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Sunday school on Saturday night: Chance the Rapper brings ‘Coloring Book’ to the Greek

Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper performs Saturday night at the Greek Theatre.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Chance the Rapper didn’t ask the audience to go wild. He didn’t put his hand to his ear in an exaggerated manner and yell, “I can’t hear you!” He didn’t even tell folks to throw their hands in the air and wave ’em like they just don’t care.

What the young Chicago MC called for instead, not long into his sold-out concert Saturday night at the Greek Theatre, was “more enthusiasm.” And in a way that was crazy, given how many people in the capacity crowd were already singing and rapping along with nearly every word.

But the request was also pure Chance: precise, heartfelt, certain that the tank still held some positive energy.

Which, of course, it did. Asked to boost their intensity, Chance’s fans happily obliged — and that in turn pushed the rapper into ecstatic overdrive.

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Now 23, this friendly hip-hop insurgent began attracting attention in 2012 with a series of free digital mixtapes that vividly depicted the churn of adolescence — school, drugs, sex — in a city ravaged by horrific violence. Some of those interested were hugely famous, including Madonna and Kanye West, both of whom recruited Chance for collaborations even as he merrily rejected the overtures of the traditional music industry.

Yet the rapper ascended to a new plane this year with the stunning “Coloring Book,” another self-released collection on which he turns from the worldly to the godly.

Produced more or less in the exuberant style of a modern gospel record (complete with complicated choral parts and a benediction by Kirk Franklin), it’s full of praise songs and tunes in which he describes his efforts to live more attentively as a friend and father; the set also features “No Problem,” which frames his distaste for lucre-obsessed record labels as a kind of sanctified struggle.

The rapper pulled heavily from his gospel-style “Coloring Book” album.
The rapper pulled heavily from his gospel-style "Coloring Book" album.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times )

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At the Greek, where Chance was playing the second date of what he’s calling the “Magnificent Coloring World Tour,” you could sense one limiting effect of his commitment to independence: his reliance on prerecorded tracks as opposed to a live — and very expensive — band playing the album’s gorgeous arrangements. (He was backed by a drummer, a keyboardist and a trumpeter.)

Watching his three accompanists try their hardest in the likes of “Blessings” and “All We Got,” you longed to see them equipped with the resources the music deserves.

In his furiously detailed rapping, though, Chance made up for what the presentation lacked in human spirit, never more than in “Finish Line” — with a lyric about his and his girlfriend’s being in “a marathon we could build a marriage on / Arguments as parents digging deeper than a baritone” — and his jaw-dropping verse from West’s recent “Ultralight Beam.” Physically too he was a sight to behold as he leaped, skipped and danced across the stage, his sinewy frame threatening to burst out of his tight white T-shirt.

And if Chance couldn’t afford musicians, it might’ve been because he blew his budget on a dozen or so puppets(!) that he used throughout the show, some to voice the better judgment of his conscience in songs about pursuing distractions, others to lip-sync the vocals of that full-throated gospel choir.

Get this guy in front of a Sunday school and those kids may never be the same.

Twitter: @mikaelwood


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