Unsung Hero of 2016: Chance the Rapper's Puppet Entourage

Chance the Rapper had a very big year—but he couldn't have done it without a little help from his (puppet) friends.

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I'm not always in the mood to go to a music festival. They're crowded, hot, hard to get to, and so damn expensive. But that was not the case with the inaugural installment of the Meadows in New York City. The Meadows was an easy train ride from my apartment in Brooklyn, took place in the shadow of the stadium where my favorite baseball team plays (go Mets), had ample room for attendees, took place in October, and featured a lineup of heavyweights. And of all the big names on the bill, there was one act I was particularly excited to see for the very first time: Chance the Rapper.

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At one particularly strange and poignant moment of his show, Chance sits down at the piano to duet with one of the puppets. Some laughed, some cried, all enjoyed.

Chance had a massive 2016, and this festival set was slated to be another big moment in his year. He delivered. The energy, the showmanship, the pure, palpable joy—the show hit on all cylinders. But there was one unanticipated touch that turned it into a transcendent experience.

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The show was staged like a play in which Chance was the star, and all of the supporting roles were played by—wait for it—life-size puppets with whom he'd interact between songs. This was a stadium rap show that had Jim Henson's fingerprints all over it. And the combination worked, to thrilling effect. At one point he'd be sitting at a white baby grand piano dueting with a lady puppet; the next he'd be sleeping on a giant bed as his number-one confidant, Carlos the Lion, tried to wake him up and remind him of the task at hand. And it all culminated with the emergence of a puppet choir who appeared just in time to back him on the set's triumphant closing number.

The persistent, relentless motivational speaker of Chance's touring troupe: Carlos the Lion.

While the whole show was masterful, it was his deft use of storytelling—in a manner that felt completely in harmony with his breakout record, Coloring Book—that indicated just how big this young artist really thinks. When you arrive at a fest, you don't always expect to see much in the form of distinctive production touches, but Chance took his allotted time and turned it into a fully transporting, magical little ride. It certainly makes you wonder what else he might have up his sleeve for the year to come.

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