Chance the Rapper – No Problem (Live on Ellen) (2016)
It took only a short time for Chicago’s Chance the Rapper to rise from underground sweetheart to one of hip-hop’s most important names. Four years after his debut mixtape, the 23-year-old’s face already seems eligible for a Mount Rushmore of rap – at least the Rushmore covering mid-to-late 2016. It’s not just music, but community (and brand) building that’s lifted his currency, distinguishing him from fellow travellers such as Danny Brown and Young Thug. A few days before Chance’s Sept. 27 performance in Toronto, he hosted the Magnificent Coloring Day Festival, a 12-hour jamboree on his hometown’s South Side. Chance reportedly bought back and redistributed hundreds of scalped tickets; Kanye West, John Legend, Tyler, the Creator and Skrillex were among the acts who leaped onto his bandwagon, cavorting before the twice-sold-out crowd.
And “cavorting” seems like the apposite verb. Chance and his crew have positioned themselves in gleeful, giddy contrast to world-weary street rappers such as Future. He dances with muppets, rhymes about grilled cheese, scampers across stages in dungarees and a smile. He tweets with the hashtag #BlackBoyJoy. And he appears on the distinctly undangerous Ellen Degeneres Show – bringing Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, no less – and turning in a performance of contagious, chaotic elation. There’s always been a revelry to No Problem – it’s a song about freedom, slaloming across a gospel loop. But here the celebration’s so complete that it feels as if it could encompass everyone, the studio audience on their feet and the dumbstruck viewers at home, anybody anywhere who’s qualified to grin a grin.
John and Beverley Martyn – Give Us A Ring (1970)
Originally intended for Nick Drake, Give Us A Ring is an example of song as letter – a dispatch from John and Beverley to a friend on holiday. It was written by John Wheeler, and John Martyn allegedly gave Wheeler his wedding ring as a fitting – if excessive – thank you for the material. Almost 50 years after its recording, Give Us A Ring still sounds timeless. The Martyns’ letter might as well be an e-mail; it’s so easy to imagine the friend they’re writing to, tanned and languid, who penned them a postcard on the beach “or on your pillow / or on a book or something stiff.” They ask him about the food; they ask him how he’s sleeping. And despite the singers’ very seventies-ish request that their friend smuggle them home some drugs, what burnishes the song are the banalities the couple shares from their own boring, homebound lives. We’ve all been there, telling our best friends about the smallest things. Missing them so much, even though we can’t say exactly why.