“Paranoia” is an odd song for Chance The Rapper to have made.
The minimal, down-beat look at Chicago teenagers affected by gang violence and living with PTSD is odd in its context on Chance’s breakthrough mixtape Acid Rap – sandwiched between the Curtis Mayfield-via-DJ Screw sound of “Pusha Man” and the groovy, warm free-associative rambling of “Cocoa Butter Kisses” – and it’s odd in the context of Chance’s discography as a whole, which tends toward skronky, joyous mashups of gospel, soul, and juke.
It should come as no surprise, then, that that feeling of dissonance extends to Chance’s live performance of the song. At a recent stop in Orlando, the most famous member of the Save Money crew segued into the song almost immediately after asking the crowd to try and make the venue shake as they jumped along with “Favorite Song” and its incessant chorus of “This my jam! This my jam!”
This is the same guy who would perform his rendition of the theme song from Arthur later, the rapper who would close out his set with a song comparing a weekly meeting with his grandmother to a holy ritual, but for now he wanted the crowd to take a second and think about how “they murking kids, they murder kids here.”
Problem was, the crowd wasn’t ready to follow Chance. “Paranoia” features some of the same catchy, lilting speech patterns as the rest of his catalog. The crowd shouted along as if lines like “down here, it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a f*cking parking spot” were tossed-off lines from “F*ck Up Some Commas.”
As the song went on, Chance seemed more and more desperate to have the meaning behind the words resonate with the people in the crowd. With each repetition of the chorus, Chance tried humanizing the deaths at the center of the song. “A lot of n*ggas dying” became “A lot of black boys dying” became “a lot of little black boys dying.” When that aforementioned line about “murking kids” came around, he signaled to his band The Social Experiment to quiet down and added extra emphasis to the line so that it came out “They MURDER KIDS here.” And still the crowd’s partying mood would not be dampened, even for a second.