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The mumble rap defender in me rejoiced as “Do What I Want” started booming as soon as I took my seat. Uzi - by his own admission - was off the shrooms for three days straight, dreads still parted in red/blue dye like the Made in America set where he took a lap around damn near the whole grounds. He played 25 of the scheduled 40, running through the hits your lil cousins play in the backroom of the family cookout. I never understood why he’d play “Money Longer” second or third until I saw it happen: not as a cap on the set energy, but an activation moment instantaneously sending swarms of kids to the first moshpit of the day.
I watched the swarm in glee from my lonely box seat, taking the 50-minute gap (no Young Thug set, but apparently he was there?) to observe the seats around me. I can’t tell you what an MCD attendee looks like because it looks like everyone: every race, age, orientation, and sauce level was accounted for in the 47,609 bodies here to celebrate their lives, their heroes. Make no mistake, MCD is a coronation and reinforcement of hip-hop and pop as youth movements, further evidenced by the unveiling of the new Social Works not-for-profit announced days before.
I saw Black girls young enough to be my sister, then turned right to the white teen boy changing his socks from Dri-Fit to Golf Wang, putting his Golf Wang Vans back on to prep for Tyler the Creator. The boy held his donut backpack high many a time, making eye contact with me during “Tron Cat” as I felt old as hell realizing Goblin is more than a half decade old. Tyler, a bit shook from an asthma flare-up, berated the set designers for putting seats behind the stage: “Whoever put this together with that problem needs to get fucking fired!” He did this multiple times, going behind the board during “Sam (Is Dead)” and inviting those unfortunate souls to Camp Flog Gnaw in a tone goofily resembling Suge Knight at the ‘95 Source Awards.
This Kanye parallel of Tyler’s perfectionism served more poetic than anyone prepared for: right as I left for a set break leak, I heard the opening sample of “Father Stretch My Hands” which stopped me dead on the concourse to turn around. Everyone on the concourse did the same thing. It’s barely 4 p.m. and there’s a Saint Pablo Tour show in Nashville that night, there’s no way in... I light jog back down the stairs to see everyone with the same idea, a coliseum’s worth of elation destroying my eardrums:
Fucking Kanye West, Pablo himself, in all black, ready for the medley.
The next 20 minutes consisted of pandemonium I thought only happened in Woodstock clips or movies about the Beatles: hundreds of people hopping fences and barricades to run right into the pit for a 39-year-old still on the pulse of “the culture,” whatever the hell that means to you. In this movie, I paid less attention to the music, and more to the wall of security guards confronting some kids to turn them back, half-tackling others who shook right past them or busted their own shit. In this movie, I walked right to the edge and waited for several waves of kids to press their luck, in fear of my slender frame being grabbed up and tossed out with no way to return. I used the Ask Madden button in my brain: calculating how many kids had to leave before I did, seeing the patterns between which guards were doing what, whether CPD officers would show up, whose arm to grab so I’m not a meme and I don’t bust my shit in these dogged-out Nike Boots like I’m the ‘07 Wale. For some reason, Travis Scott’s voice was in my head yelling “LET ‘EM OVERRRRR. THEY CAN’T STOP YOU, IT’S TOO MANY OF YOU”
In reality, they let us go. I held someone’s sleeve on the four-foot drop, ran into the leagues of bodies, and lost my shit for 15 minutes like I was actually from Chicago or something. Tyler on stage, geeking over his idol. A pool of people shouting “All Falls Down” and “Touch the Sky” over each other, praying Lupe would show face. Of course the only prayer we needed was for Chano to arrive in the in the dead of the afternoon for “Ultralight Beam,” receiving the torch and bringing Jesus to the moshpit in a moment we may never see again.
CPD officers made their rounds after the rush to Yeezus; visible, hulking reminders of the true violence lurking a mere trigger away even as we rejoice. John Legend, rockin’ the Bears-colored letterman, smiled hard as he effortlessly powered through his whole set, making everyone sing “Ordinary People” and “All of Me” to their partners as I hated in the winds of cuffing season’s arrival. Legend’s set was capped by a fists-up “Glory” rendition with Common, the man with his own festival the next day. It’s one of the only mentions of Laquan and Rekia all day, and a necessary one: tastefully done, not in deflation but of respect and honor on a Southside that remains targeted and underserved outside where the White Sox play.
