Oh, Big Fella
Last night Chance the Rapper won three Grammys, and Chance the Rapper also won everybody’s heart again. In a year when Frank Ocean and Kanye West opted not to perform, on a night when Beyoncé reveled in her own magnificent glory in a way that was the Holy Word of God Herself to fans and exhausting self-indulgence to those who are not so lucky, after A Tribe Called Quest fought the power and turned Busta Rhymes loose on President Agent Orange, Chance the Rapper didn’t even bother asking if we would mind if he praised God.
“How Great” is Chancellor Bennett’s favorite song on his third mixtape. It’s rooted in a Chris Tomlin song sung by the thousands in American churches every Sunday, and couldn’t be less cool or more out of place on a rap track. That doesn’t matter to Chance the Rapper, of course, and he lights into a blistering verse praising his God, he did it last night. His fierce sincerity set his set apart from every other performance, cutting through the tv cameras and raised my blood pressure and set my soul alight sitting on my couch at home.
But he wasn’t done. Now he was running across the Staples center to a new stage, to a band with horns, to a choir. Chance, let them hear you! He never recovered his breath, rapping and singing what felt like his whole mixtape there on live television. Praise be to the Lord on High.
Chance the Rapper was wearing a sweater as he did those things. Later on Snapchat I saw him wearing the same one at his afterparty, rapping Bad and Boujee with the Migos. It’s a good sweater; got a few different tones of blue on it, two perpendicular Navajo patterns. The most remarkable thing about Chance’s sweater, though, is that he wore the same one yesterday, February 12, 2017, as he did February 13, 2016, on Saturday Night Live with Kanye West.
When he entered stage left to perform his beautiful verse on Ultralight Beam, a song not yet two weeks old at the time, that’s when we really first saw Chance The Rapper. The name was familiar (the name is hard to forget), gun to my head I could have told you he was from Chicago, but he was a hip-hop artist known to hip-hop fans, whose music was not on Spotify, who existed at the very fringe of our shared pop culture awareness.
And then he wasn’t. Chance the Rapper is a superstar. He is a manifestation of the exhilaration of music, Chicago’s chosen son and Kanye’s best prodigy, a fighter on the front lines against record labels and, by extension, The Man, a celebration of blackness, and, most notably, the most prominent example of overwhelming Christian joy.
The 12 month period from February 13, 2016 to February 12, 2017, was not one filled with hope and light, but Chance the Rapper was. Without warning, he commandeered the year and brought with him sorely needed happiness, and Sunday’s performance capped it off perfectly. The year of Chance the Rapper ended in the only way it could, with a wide grin, full of celebration.
(originally written February 13)