What makes Chance the Rapper stand out in a hip-hop field that often seems over-crowded with much-hyped "next big things" is his ability to reconnect the form with its roots as street music.
His massive success with his mix tape "Coloring Book," which became the first album to win multiple Grammys as a digital-only effort earlier this year, was a double-edged sword of a victory.
Chance succeeded by going directly to his listeners, sans middlemen, and thus struck a blow for independent artists, but simultaneously, pop music's status as a "free entity" became enshrined in the popular consciousness, and it's hard to see a return to the old "album as artifact that people are willing to pay for" days of the music business.
So when Chance and his band took the stage at Darien Lake's PAC on Wednesday, what we were witnessing was at once the full mainstream emergence of a vibrant young artist, and that moment when the man looked to monetize his brand.
[PHOTO GALLERY: Chance the Rapper performs at Darien Lake]
Chance has given away a lot of music for free. The live show – one of many on his current debut run as an arena-sized artist – is where the money is now.
It also needs to be where the spectacle is writ large, not simply subtly implied, as it was by the richly layered "Coloring Book."
Chance seems to be taking to the whole rock star thing like a natural, though. He arrived on stage amidst a flurry of pyro, perched atop a mini-bike and seemingly loaded for bear.
For some 90 minutes, Chance maintained that elevated level of enthusiasm, proving that the "Coloring Book" material could make the jump from the laptop to the arena stage without losing much in the way of detail and subtlety, while gaining plenty in the way of visceral oomph and power.
Thank the man's band for that. Chance has worked with Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment in the past, and he was wise to enlist them for his first major headlining tour. Real drums can lend hip-hop an authenticity in the groove department and provide a welcome relief from the incessant onslaught of TR-808 drum machines that are de rigueur in contemporary hip-hop.
That was certainly the case on Wednesday. Trumpet, synth bass and a quartet of backing vocalists bolstered that organic feeling.
[PHOTO GALLERY: Smiles at the Chance the Rapper concert]
Chance was clearly proud of his band, introducing them, name-checking their collaborative album "Surf," and performing "Sunday Candy," a tune from that record. It was a highlight of the show.
Chance and his band covered the essentials for the packed house. He opened with "Mix Tape," played "Smoke Break," "Angels" and "Blessings," and then brought the house down with covers of Kanye West and DJ Khaled tunes.
The marriage of gospel and hip-hop that is Chance's calling card made Wednesday's set stand out in the current climate.