On May 12th, after months and months of heavy anticipation, Chance the Rapper finally dropped his third mixtape Coloring Book. Featuring contributions from Kanye West, Future and Justin Bieber, the famously independent artist’s latest, gospel-tinged work was met with near-universal praise and adulation. A few days later, the Chicago native tweeted out to the citizens of his fair city something about a surprise that sent his fans into a tizzy.
“Dear Chicago, I have something special for you this Saturday,” he wrote. The event was billed as a Magnificent Coloring World and naturally came with a 21st century mandated hashtag. Chance promised that it wasn’t what fans thought it would be. Tickets ran about $ 40 a pop and sold out within minutes on his website. Almost immediately, the speculation began. Was it a live show? An art installation? Was Kanye West behind all of this? Is Chance even going to be there?
Arriving at the specified meeting place – a local school – at the specified hour, everyone gathered was assembled into a number of different lines, and scanned into a waiting area that featured a merchandise booth where you could buy t-shirts and sweatshirts of varying colors. Minutes passed, and then finally the signal was given for all the people with the appropriate wristbands to board one of eight different school buses for the ride out to another, unknown destination.
The ride over was oddly intense. The speculation stopped, and everyone seemed very focused on the question of where the hell we were headed. The experience made it difficult not to recall the many field trips you’d taken as a kid. About 15 minutes later, the buses pulled up to the back end of a warehouse on the West Side of the city. You couldn’t tell from the given vantage point, but the chosen venue was actually the Goose Island Brewery; an appropriate locale given that they had once brewed a special run of Chance-themed beer.
Everyone exited the buses and herded into another holding place just outside of a nondescript emergency exit door. There remained no clues whatsoever for what was to expect from behind the foreboding brick wall. Finally, Chance’s manager Pat came out from behind the door and began shepherding people in. It was a tight entryway, but everyone handled it gamely. No trampling.
As you entered the building, you were instantly sucked in by the still darkness. In front, a long, white sheet separated the visible front half of the cavernous room from the concealed back half. The dark space began to fill up behind, and security guards near the sheet began asking people to take a step back. Behind the sheet, you could just make out the blinking lights of what looked like an old vaudeville-era marquee, but not much else.
After everyone had made their way inside, the door in the back shut close. The lights went out, and Chance’s voice boomed over an unseen set of speakers. It was an isolated verse taken from his song “Blessings” and the whole crowd joined along going word-for-word. In front, the sheet turned out to be a projection screen, and a variety of images danced to life on its formerly blank surface. The word “Welcome” flashed momentarily, which was then replaced by a series of animated scenes mixed with footage of Chance himself. The crowd cheered wildly every time his face adorned the screen.
Finally, the words on the screen asked “Are you ready?” before the whole thing dropped to the floor. A mad rush ensued with everyone pushing their way toward the blinking lights. As the crowd surged forward, to the left you could make out a number of stands offering free ring pops and fruit roll-ups; to the right, a massive, inflatable bounce house. Halted by the physical end of the room, the marquee turned out to be a large backdrop of a candy store with the words “Sunday Candy” emblazoned up top. Confused, and with seemingly nowhere else to go, the mass of people began jumping up and down, batting around a large inflatable shark over their heads, and rapping back the words to “All We Got” which blared overhead.
It took a few moments, but it finally became apparent what this entire event really was. It wasn’t an art installation per se. It wasn’t a concert, or a pop-up shop either. It was really the most joyful listening party that anyone has ever hosted in the history of rap music. The whole thing had the vibe of a middle school field day, or a one-day-only Church Camp. Chance had somehow managed to manufacture the ideal environment with which to drink in his most joyful noises to date.
Banners from the ceiling divided the space into a number of loosely-defined rooms. There was a room that featured a large white wall that anyone was welcome to write on with markers. There was a room filled with pews, that had a colorful church scene painted in the way back. There was a room made to resemble an Eighties living room, with a Scrabble board set out on a coffee table, and an archaic television in the corner. And there was a room that housed a giant inflatable slide.
Everywhere you looked, there were games too. An oversized chessboard, a test-your-strength hammer, Connect 4 and a football toss. There was a guy making animal balloons. The only thing that the place didn’t seem to have was Chance the Rapper. His presence was felt through the music that played throughout the experience, but the man himself was nowhere to be seen. It was like he had decided to play the part of an invisible Willy Wonka, inviting us all to experience childhood again in his expansive, temporary fun factory.
For about an hour, the 300 or so people who had been admitted into this space lost themselves in its charms. They danced. They played. They drank bottle after bottle of Kiwi Mistic. Chance seems to remember something that a lot of his brethren sometimes forget: This whole music thing should be fun. Sure it can’t be all “Sunday Candy” and rainbows all the time, but we don’t have to live in a perennial, icy, Toronto winter deep in our feelings either. It’s a message that he instills in his music, and an ethos that he personally abides by.
Once the album had played its last track, a small choir gathered in front of the church pew scene and began singing the chorus to “Blessings.” When they finished, an announcement came over the loudspeaker, “Thank you for visiting Chance’s Magnificent Coloring World. Please make your way to the garage door and board the buses.” A groan went up. Some felt they’d been cheated out of seeing their idol, and loudly protested. “$ 40 and he didn’t even show up?” they cried. Most, however, simply didn’t want the party to end.