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Chance the Rapper’s ‘crazy idea’: a concert made to be filmed

The hip-hop star tells Richard Roeper about ‘Magnificent Coloring World,’ a movie Chicago will see this weekend before anyone else.

Chance the Rapper performs during the 2017 filming of “Magnificent Coloring World.”
Courtesy of Chance the Rapper

When Chance the Rapper was on the “Magnificent Coloring World” arena tour in 2016, during his moments of downtime he had taken to watching a lot of filmed concerts — and that’s when he realized there’s a difference between a filmed concert and a concert film.

“Two things came to mind when I was watching these classic concert films from Michael Jackson and others,” said Chance in a conversation we had Wednesday at the mansion he has dubbed “House of Kicks” (more on that in a moment). “One, you couldn’t really hear the crowd. Two, it often seemed like we were just watching a tour performance that somebody had filmed.

“I had this crazy idea. I drew up this little map of a semi-circle with five separate stages and a long row of bleachers like they had on the old TV music shows. I wanted to do something that was a special event — a concert film and not a filmed concert.”

This was the genesis of “Magnificent Coloring World,” a stylized, one-off performance filmed at Chicago’s Cinespace Studios some four years ago but just now coming to light through an unprecedented direct deal between Chance and the AMC Theaters chain. Chicago audiences will be the first to see the concert film at advance screenings May 14-16 at AMC River East 21, followed by a nationwide rollout this summer.

After the deal with AMC was announced, Chance invited me up to his rented compound in Bannockburn so I could watch the film in the screening room in a massive house that was buzzing with activity, as various areas have been converted into recording studios, editing bays, green-screen soundstages, etc. (It was kind of like an updated version of “Entourage,” except in lieu of partying, everyone was fast at work.) I’ll have a full review of “Magnificent Coloring World” when the movie officially opens this summer, but it is indeed a concert film, with Chance performing in front of a smallish but wildly enthusiastic hand-picked audience on a specially constructed stage that allows him to seamlessly move from one setting to another to reflect the vibe of each song.

The top 1% of Chicago fans

“My fans, specifically in Chicago, are very used to scavenger hunts,” said Chance, who was sporting a classic retro White Sox hat during our talk. (He switched to his signature 3 cap for a photo op.) “Whenever I do an event, I put up tickets in random places, and it’s usually hard tickets only. People have a story for how they got to my show.

Chance the Rapper poses Wednesday at his rented home in Bannockburn.
Bob Zegler

“For this [project], I hit up SoundCloud and asked them to use metrics to find the top 1% of my listeners in Chicago. We sent out an RSVP to them and didn’t tell them anything about what the show was going to be. We just told them to gather at a specific location, and we rented out a bunch of school buses and they all rode to a random location, and they come inside not even expecting a performance. But I knew this audience would be the ones that really listen [to my music], the ones that know the words, and I wanted their voices and their enthusiasm.”

For the concert, Chance is backed up by a full band, a team of kinetic dancers with Broadway-style moves, a rousing choir that will give you goosebumps — and the fans, who appear on camera from time to time, singing along with pure joy and passion. (And yes, we can hear them, as microphones have been placed in the audience.) “With the microphones in the audience, that’s like the sixth stage,” he said.

There was some talk of releasing the finished product on a streaming service or in theaters, but Chance decided to hold on to it. “The main reason I didn’t put it out was, I wasn’t happy with the edit. And the reason I wasn’t happy with the edit was I was never in the editing room and I didn’t know HOW to edit. Then the pandemic happened, and I started doing all these filmed performances, and I learned about film and editing my own performances. So, after four years, I was like, ‘I need to do this over, I need to find a better way.’ ”

The film runs just a little over an hour — but before we get to the concert, there’s a series of brief interviews with various members of Chance’s team, and home video footage of a young Chancelor Bennett celebrating his win in a local talent show.

“I was 8 or 9 years old, that’s the first talent show I performed in,” he said. “I went to Skinner Elementary, right next to Whitney Young. … But when I was in preschool — this sounds stupid, this sounds crazy — I was a very well-known dancer, among friends and family. I would be the kid who would be doing ‘The Tootsie Roll’ and s--- like that. When I got to grade school, I was really quiet for the first few years, but then I won that talent show and that was a turning point in my life.”

The next Paul Giamatti?

There are times during “Magnificent Coloring World” when Chance plays directly to the camera, almost as if playing a part. He has acted before, in the indie-horror film “Slice” and on “Saturday Night Live.” The tradition of singers becoming movie actors dates back well before hip-hop and rock ’n’ roll, to the early days of cinema, but Chance said he doesn’t want to just take some mainstream action/comedy type leading role.

Billed as Chancellor Bennett, Chance the Rapper starred in the 2018 horror film “Slice.”
A24

“The people I respect are the Steve Buscemis and the Paul Giamattis, the character actors. … I’d want to try to get into that space of becoming a character actor before I attempt to do any lead acting.

“I love movies because it is such a team sport. But I love lighting, cinematography, editing, directing, so many different types of behind the camera work that I could get into without having to shove my face in front of everybody.”

Chance will be a headliner at Summerfest in Milwaukee in September, as we slowly get back to something resembling normalcy in terms of sports and theater and music performances. But when he’s onstage, he doesn’t necessarily feel as if he’s playing a character.

“I feel like I’m Superman when I’m onstage and I feel like I’m Clark Kent when I’m not,” he told me. “You know how they say all the other superheroes put on a suit to become who they are, but Superman when he puts on a suit he becomes Clark Kent? I feel like I do more acting and I’m actually less myself when I’m NOT onstage. But when I get onstage, I remember who I am. … These songs that I love to write and I love to record and I love to listen to — I don’t love them as much as when I’m singing them to a crowd, when I’m sharing them. That’s my most comfortable space and where I can move how I actually move, as opposed to having to walk normal and s--- in real life.”

“I fully build my performances off the crowd and I will spend a long time trying to get the crowd into their comfort zone so we can be Superman together.”