In 2016, hot off a career-changing verse on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam,” Chance the Rapper released “Coloring Book.” Credited for changing the music industry’s view of streaming and the landscape of hip-hop at a time when the release of a physical edition was still seen as legitimizing an album, the mixtape topped multiple year-end lists, debuted in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 without a single “sale” and became the first streaming-only album to win a Grammy (three of them, at that).
A year later, Chance rounded up the biggest fans from his hometown of Chicago and filmed a concert experience in secret. Initially planning to release the footage as a concert movie shortly thereafter, Chance got creatively sidetracked and shelved the project. But when the pandemic hit, the artist retreated to House of Kicks — his one-stop-shop office, production house, movie set and recording studio — to finish what he started. Filmed in front of an audience of 1500, “Magnificent Coloring World” is a cinematic dive into Chance’s Magnificent Coloring World Tour, with never-before-seen footage and reinvented versions of fan-favorite songs.
Ahead of the film’s Aug. 13 premiere, Chance sat down with Variety to discuss editing and independently distributing a movie, the legacy of “Coloring Book” and new music on the way.
You’ve had this concert footage for four years, always intending to make a movie with it, but you shelved the project until now. What inspired you to come back to it?
I guess it was my close proximity to filmmaking. During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time studying film and watching video essays. But I’ve always been a big movie guy and always loved going specifically to movie theaters. I made a few short-form video concerts last year that I directed and storyboarded and eventually worked with editors on. The last one I made, “Chi-Town Christmas,” was the biggest in scope. It was filmed at the same soundstage [as “Magnificent Coloring World”] in Chicago, where they shoot a lot of movies and TV shows. The only difference was that this one was shot without an audience because of the pandemic. I spent a lot of time editing that joint, and when I was done, I was like, “Man, we should have put this in theaters because it would have been a cool holiday experience.” That reminded me of the “Coloring Book” joint. It was a nine-camera shoot with three different performances, so it took a while to go through, but I’m very happy with it now.
Your live show is very big in scale. How important was it to you that the concert film went to theaters?
That was always the main way I wanted people to experience it — as a community, sitting together in a movie theater. When you go see “Avengers” and they do those character reveals, everybody claps, or when a good joke happens, everyone laughs. In this case, everybody’s singing together. It’s a way different feel than watching Netflix in your bed… Let’s change that to Amazon Prime, I want more Netflix opportunities. [Laughs.] But it needed to feel like a concert — a real-time event.
Talk about House of Kicks and the challenges and rewards of distributing a film independently.
For one, I didn’t know that it was possible. So once I found out that it was a possibility to be my own studio for my own film, I knew that’s what I should do. And AMC was pretty easy when it came to understanding the vision for it and the amount of cities and the scale of the overall event. I got House of Kicks so I could focus on visual art and making movies, sketches, music videos and concert films. I was shooting a lot in there, and then we got the editing bay together. With us producing so many videos and this being a miniature school for all of us to get better at film production, it made sense for House of Kicks to make “Magnificent Coloring World.” It’s a cool space that serves many purposes. I’ll go over there to do work, have meetings, edit videos or record music, but also the other day I had a date there. My wife and I did a sip ‘n’ paint in the live room and set up a table in the main room and ate fresh berries.
Were you surprised by anything while going through the footage years after you shot it?
I do a performance of “Ultralight Beam,” and the song wasn’t very old — I hadn’t toured it yet, and it was one of my first times performing it. I noticed the second or third time I was going through the edit that it was like 10 BPM faster than the version that I perform on the road, which is slower than the actual track. It reminded me that better performances come from practice and figuring out what works. I have a lot of music that I’ve never performed or that I’ve performed but only one way and only a few times, and it reminded me that I have to do it over and over before I find the right way to do it.
A lot of people view “Ultralight Beam” and your performance of it on “Saturday Night Live” as your crossing over to the mainstream. Chris Rock has this definition of fame as when people’s mothers know who you are, and for my mom, that was certainly the moment. Do you look at it that way, and there other moments of your career that you look back on as career-changing?
