By Leor Galil
On Saturday, U.S. Cellular Field — the Chicago White Sox stadium, soon to be renamed Guaranteed Rate Field — covered its home plate with a blue tarp emblazoned with the words “Southside Loves You.” The occasion: Magnificent Coloring Day, an end-of-summer festival helmed by Chance The Rapper, the city’s most prominent artistic advocate.
In June, when Chance announced the Magnificent Coloring world tour in support of his gospel-stoked Coloring Book, the 18 domestic dates didn’t include a stop in his hometown. Chance stumps for Chicago like no one else, and that pride has remained part of the fabric of his work. It’s the “city I always talk about, what I rap about ... only thing I could covet in public,” as he said on the Skrillex remix of Hundred Waters’ “Show Me Love.” Sometimes it almost appears as though even Jesus comes second to Chicago for him.
As Chance’s profile has risen, he’s consistently used it to voice his concern for the city. In both of his appearances on Saturday Night Live in the past year — first as the official musical act last December, and then as a guest vocalist for Kanye West in February — Chance invoked the name of Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged with first-degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. Throughout his ascent, Chance, a young black man from the West Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, has never forgotten who he is or where he came from — and he’s ensured that the public knows as much.
Chicago could certainly use the love. The city has struggled to curb a rise in violence — earlier this month, Chicago recorded its 500th homicide this year — but it’s the West and South Sides that are largely affected by the spike in the murder rate. These parts of Chicago are rarely given the chance to celebrate on the city’s behalf. The South Side has plenty of its own celebrations, but decades of racial and economic segregation have ensured that thousands of white people residing on the North Side have never even heard of the Bud Billiken Parade, the largest African-American parade in the country, which takes place there every summer. With this weekend’s festival, Chance not only gave the South Side something new to get excited for, he ensured that the whole country would be watching.
When he announced Magnificent Coloring Day in July, the lineup came with an illustrious glow: Joining Chance would be EDM king Skrillex, neo-soul superstar Alicia Keys, Oscar-winning R&B sensation John Legend, Southern rap icons Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, hip-hop sage Young Thug, Tyler, The Creator, upstart Philadelphia rapper Lil Uzi Vert, and “special guests” — namely, a surprise performance from Chance’s hero, Kanye West. This weekend, the lineup didn’t suffer from the anemia that many other multiday events in Chicago and elsewhere have dealt with during this year’s overcrowded music festival calendar (even when Young Thug missed his set, purportedly due to being sandwiched between Lil Uzi Vert’s late start and Kanye’s hard out). Throughout the day, many of the performers did their due diligence to thank the person responsible, though simply showing up was enough of a sign that Chance has reached hip-hop’s pantheon.
The Magnificent Coloring Day poster, which began to appear at bus stops around Chicago shortly after the July announcement, boasted that the event was the “first-ever music festival at U.S. Cellular Field.” The most important words were just beneath the ballpark’s name: “On Chicago’s Southside.” Chance sold nearly 48,000 tickets, breaking attendance records for the park. So many people wanted in that Chance and his team wound up selling tickets for seats behind the stage. To make up for the obscured view, the stage was outfitted with back-facing Jumbotrons.
The setting made sense. In April, Chance threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the White Sox’s home opener against the Cleveland Indians; days earlier, Chance announced that he’d made a few designs for limited-edition White Sox hats, which blend the team’s logo with symbols for his band, The Social Experiment. The original run of 2,000 hats sold out within hours, but fans who showed up to Magnificent Coloring Day just after gates opened at noon could purchase new ones at any open souvenir stand. “Man, I swear my life is perfect, I could merch it,” Chance raps on Coloring Book opener “All We Got” — and indeed, he’d already built his career partially through selling shirts, socks, and hoodies before he uttered those words. Many of the attendees in line for new Magnificent Coloring Day gear — salmon-colored t-shirts with the words “Best Day Ever” emblazoned on the heart; light-blue long-sleeves with the fest’s lineup displayed on each arm — displayed a veritable history of Chance-related clothing. Gray Acid Rap t-shirts, black-and-white Social Experiment baseball tees, and hoodies displaying Coloring Book’s chipped “3” logo.
