By Nia Prater
“If you’re planning on voting tomorrow, say ‘hell yeah!'” exhorted local rapper DJ OddCouple, hyping up the crowd in front of the Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park Monday.
A resounding “Hell yeah!” came back in response.
It was dusk, and thousands jammed into the park for a get-out-the-vote rally and free concert spearheaded by the 23-year-old critically acclaimed hip hop recording artist Chancellor Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper. But even before Bennett made his appearance, the party had already started, and the crowd assembled for the music and the pre-election demonstration was primed and ready to go.
Bennett dubbed the rally “Parade to the Polls.” It was billed as “a live show of democracy,” a tagline taken very seriously. It featured an early-evening concert headlined by Bennett, a Chicago native, followed by a literal procession to the polls, with Bennett himself leading the spectators on foot through rush hour traffic to a nearby polling station.
“I’m here to make sure that everybody stay woke and vote,” said Bennett, alluding to the hashtag that was used to promote the event on Twitter. “At the end of the show, we’re gonna have a very, very cool, very peaceful, but very lit parade, an exhibition of democracy, exactly what it looks like.”
From the moment Bennett posted about the concert on his social media pages last week, the news quickly spread, ending up on music websites like Pitchfork almost instantly. Originally, the “block party” was to take place in front of the Virgin Hotel Chicago on North Wabash Avenue. But in anticipation of the large crowds, the venue was changed at the last minute to Grant Park.
The eleventh-hour switch didn’t deter the eager fans who staked out their spots in front of the Grant Park stage as early as 2 p.m.
As they waited, concert organizers entertained the crowd by throwing treats to them from the stage. Hands shot up, hoping to catch one of the many airborne Jolly Ranchers and Kit Kat candy bars.
The crowd was in a festive mood even before the proceedings officially began. It all started with a lone voice belting out the opening lines of “Cocoa Butter Kisses” from Bennett’s second mixtape, “Acid Rap.” Singing with all the power she could muster, the solo songstress prompted everyone surrounding her in front of the band shell to join in, forming a spontaneous chorus.
As dusk turned to night, the audience grew. A variety of warmup acts provided a musical smorgasbord for all of the fans in attendance. The local indie band Twin Peaks rocked the crowd with their pounding drums and guitar. Bennett’s younger brother, Taylor, showed off his own unique rapping style.
When Bennett finally appeared, he was greeted by a deafening roar from the fans who pushed to get closer to the stage. After performing his hit song, “Angels,” off of his highly acclaimed mixtape, “Coloring Book,” he thanked the volunteers and event sponsors, in addition to his father and brother.
His then offered a word of warning for politicians.
“Anybody out there running for government or not, those that are trying to pacify us, trying to hold us back, trying to slow us down, I just wanted to send this message out to the Chicago people,” he said. “We need to get real loud. Let ‘em know they don’t want zero problems.”
Then the music for his second single of this year, “No Problem,” rang out to joyous yells from the crowd, and the party went on, concluding with procession to the polls that its organizers had promised.