Culture / Entertainment

Chance the Rapper’s Surprisingly Emotional Houston Rodeo Concert — Loving H-Town, Faking Out Security and Coming to Dance

There's Never Been a RodeoHouston Night Quite Like This

BY // 03.07.20
photography F. Carter Smith

Chance the Rapper’s breakthrough 2013 mixtape Acid Rap is still a near-perfect masterpiece. I lived inside that record for a full year, deciphering every inside joke and deep cut Chicago music reference, deeply empathizing with the character Chance embodied for 13 songs. I’ve been hot and cold on the rest of his output since, but every project of his contains a few songs I love.

All this is to say I didn’t expect to get emotional several times during Chance’s hour-plus long Houston Rodeo set Friday night. Set aside all the reasons people roast him, and what matters is the music. (Chance knows you’re making fun of him. He was selling shirts that say “I love my wife,” a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of a meme that lightly made fun of him last year.)

His RodeoHouston set was light on gimmicks, just him rapping with no backing track, his band and his boundless source of energy.

It’s moving to see Chance, somehow just 26 years old, on stage in front of 62,000 fans rapping, “used to like orange cassette tapes with Timmy, Tommy and Chuckie.” Chance’s best gift as a writer and lyricist is finding the right detail to get at some emotion or intangible feeling. A few lines later he says “put Visine in my eyes so my grandma would hug me,” and together it tells a complete story about adolescence. He makes it all so effortless.

A great storyteller puts you in the shoes of his characters. Chance the Rapper was such an aspirational figure when he came out, because he was 20, releasing music for free on the Internet, and blew up on the strength of how good his music was alone. He performed one of my favorite songs of his, “Acid Rain,” early on in this Rodeo performance, which set the tone.

It was hard not to get emotional when he rapped, “I miss being a senior/performing at all those open mic events/eyes closed, eyes closed, seeing arenas” in an actual NFL arena.

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He took you on his journey in three lines. It reminded me of how much I used to love his music, and how it motivated me to get out and try to make my own dreams reality.

Chance the Rapper’s catalog runs deep, and his whirlwind performance went past his allotted time. At the finale, he dashed around the stage seemingly unaware or unwilling to follow the tradition of hopping inside a pickup truck to leave the stage. There was a moment of actual physical comedy as he ran behind the stage, losing the spotlight, while security climbed the stairs to try and spot him.

His energy never flagged for a second. He performed “Barre Baby,” a Houston rap classic from the late Big Moe and one of the greatest songs ever recorded. No performer in the Houston Rodeo’s long history has uttered the words “I’m a codeine fiend” onstage. As the crowd sang along to every iconic word, its emphatic hook (“I got the whole wide world sippin’ drank with me”) felt thrillingly true.

This Rodeo show was clearly a big deal to Chance the Rapper. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

He brought out up-and-coming Houston rapper Tisakorean, whose “The Mop” dance is the stuff of viral TikTok videos with millions of views. The whole energy switched up as Tisa’s squad complete with backup dancers took over the stage. Chance said multiple times, “I came to Houston to dance,” then segued into his duet with Tisakorean, “Groceries,” a great song that should have been a massive hit.

Chance said multiple times “I love this city,” and expressed it with verve. (Chance’s wife Kirsten Corley is a Houston native and she received a shoutout thanks, too). He turned NRG Stadium into a worship service (“Blessings”), dance floor (“I’m the One,” his hit collaboration with DJ Khaled), Third Ward club (“Barre Baby”) and an underground rap venue (Tisakorean’s appearance). He performed his star-making verse from Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” twice. The Houston Rodeo’s lineup in recent years has become more progressive and diverse, but I don’t think anyone has taken as many risks as Chance did Friday night.

Chance the Rapper certainly impressed plenty of fans with his Rodeo moment. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Near the end of his set he said, “We really don’t got nothing like this in Chicago.” (No other city does.) During Rodeo season everything becomes emotionally charged. It’s one of the few non-natural disaster reasons Houstonians come together.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo heightens the senses. To experience the rodeo, carnival and all, is to experience sensory overload. People who otherwise go the other 11 months of the year never considering donning a cowboy hat or boots show out for three weeks and embrace Western fashions while eating some kind of food off a stick.

Chance commanded a stage I never dreamt he could inhabit when I downloaded his mixtape for free in 2013. He crafted one special moment after the other, with no regard to the size of the venue, and it’s odd to say this about someone younger than me, but his freewheeling set had me looking back fondly at some of my favorite memories of the last seven years. This is music I love and have shared with people I cherish, and he sang it right back to us.

It was special. He knew this too, when he said, gleefully, “I really mean this, I will think about this night for the rest of my life.”

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