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Chance the Rapper holds a surprise church service at Essence Fest

He opened people up who may not have been looking for “modern gospel” before.

Somewhere along the timeline, the Essence Music Festival on Sunday night has become ‘hip-hop night.’ Sunday night (July 2) was the final festival day and somehow Master P and Chance the Rapper were the last two artists on the main stage to tie the weekend up. It isn’t a bad idea to have hip-hop at the forefront of the evening though, so to speak. Last year, Kendrick Lamar’s closing act showcased his work on To Pimp a Butterfly and it was filled with love and tremendous respect throughout. But some longtime attendees have expressed their discontent with the transition. On Sunday night though, Chance the Rapper may have come a little closer in bridging that gap, whether he realized that that was what he was doing or not.

The Chi-City native has had an exciting year. From Kit Kat commercials and dropping Coloring Book with no major label backing, he’s landed on the Essence stage a year later, opening people up to the genre that may not have been looking to it for “modern gospel” before. The screen behind him, the live instrumentation, a few pyrotechnics and his singers made the night’s performance feel a lot more like a church revival than a lot of people in attendance anticipated.

An energetic Chance The Rapper hypes up the crowd during his performance at the Essence Music Festival.

“Mixtape” was the first song he performed and the stadium roared, standing on their feet with phones out, ready to capture the moment. Chance leapt into the air, landed with a spin, hit a couple dance moves repeatedly -- all night long. “How he got all this energy?,” one young woman shouted over the music. Her friend Dougie-ed with a grin and shrugged the question off.

He moved into “No Problem,” “Beautiful Morning,” and “Angels.” By the time he’d gotten to his recent collaborations with DJ Khaled, people were calling it one of the best performances of the day on the main stage. “I’m the One” was another crowd pleaser and his live rendition of “I Love You So Much” included a freestyle centerstage on some sort of mixer -- it was the perfect time, in the perfect city to play such an upbeat song almost reminiscent of New Orleans’ native bounce subgenre.

By “Blessings,” the older concertgoers were able to catch the vibe Chance was putting out. The background singers repeated the refrain, “Are you ready for your blessing? Are you ready for your miracle?” Chance stood still and asked the crowd to sing but to do so mindfully. “You should be able to hear yourself,” he offered. It was like an altar call, honestly. One lady in the front row was on her knees with her palms facing upwards and her head bowed. Confetti and ticker tape fell and Chance had succeeded yet again in bending expectations to meet him exactly where he is.

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