If heaven exists, it will probably feel somewhat similar to experiencing Chance the Rapper live, in that both are sure to be dance parties containing joyous celebrations of life crossed with a good old-fashioned worship service. It’s exactly what you would expect from the larger than life personality. Fittingly, the name of his latest tour is Be Encouraged, and it’s hard to come away without a sense of mission accomplished.
Chance has been one of the fastest rising music stars over the last year and it seems like everything he touches now turns to gold (although the jury is still out on that new DJ Khaled song). His third mixtape Coloring Book was a huge success, both critically and commercially, and as a bonus landed him a $500,000 payday from Apple Music for debuting on its service.
His business partnerships range from Nike and Kit Kat to H&M and the Chicago White Sox. His television performances, which included SNL twice, The Tonight Show, Ellen and the Grammys, became instant classics. He even won three Grammys, a first for a streaming-only artist. So his inaugural arena tour plays as both victory lap and a sign of his boundless future potential.
Chance kicked off the trip last Monday at San Diego’s Casino Valley View Center with the energetic trio “Angels,” “Blessings” and “Sunday Candy,” setting the tone for the night. During “Blessings,” a rock wall displayed on the video screen and chipped away each time the “When the praises go up, the blessings come down” refrain came in. Chance’s band may be relatively small in numbers—a three-piece of drums, keys and trumpet, plus four backup singers—but as with the Book of Joshua, numbers don’t always tell the full story, and the wall crumbled in biblical fashion at the end.
It was one of many large-scale effects Chance utilized to his advantage, which also involved pyrotechnics and smoke effects on what seemed like every other song. The recently turned 24-year-old handled it all like an old pro and it was never outwardly apparent he was playing a venue of this size for the first time, even though he was feeling differently himself.
“If you can’t tell, I’m feeling very emotional about how many people came to see me,” he remarked while introducing himself to the crowd. “I never before this did an arena show. It’s both very scary and very cool. I appreciate you letting me do this. There’s a lot of fucking people here. If I’ve never met you before, I just want to say nice to meet you. I’m so glad that we’re coming together. If we have met before, I fucking told you I was going to see you again!”
Despite the audience size and his newfound mainstream popularity, Chance made sure to show love to his older fans with plenty of material off his previous mixtape Acid Rap. “I can tell by the reaction a lot of you are here because of Coloring Book, but just the sheer fact that we’re in an arena wants me to try and take it back and have fun for a second. So if you don’t know this song, it’s OK. Just have fun.” Even for the unfamiliar, Chance’s vigor was infectious to the point where it almost didn’t matter what was being played at any given moment.
One of the night’s highlights, which quickly made the rounds on YouTube the next morning, was a medley from Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, who has become a mentor to his fellow Chicago native in recent years. Chance started off with “Waves,” the demo of which he co-wrote and sang on before Chris Brown replaced him on the album. It was the first time Chance’s version has been played live and the crowd ate it up.
After running through a clip from “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” he transitioned into his celebrated breakout verse from “Ultralight Beam” as a hydraulic riser lifted him into the air. The metaphor might have been on the nose, but it made for an awesome image and didn’t render the symbolism any less fitting. The other moment of the set that created news headlines would soon follow.
Chance takes great pride in giving away his music for free and having no record label connections, which he has never been shy to talk about. His biggest hit “No Problem” echoes that independent attitude, and when he ran through it, parodies of labels appeared behind him. Sony became “Phony,” Atlantic “A Titanic,” Warner “Wiener Music Group,” Universal “Undiverse,” Def Jam “Don’t Join Recordings,” and so on. It was likely in good humor, but the implication pointed at the same time.
There would be several more signature high-energy moments to come. The beat hit even harder on “Mixtape” than on record and Chance nimbly skipped around on the party anthem “All Night.” He brought out a barstool and momentarily slowed for the sobering ballad “Same Drugs” before capping off the main set with a burst of gospel flavor on “Finish Line,” “How Great” and “All We Got.” For “How Great,” a catwalk descended from on high to extend over the floor and allow Chance to rap his part on the other side of the arena.
Chance is one of the most outspoken Christians in mainstream music right now, as his commanding Grammys performance of “How Great/All We Got” served testament to, but it puts him in a little bit of a strange spot. While he will likely never be fully embraced by Christian culture due to the amount of cursing in his lyrics, there is no denying his exuberance for God, which often pours out in the form of dancing, excited yelps or conducting everyone as if they were at church and he was the choir director.
At one point, he even stopped the show to briefly say a prayer to ask blessings for the road ahead they were about to embark on. For all its faults, Chance makes religion look appealing and has managed to turn his beliefs into an asset, not a grounds for criticism. It’s easy to get sucked into or made jealous by his positive enthusiasm, no matter one’s theological background, and serves as a stark contrast to Kendrick Lamar’s fire and brimstone messaging.
Chance closed out his 80-minute set with two encores, bringing the evening full circle on the finale “Blessings (Reprise).” The Be Encouraged Tour, which runs through October and is nearly sold out nationwide, is one of the year’s must-sees and should propel his status further, as evidenced by his jump to festival headliner this summer. While the shows are likely to operate more effortlessly and reach bigger heights in the future, and in fact the tour’s second stop in Oakland surpassed the largest of his career, this night’s significant first step was not lost on Chance the Rapper.
“I’m only going to have one first show on my first-ever arena tour, so I just want to soak this in. San Diego, thank you for coming. This is a beautiful moment, man,” he said. “I promise that I will be back. The venue might be smaller, but it might also be bigger. Who knows? So thank you for doing this. If it never happens again, I know it happened once. I love you guys. God bless you. Be encouraged.
“What do you think? Should I take this on the road?”
If the roar of the crowd was any indication, the answer was a resounding yes.
Originally appeared on Behind the Setlist