Young folks clogged the walkways around the merchandise booths — almost everyone queuing up for merch during the festival’s early hours appeared to be in their mid-twenties or younger. (Meanwhile, nearby beer stands had some of the shortest lines in the house.) Those with access to the main concourse, which circles the field, had more merch options, too. Brandon Breaux, the artist who designed the album covers for Chance’s mixtapes, gave away signed Coloring Book posters to anyone who bought an item from his clothing company, Ends/Wealth Corp. Jugrnaut, the streetwear boutique that hosted Chance’s public Acid Rap listening party in 2013, had its own table. Same with independent Chicago streetwear brand Fat Tiger Works, which sold clothing made for the event, including a white “Free Weezy, Hoe” t-shirt that Lil Wayne’s DJ later wore onstage. Chance’s new nonprofit, Social Works, which got incorporated in August, set up an activity zone in a little nook, with human-size chess, a photo booth, and Chicago DJ Chante spinning rap and pop hits. Social Works sold t-shirts, too: You could buy one from Malcolm London, the poet, rapper, and political activist who made national headlines last fall after being arrested for allegedly assaulting a cop during protests over Laquan McDonald’s death (the charges were quickly dropped).
Even the process of exchanging money for goods had deeper meaning at Magnificent Coloring Day, at least in terms of the temporary businesses present. Sure, a few large corporations were on hand — Honda ran its own photo booths throughout the stadium, and Tidal, which live-streamed the fest, gave away bandannas and towels near the back of the stage. But the appearance of streetwear companies that have close relationships to Chance made the massive gathering feel a little more personal. The same went for some of the food: Harold’s Chicken Shack, the popular local fried-chicken joint sprinkled throughout the South Side, set up a temporary table near the stage. (Chance gives a Chatham Harold’s a shout-out on “First Mixtape Based Freestyle,” off his 2015 mixtape with Lil B.) And Chance’s community activism came out in the form of a voter registration table courtesy of the NAACP.
Chance himself, of course, loomed large over the day — and that’s not even mentioning the banner bearing the words “79 / Lil Chano,” in reference to his closing line on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam,” which was temporarily hung alongside a line of the names and jersey numbers of retired White Sox and baseball legends right above home plate. Even though Chance’s headlining set didn’t start until after 9 p.m., he appeared all over the stadium throughout the day. When Francis and the Lights, who is touring with Chance, kicked off the fest with a previously unannounced set, he coaxed the star out from the shadows to dance to his swooning pop single “Friends.” When John Legend brought out seminal Chicago rapper Common to perform “Glory,” their Oscar-winning song for Selma, attendees seated near the first-base line pointed their phones toward the private boxes above them to capture Chance swaying to the uplifting harmonies, raising his right fist to the sky.
Legend had the difficult task of following a surprise set from Kanye West, who zoomed down the stage’s center aisle to the euphoric, soaring opening of Life of Pablo standout “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1.” Kanye, who was scheduled to perform in Nashville Saturday night, sent a ripple of screams through the crowd. In the pandemonium that coursed through the stadium during his ferocious set, attendees lurched toward the field, leaping atop the park’s dugouts and the port-a-potties lined up near the stage to get as close to Kanye as possible. Security, unprepared for the torrent of fans, attempted to plug gaps, which was about as successful as treating a gushing wound with a Band-Aid. (Chicago police appeared later in the evening to serve as backup.)
