For the past four years, I have been pretending to be a reluctant father who gets dragged along to rap concerts in Seattle. I don’t know how many shows I’ve been to, but let’s just say dozens. That time is coming to an end. Rap music isn’t coming to an end, but it won’t be long before my daughter moves out, starts going to the most expensive college she can find, and begins attending rap concerts with college friends. One of the good things about getting older is knowing that things do end, that experiences don’t happen again, that time will not allow for the perfect moment, so when your 17-year-old daughter asks you to see Chance the Rapper on a Thursday night, you go. You know ahead of time that it might make for a difficult workday on Friday, but you can sleep after your daughter leaves the house.
Who is Chance the Rapper? I don’t really know. I saw him on Stephen Colbert’s show. He rapped. He danced. He seemed like a nice guy, but I didn’t load his music on my iPod. He is young, he is from Chicago, and he likes to wear a Chicago White Sox hat. (That is the official end of anything resembling factual information in this post.)
When we arrived at the Paramount my daughter and I made our way through the heightened security checks, found a couple spots on the floor and sat down. My daughter was meeting some friends at the concert, so I did my job and took up maximum space on the floor. When my daughter’s friends arrived, I did my job. I grabbed everyone’s stuff and made my way to the back of the concert hall. This is when things started to go well for me. I noticed there were cushioned chairs around the side of the hall with signs on them that said, “ADA Priority Seating.”
I don’t park in handicapped spots. I try not to use the big stall in public restrooms. I’m an okay person…but I had a feeling I could get into one of these seats. I walked to the back and talked to someone who looked to be keeping people out of the seats and said, “Can I sit in one of these?” The person (I’m not a snitch) said that if I found a seat where no one could see me I was probably okay to go there.
I scored a great spot and was able to stretch out and really live life like a boss. (For the record, if someone in a wheelchair arrived, I would have given up my seat. I’m not an animal.) I felt pretty good about my seat for about five minutes and then something bad started to happen. Other parents (all of them moms) started sitting in the ADA seats. Hold on a moment. What has happened in the last four years? Parents–don’t take your kids to a rap concert. Don’t you know rap music is the path to drug addiction, drive-by shootings, and baggy pants? What are you thinking?
The concert officially began like all rap concerts; a guy came out with a computer and began playing his iTunes playlist called LoudAssBass. The DJ/Mixologist/Aerobics Instructor would play about 50% of a song; grab the microphone and shout, “Seeeaaaattllee” and then all the kids in the mosh pit area would scream. This is something I think authors should start doing at their reading tours. I would love to see Toni Morrison grab the microphone before reading a passage from The Bluest Eyes and shout, “Seeeaaatttllleee.” Maybe the only people who would get fired up would be the cartographies in the audience, but hey, we all need dreams.
The music was loud, too loud. So loud that if the DJ started playing a song I actually knew it would take my brain about 20 seconds to recognize it. This type of music distortion happens in larger venues and it is one of the reasons I would rather go to a show at a smaller club, but I’m sure Chance the Rapper is a few years away from doing living room shows.
After the DJ ran out of music on his playlist the real show began. Towkio came bouncing out onto the stage and began rapping…I think. I could not understand a single word he was saying. He could have been shouting recipes from a Martha Stewart cookbook for all I know. To me, it sounded like his mic was cutting out but after a few songs I determined that his rap technique was something new. New stuff isn’t for 50-year-old men, unless it is stuff that grows hair on your head, or makes you lose weight without exercise.
Then Towkio started dancing. You know those t-shirts that say, “Dance like no one is looking”? Towkio must have a few of them. Now 50-year-old men who live in glass dance studios have no room to criticize, but if you saw someone moving like Towkio as they walked down the street you’d think they had late-stage rabies. Think: Bob Marley meets Pee Wee Herman and you’ll get the idea.
Towkio wrapped up his set and then it was time for D.R.A.M. to do his thing. D.R.A.M. had long, neat dreads, and wore a green bomber jacket like he just landed a biplane at Boeing Field. He was not a rapper; he was a singer…kinda. You know the distortion thing I mentioned earlier? I was worse for D.R.A.M.’s set. I assume he can actually sing, but Nigel Tufnel must have set up the sound levels in the Paramount. I couldn’t even understand what D.R.A.M. was saying between songs. I think he explained his name and what is stood for. I think he said something about living on a couch last year, and I think he passed on something about following your dreams, I don’t really know. He sounded more like Charlie Brown’s teacher than Martin Luther King Jr. but I don’t believe it was his fault.
Then D.R.A.M. did something foolish. Maybe his bomber jacket inspired him, maybe he spent the afternoon watching a concert video of Nirvana at the Paramount, or maybe he was caught up in a moment. Why isn’t important, what happened is. D.R.A.M. decided to do a surprise stage dive. There are two vital parts of a stage dive:
- Let people know you are jumping into the crowd.
- Trust they will catch you.
D.R.A.M. jumped. The crowd parted like Donald Trump’s hair. I was too far away to see if he hit the ground like Humpty Dumpty or if he bounced around like a Plinko ball, but he jumped and then was gone for about two minutes. For me, it was the highlight of his set. Yeah, that’s not nice, but sometimes the truth hurts as much as hitting the Paramount floor.
There was a little break between sets and then Chance hit the stage. I couldn’t see the whole stage from my ADA seats, but it looked like Chance did not have a DJ. I think all the music was played live: Drums, synthesizer, trumpet, and guitar. His sound is unique, more Jazz than Rap, and his show was as tight as oil filter after 10,000 miles. The lights, the video screens, the musicians, everything was planned out to the microsecond. The sound was still too loud and my eardrums were like little canastas, but I was entertained by the spectacle. I like bright shiny things just like other simple-minded beasts.
Chance ripped through a 90-minute set and had at least one t-shirt change that I noticed. The crowd rapped along with Chance, the moms sitting in front of me knew his lyrics, and once again, I was feeling like the oldest man in America.
Near the end of his set, Chance had a message to deliver which was, “Hey.” I don’t want to make too much of a big thing out of something simple, but I do think Chance wants us to make a big deal out of it. “Hey” is one way of recognizing others. I don’t want to get all Immanuel Kant about this simple message, but Chance is right: All rational beings deserve respect. It doesn’t matter if they grew up in the south side of Chicago, or Syria, or anywhere else in the world, human dignity is a simple message that should resonate with all of us.
Our human experience is a shared experience. We all bring different perspectives, but in the end, much of how we experience the world is through the decisions we make. For me, the best way to experience the world is by saying, “Hey” and “Yes,” two simple words with more power than fear.
But if you are going to stage dive, make sure you say, “Hey, will catch me?” Then listen for an answer before jumping.