Yeah, I have a ton of them. I think it’s funny to learn how other people see it, because for your mom, it’s the “SNL” moment, but for somebody else’s mom, it’s the Kit Kat commercial or seeing me on tour with Childish Gambino. And for me, it’s when I first heard my song on the radio, years before anybody knew who I was. I always try to set goals that don’t seem plausible and do that. And then once I do it, I think of a new goal. But the “SNL” moment was huge for me because I grew up a huge Kanye West fan — he was the first hip-hop album I had. I had found out on my own that I was gonna make “Coloring Book” be centered around the music I was listening to at the time, which was a lot of gospel. I had almost finished “Coloring Book” when I did the “Ultralight Beam” feature for Ye. I also played “SNL” less than six months before that, so I made that kind of music and I made that “SNL” moment on my own. And then I got to do a lap six months later, on a way larger scale, and I got on a lot more people’s radar.
Do you have a favorite moment from the film that you’re specifically excited for audiences to see?
There’s a dolly shot that’s just beautiful. The concert is a different type of experience for the fans, but it’s also a different kind of performance from me. There’s a semicircle of stages and a long row of bleachers, so for most of the show, I’m 35-plus feet away from the audience. I’m not really playing to them as much as I normally do, I’m playing to the camera. So the two most important things in this performance — rather than energy of the crowd — were the aesthetic and the sound. I made the movie with the fans in there so people could hear what it sounds like at one of my concerts, where you can barely hear my microphone because the fans are so loud. So we had these hanging choir mics over the audience, and when you watch the movie, you feel like you’re in a big crowd. But that’s the cool thing about the film — it’s not an audience of 10,000 or 15,000; it’s 1500 people in a small room where the light is controlled, the sound is controlled, and every movement is intentional and planned out for weeks and weeks. And right after that, we went on the tour, and the tour was amazing. But this is a one-of-one performance that hasn’t been seen since that day.
Speaking of crowds, you have Summerfest coming up, but no other dates announced. Are you gearing up for another tour?
I’m gonna have a lot more shows next year. I turned down a lot of shows because I didn’t know exactly what was gonna happen. Performance is what I’m best at. I consider myself a really good writer and recording artist, but performing is just my thing. I’ve been on stages since I was a kid, doing talent shows and stuff like that. So I’m very, very excited about Summerfest. I love doing concert films because it’s so intimate, even though you’re on the opposite side of the screen. I love that people will get the experience of seeing me up close. But it’s still not the real deal, which is: We’re all in the room, you can see how tiny I am, you can feel the bass a mile away. That’s the best way music should be accessed.
Two of your biggest musical influences and themes are drugs and God. Do you see those two things as at odds with each other, or do you view them as compatible?
They’re two very different things. Drugs are very tangible and accessible, and they alter your perception. God and your faith are something that are ever-present but not necessarily something that you can pick and choose when you get access to it. I’m a person who makes music about what I’m going through at that specific time. It’s very noticeable in my work that there’s always a singular theme to whatever the project is. I was bound to make a project about getting suspended because that was all I knew. I was bound to make a project about acid, about God or marriage, or whatever is the main thing that I’m going through.
Do you have new music on the way?
I’ve been recording a lot more lately, because I’ve been filming a lot more lately. So my new thing is formulating what I want to speak about and then writing, as opposed to letting it just come to me and formulating the song later. So I made this song a couple months ago called “The Heart and the Tongue,” and it’s about the actual decision-making process when I’m making a song. And it’s a long process that will keep me at the mic stand for a long time, deciding if I’m gonna be speaking about my personal experience or something that I experienced second-hand or if I’m gonna be rapping from a worldly standpoint or whatever’s going on. I started thinking about what the video will look like, and once I had the video in my head, I could just rap it.
A few years ago, you said that you had projects coming out with with Kanye West and Childish Gambino. Is there any hope that those might come out in the future?
There’s hope that they might come out in the future, but I wouldn’t say with any immediacy. I haven’t been in the studio with them in a while, but I wouldn’t say to lose hope that they’re coming out. I would just say that there’s probably a lot of other stuff coming out first.
Things you didn’t know about Chance the Rapper:
Favorite book: “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein
Favorite mixtape: “Da Drought 3” by Lil Wayne
Feature he would add to “Coloring Book” if he could go back in time: Regina Spektor