Chance helped close down Kanye’s set, delivering his stirring verse on “Ultralight Beam” as Kanye, who briefly jumped into the swarming crowd below, looked on with an irrepressible grin. Chance’s contribution to “Ultralight Beam” has frequently been described as his coronation, but that implies a hierarchical relationship between him and Kanye. As Chance wrapped his verse with the line “Look at li’l Chano from 79th,” the look on Kanye’s face suggested that their relationship has evolved into one of mutual admiration. Bathed in the golden late-afternoon sunlight, the two walked off the stage with their arms slung around one another.
Chance would break out “Ultralight Beam” again during his own 90-minute set as part of a spurt showcasing his guest verses. Nearly a week into the Magnificent Coloring world tour, Chance and company were anchored to a planned-out script, quite literally. Carlos, an “old friend” and human-size lion puppet, repeatedly appeared onstage to deliver sage advice, encouraging Chance to explore his roots: “Don’t forget that message, big fella.” Carlos’s husky voice rang familiar — it pops up throughout Coloring Book. On the opening for the boisterous “All Night,” the voice tells Chance, “You wobbly, big fella, you finna fall, sit down, you drunk, big fella.” The sight of this yellow lion with a red mane contextualized those brief spoken-word parts on Coloring Book, which provided Chance with a loose narrative for his live show. Carlos, as quasi-narrator, occasionally interrupted songs to guide the MC as he stumbled toward personal redemption.
In 2014, Chance told Billboard that he was working on a stage show inspired by The Lion King Broadway musical, an idea that was written all over his Magnificent Coloring Day performance. The conceit paid off particularly well with some of the slower material. On “Same Drugs,” Chance sat at a white piano next to a puppet outfitted in a sparkling flapper dress. Nothing can quite hold a finicky audience’s attention like the sight of a rapper singing a duet with a large puppet. The show’s narrative all but guaranteed that the set would wrap in a moment of triumph, with Chance gliding through material that splits the difference between religious and life-affirming: “Sunday Candy,” “All We Got,” “How Great,” “Finish Line / Drown.” He closed the set with the reprise of “Blessings,” backed by a puppet chorus and the Chicago Children’s Choir, who were outfitted in t-shirts featuring the goggle-eyed superhero designed by Bronzeville native Hebru Brantley. (Brantley’s drawings inspired Chance’s superhero outfit for the “Angels” video.)
Chance rarely veered from the narrative, though it looked like plans went awry early. In the middle of performing “Brain Cells,” a sweetly sashaying single off his debut mixtape, 2012’s #10Day, Chance walked offstage and the field went dark. He returned less than 10 minutes later with a proposal. “I was thinking about going on to slower songs, but we should jump up and down and treat this like it’s a festival,” he said before launching into giddy Acid Rap highlight “Favorite Song.” (He returned to “Brain Cells” later in the set.)
Even though he performed many songs prominently featuring Chicago acts or other performers on the Magnificent Coloring Day bill, Chance did them on his own. That meant he delivered the mighty “No Problem” without Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, who’d held down the stage for a joint hour-long set earlier in the evening. (When Skrillex closed out the night with a thundering, synapse-snapping set, he yanked Chance back onstage to revisit “No Problem,” and the streams of people exiting the field en masse reversed their flow.)
This was, after all, Chance’s gift to Chicago — not to play a show at a familiar venue, but to bring artists he loves into his backyard, and to make an incomparable event that reflects his personality. He could have pulled some Chicago collaborators onstage, but he didn’t need much assistance in the spotlight, as he hopped around the place with a joyful gait. He didn’t banter much, but his message came through in his musical selections: Though he looks death in the eye in some of his best songs (“Chain Smoker,” “Paranoia,” “Acid Rain”), he cast off those tracks in favor of tender celebrations of love and life.
While performing the wistful, sunny “Summer Friends” during the encore, Chance flubbed the song’s second verse. “Hey Chicago, this is my Chicago show and I fucked up my favorite verse,” he said, before asking if he could restart the tune from the top. If love means an opportunity to make up for your mistakes, Chance proved that Chicago has plenty of love to share.