontale, Greg Landfair Jr., and Nate Fox, performed songs across Chance’s short but prolific career with a sense of exuberance that brought an added vibrancy to the artist’s jazzy and lively music.
Chance has always been an impressive live performer, and his dancing and rapping has remained as tight and expressive as it’s always been. Where this tour diverges most from previous outings is in the production and Chance’s endurance. The stage set-up was colossal, with two large pillars of amps holding up the drummer and keyboardist, and towers of lights and screens displaying cartoonish visuals and flashes of color over the course of a nearly two-hour set. Chance wasted no time in flexing the might of this arrangement, running through fog cannons and dizzying light shows within the first few songs. Chance is equal parts bandleader and crowd pleaser, capable of conducting both his band and the audience to match his limitless energy.
The setlist was packed — Chance has amassed an unbelievably dense catalogue for a 22 year old. Unsatisfied with simply letting people’s fandom for his recorded music do the heavy lifting in making for a memorable performance, The Social Experiment reworked — and improved upon — many arrangements throughout the course of the show. Opener “Everybody’s Something” popped with a more upbeat groove, and when they launched into an anthemic tag-team of “Pusha Man” and “Smoke Again,” Chance proved himself capable of holding down stadiums if he wanted to (he’s already shown himself a more than capable festival headliner on multiple occasions).
Beyond his own material, Chance is known for his guest-spots and collaborations, and he performed many of those songs as if they were all his own. Action Bronson’s “Baby Blue” was a particularly rowdy cut, meanwhile Chance reprised Towkio’s “Heaven Only Knows” and this time around injected it with the life it was lacking earlier. Chance took full advantage of his location, bringing out a number of local heroes to perform their joint work with the rapper. The crowd lost it when the lights turned back on to reveal Kehlani standing center stage – and she commanded attention for her part of “The Way,” proving herself more than ready when she headlines the venue on her own next month. Meanwhile the biggest social media moment of the evening came courtesy of Lil B, who rapped poorly over his own pre-recorded track and generally just looked out of place while Chance paid his respects with constant cooking dance moves.
The Based God’s brief moment of collecting snapchats on stage during “Wonton Soup” did not detract any from the sense of accomplishment Chance’s performance captured. The rapper thanked the crowd several times and seemed genuinely enthused to be performing in Oakland. Fans sang back to the performer deep cuts from his first mixtape “10 Day,” as well as new material such as this year’s “Sunday Candy” and “Angels.” Chance exclaimed after the latter track, ironically an ode to Chicago, that Oakland is “the perfect town.” He proved to us the power of “intention and radiation” while performing his still classic cover of the Arthur television theme song by putting down the microphone and leading the crowd in a sing along originating from one person and fanning out to the entire building. As is expected when leaving a Chance the Rapper concert, I left with a skip in my step, as well as confetti in my hair from the massive finale of “Chain Smoker.” There’s not a performer out there trying to do more good with his voice, nor succeeding as much as Chance is.