In the cool, bright afternoon of a summer that won’t let go of the South Side of Chicago, early attendees of Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring Day milled around the perimeter of what some still call Comiskey—now U.S. Cellular Field—waiting for something they couldn’t put to name. The stage, a clear anomaly in a venue that hasn’t seen concert in 13 years, is a bit of a clue, yet no one knew exactly what we’d signed ourselves up for. But faith brought us here, and it wasn’t about to let up now.
The crowd was eclectic, but familiar, done up in fashions ranging from festival chic to Instagram couture to the general rager bro uniform: crop tops, Fenty fur slides, jerseys, cut-off denim, thigh-high boots, flannel, and—naturally—Yeezys. It was anything goes; plenty even wore their best Chance apparel—some clearly bought on-site—flaunting the cardinal concert merch sin. Then again, this wasn’t just any concert, perhaps not even a concert at all.
It makes sense that Chance the Rapper is throwing a big party in Sox park, where now, high in the rafters, pinned next to Jackie Robinson’s retired 42, is a new pennant: #79, a nod to the block Chance grew up on. This was Magnificent Coloring Day, a one-day festival of music put together and headlined by the ascendant rapper, a block party in a stadium. Chance invited friends, who all just happen to be zero-fucks-given artists at the top of their game, and lit up the stage with a wondrous display of color, sound, and feeling. The year he’s had—from The Life of Pablo to Saturday Night Live to Coloring Book to calling Yoncè auntie—could have made Magnificent Coloring Day a coronation. Instead, this was Chance throwing a party for his hometown, the kind of grounded, generous act that makes everything Chance does feel so very, very different and special.
Magnificent Color Day became a canvas for the spectacle of Black fun and freedom at an unprecedented magnitude. Part-concert, part-festival meld of record-breaking proportion (47,754 people attended—a record for the stadium, according to Chance’s camp), MCD looked for footing, wavered, and found it to bring to 35th something it’s never seen before.
when kanye shows up at #MCD @chancetherapper @kanyewest pic.twitter.com/d9Tu9rmCfp— joe aronson (@joearonson2) September 24, 2016
The presence of white fans in hip-hop is well-documented: reach a certain level of fame and your show will include a lot of them. The crowd was diverse, but the whiteness of the crowd closest to the MCD stage brought some uncomfortable dissonance to life. At times it was hilariously endearing—like the two fresh-outta-PTA women belting out their love for strippers—but other times distressing—like, anytime the n-word appeared. South Side institution Common, in a surprise guest appearance, joined John Legend for a weighty performance of the Oscar-awarded “Glory.” He marked his entrance with a raised fist, requesting mid-chorus that the audience join him. An awe-inspiring sight in a packed house. Looking around at all the white knuckles, an irksome part of me wondered how many have “all lives matter” written on their Facebook profiles or in their hearts. As John Legend’s sonorous chords shook a stadium suddenly so intimate, I watched those fists pump to the music and then transform into “rock on”—forefinger and pinky up—as though there was no difference. When the microphone called out to the “South Side,” they hollered in response.
While some of these uneasy moments played out at floor-level, blackness ruled the stage and the performers were flying high. Tyler the Creator, uber vibrant in signature Golfwang apparel, asked the crowd “Can we boogie?” but it wasn’t a question, really. The ideal, if not immediate, follow-up to an amped session with Uzi Vert, Tyler the throaty dynamo provided a dose of high-energy antagonism.
And then Kanye happened. There’s something mythic about the man in the flesh that turns critics into putty and fans into, well, it’s almost indescribable. The unambiguous wails that signaled West’s entrance to “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” were nearly matched by the palpable tremors as only Yeezus knows how many bodies swarmed to the stage, as though summoned by a higher power. (And I mean, we pretty much were, as far as I’m concerned.) In an era where he’s gotten more press as a rambler and a grouch, Kanye entered MCD with a playlist of jams and a smile amplified to the reach the furthest row of the stadium. “I’m so proud of this young man,” he told the crowd after “Ultralight Beam.” Between icon and youngster, the symbolism of a passing torch is tempting, but the air is not so somber as that. Ye is clearly not done with us and Chance has never rested in his idol’s shadow. MCD is a homecoming. And homecoming is fun.
Kanye’s performance was an obvious turning point, the atmosphere irreversibly charged with the feeling that anything could happen with Chance’s magic touch. Even with hip-hop’s biggest star next to him, this was unmistakably Chance’s show, and Chance’s stage to share. Friend and Chicago-native Hannibal Buress joked that the rapper had merely put his favorite playlist on shuffle. Unlike that other star known for finding surprise guests wherever she goes, Chance’s display of multi-artist power wasn’t for show; rather, it was a genuine tribute to collaborative performance.
It was a homecoming that transcended literality; performers hailing from various cultural corners of the country but made themselves comfortable from the second they reached the stage. From his platform Tyler ordered his fans about, sitting them down and taking them back up again, requesting their input and shutting it down (“Imma do my first verse and don’t nobody say shit”). John Legend got his gospel on in a rendition of “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” that can only be done sans Trainor. 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne transported us to Collegrove, an imagined fusion of their hometowns. Alicia Keys gave us a shea-butter scented New York with a side of spiritual affirmation and thanks to “Brother Chance.”
Chance thanked his audience “for letting me do what the fuck I want.” MCD included a lot of firsts, but the 90-minute production too enormous to call a set was personal. Showcased across the country on earlier legs of the Magnificent Coloring World Tour, Chance’s cast of puppet companions had come home to meet Chicago for the first time. A meandering tour through Coloring Book, Acid Rap, Surf, and back again—guided by the recognizable voice of a lion named Carlos—we finally arrived at church with Chance not at the pulpit, but amidst a choir of his own vision.
To see him kneeled amongst the puppets was to feel the chill of a something even greater yet to come. And for Chance, we already know not to assume greater and farther are a package deal. Chance will never “cross over” to the extent that to do so suggests a permanent leave-taking, a door closed, a city in the rearview. Chance is Chicago; Chance is South Side. His ownership of his city, for better and worse, is not merely about civilian violence and blight, as many readily point to as part of MCD’s corrective mission; if these are South Side issues the real corrective is, as he raps, city wide city wide, city wide, city wide, city wide…
In a city whose officials don’t value our lives, MCD created its own on-stage party for Black cultural expression and gifted it to us. In that moment, Chicago was the cultural hub of the universe and couldn’t nobody tell us different.
“Did you know/That your blessing/Is not in this show/But it’s coming,” Chance tells us as he prepares to exit the stage. The day was a blessing, but not the blessing, he implies. Like the mixtape that gave it its name, Coloring Day feels like the setup for something more. As for what’s next, in music and in life, we can only pray on it. Are you ready for your blessing?
Photography by Jason Peterson