For all my disliking of the Collegrove album, I feared Lil Wayne + 2 Chainz would play plenty of it once they were billed together. This wasn’t it; they gave us a 75-minute hit parade where my journalistic integrity was compromised by how quickly I surrendered my vocal chords from the moment “Duffle Bag Boy” hit the damn speaker. It was a rejuvenating session of memories, foolishness, randomized DJ scratching, Wayne changing his bars to overt Birdman shots, Chainz proving why he’s one of the most underrated in the game. Surely I had to avert my gaze to how boldly the white folks around me left no nigga unturned, bringing the strange debate around Wayne’s racism views back to mind, but otherwise I left my nigga detector in my pocket and shed a tear for the moment I heard “Wasted” into “Sky’s the Limit” while I’m still breathing. Accepting the obvious is difficult, but no unmelanated spirit will take my “A Milli” from me.
Alicia Keys caught a body I was unprepared to witness, catching half of it from the LCD in the line to spend $12 on a hot dog and Dasani for my dehydrated carcass that spent an hour fanboying. What may come as a reach for younger heads was an all-encompassing moment for everyone to swoon over how age 35 has done nothing but sharpen her skill: from the rendition of “Empire State of Mind” to the stadium-wide harmonizing of “Fallin’,” Alicia brought the damn thing as the only woman on the bill. Though she had the slot before Chance, that’s an outlier that needs quick addressing for future MCDs to remain accountable for their representations.
Six songs in, Chance the Rapper took a pause on “Brain Cells” and left while the set, and stadium, faded to black. The five minutes he was gone ran like an hour. As someone who’s seen him ten times and opened for him once, it threw me that Chano would 8 Mile something like this. There was no way he’d hold this L, I was in the bleachers shook at the possibilities: was it a technical difficulty, an emergency, a quick switch, him being overwhelmed (or exhausted) on the biggest stage of his life, or all of the above?
I’m unsure if it was any, but I know Chano took a risk. Giving me echoes of Kanye’s 90-minute MBDTF-era Coachella set, Chance’s return to stage was flanked by his imaginary friend Carlos the Lion, and many other puppets guiding him through the performance. Without spoiling the details for future performances, it was Broadway meets main stage meets Sesame Street: from my viewing, it felt like a commentary on his life through the motions of his success on the journey to be a star without straying too far from Christ and the word He empowered Chance with. He didn’t bring any features out, big name or Chicago-grown, but was backed by Francis and the Chicago Children’s Choir during a full-on benediction to prepare the crowd for their blessings.
My reading could be completely wrong, but it may not matter. It made me read myself, remember that I’m still a child fiddling with my imagination to make my wildest dreams come true. I thought of the joy Uzi brought me, of rushing the crowd to see Kanye, of the way Lil Wayne made me feel like a 14-year-old in a basement with a USB microphone, how my cheeks would flame up when Alicia Keys said my name like I’m the guy who orders the special with the hot chocolate on 35th & Lenox. I made the trek to spend an entire day with angels in the outfield, to revel in mass-coordinated bliss with thousands of people I’ll never see again in a way I may never feel again. Hell, it even made me stay for part of a Skrillex set I’d never attend on my own, and I had way more fun than I anticipated.
May 4, 2013 was that one time I opened for Chance. Acid Rap dropped that week, and The Sett at UW-Madison was full to the brim off the palpable hype. I knew no one was there for me, but I was in full “fuck it” mode and tried to crowdsurf by the end of my set. It’s still the only time I’ve been dropped in my life. After that, I caught Chance side-stage before his 30 minutes and asked him when he’d sign with a label. He calmly explained he didn’t think he was going to; he even took hella pictures with my friends. I saw him at FRZN Fest on Jan 26, 2013 at the High Noon Saloon; he played with Kids These Days in a room of no more than 30 people. Before that, Dec 14, 2012 at The Sett with no more than 50. He was only a kid from Chicago then, all the homies I went to school with either knew him, knew of him or claimed a little bit of both. To see him do Magnificent Coloring day at age 23, so young and Black and talented, makes these moments feel like lightyears ago. It’s nothing more than motivation, a service to minds like mine and a reminder that any and all of this shit is possible. I don’t know which festival will ever make me feel that way again.
“I’m just havin’ fun wit’ it…”
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.
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