A conversation between two 20-something women that I overheard before Chance the Rapper‘s sold-out Oracle Arena gig last night summed up the trajectory of the 24-year-old artist’s young career: “I wish Chance didn’t blow up,” one woman said to her friend. “Can we, like, see him at the Fox Theatre one more time?” So went concertgoers’ trepidation heading into Chance’s big-venue debut, the second show of his 36-stop “Be Encouraged” spring tour, his largest headlining jaunt ever: Would he still be the same Chance, the endearing and modest rapper that so many fell for at smaller venues across the country?
Even the Chicago rapper himself appeared to sense that the Oakland concert would be a sea-change performance. After two songs, he walked out to the edge of the stage and addressed the 15,000-person crowd. “I know I’ve never played a show with this many people in the room,” he admitted.
Chance’s explosion into the pantheon of modern-rap gods who can sell out the country’s largest arenas was perhaps unforeseen. The artist, with just three mixtapes under his belt, nabbed a trio of Grammy awards earlier this year, including Best New Artist, accolades that propelled him into the broader Suburban America Music Vernacular. Gone are the days of intimate Chance gigs at the Fox, or even the Greek Theatre, which he headlined in 2016. And the rapper did all this without inking his soul to a major corporate record label.
That said, humility and gratitude were the major themes during last night’s 90-minute, 20-song set. (Fittingly, the opening deejays played Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” twice in a span of 30-minutes.) Chance donned denim jeans and a white T-shirt the entire show — no wardrobe shuffling — and ended the night with a a series of gospel-inspired tunes, including an extended outro rendition of “Blessings,” during which he urged the audience to sing along to the lyrics “When the praises go up / the blessings come down” for several minutes.
Indeed, the gospel-ish tunes from his latest record, Coloring Book, dominated the entire second-act of Chance’s set, complete with rhythmic chanting of refrains like “Are you ready for your miracle?” and videos of a sun rising over a cascade of mountains.
Backed by a three-man team of musicians — drums, keys, production, and brass — and intermittently joined by four vocalists, the set list was also a mix of earlier favorites and radio-friendly hits. And he even performed a medley of songs from mentor Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo, including “Ultralight Beam,” which he co-wrote, and the opening verse from “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” which he weaved into his hit single “All Night,” a song that generated the most raucous crowd energy.
During “Same Drugs,” a catwalk that spanned the length of a basketball court dropped from Oracle’s rafters. Chance ran out across it, to the opposite end of the arena, and performed freestyle before returning to the main stage for an encore dominated by gospel-fueled tracks.
Those wondering if Chance was ready for a top-tier U.S. tour in front of tens of thousands of fans can rest assured. While he clearly was in awe (at one point, he admitted that he was “never going to forget the sound of yelling ‘Oakland!’ and the whole world yelling back”), the rapper commanded the stage, owning Oracle from start to finish, not unlike contemporaries Drake and Kanye, who also sold out the venue last year.
And Chance left the crowd with a promise to return — but not necessarily to the arena. “The venue might be smaller next time,” he conceded. “But it could be bigger!”
Chance the Rapper’s U.S. tour will continue tonight in Sacramento, and nationwide through June 17.