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There are so many ways to communicate through music—a driving backbeat, a clever lyric, a virtuosic performance—but in hip-hop especially, dynamics are largely underused. We tend to think of artists as one-dimensional, or almost as flat, these days; If Waka Flocka Flame were to come out crooning, for instance, or if A Tribe Called Quest turned up on a trap beat, we'd all be confused as Hell. It's just not done in hip-hop for the most part; most artists have one speed, one lane, and if they do that well there's no real need to deviate from the formula.

That's part of what makes Chance The Rapper so different, which was evident in the first of his two shows last night at S.O.B.'s in Manhattan as part of his Social Experiment tour. It may be down to his tight connection to his devoted fan base—the venue was full of 20-somethings who have followed Chance since the release of his Acid Rap mixtape at the end of April, and many since his debut tape #10Day last year—but the control Chance was able to demonstrate over the crowd was maybe the most intriguing part of his performance. Yes, his songs can be brilliant—"Brain Cells" and "Juice" quickly turned into audience-wide singalongs, while "Chain Smoker" was easily the climax of the evening—but it's the difference in feel and vibe from song to song which sets him apart as a performer and artist.


Broken up as it was into four distinct phrases, the show lent itself to the diverse dynamics. He initially emerged solo with "Good Ass Intro," the feel-good opening track from Acid Rap, he ran through a handful of tracks before inviting his three-piece band, composed of producer Peter Cottontail on keys and two former members of Chicago's Kids These Days on drums and trumpet, on stage to run through a much slower and introspective set. After Coldplay's "Fix You," Chance came back out solo and shed the self-reflection, launching into fan-favorites "Juice" and "Favorite Song," which had the entire audience jumping and clapping while Chance soaked it all in with his goofy, signature dance style which he captured with his animated video for "Good Ass Intro" that he dropped last March.

"For this tour I wanted to give my fans who gave me all I have, all I have," he told the crowd after inviting his band back onstage, pointing out some of the expenses his team laid out to for his first-ever headlining tour: trusses to hold the lights that contributed to his visuals, which also included a backing video that veered between sensual makeout scenes and graphic girl-on-girl hookups. And the fan reaction was there as well—the crowd filled in his signature ad-lib whenever he left it out, and after cutting "Pusha Man" short after the first verse, the crowd could be loudly heard rapping the beginning of the second out of sheer instinct. They followed his every move, which freed him up to present his songs the way he visualized them.

Chance has a bright future, that much is evident, but the most exciting part of watching him develop in the past year or so is the fact that it's near-impossible to predict where he goes next. He's not beholden to a label, to a flow, to a schtick; hell, he's not even beholden to a genre. He's in a position to go in a variety of different directions if he so chooses. But one thing is certain: wherever he goes, he'll do it with his own style, controlling his own dynamics along the way.

Setlist:

1. Good Ass Intro
2. Brain Cells
3. NaNa
4. Pusha Man (Part One)

6. Everybody's Something
7. Lost
8. Pusha Man (Part Two)
9. You Song
10. Fix You (Coldplay)

11 Smoke Again
12. Juice
13. Favorite Song
13. Fuck You Tahm Bout (Briefly)

14. Interlude (That's Love)
15. Chain Smoker
16. Everything's Good (Good Ass Outro)