It has been nearly three weeks since Chance the Rapper released Coloring Book (2016), his latest work following Acid Rap (2013), 10 Day (2012), and a variety of singles and side projects, including last year’s Surf with friends and collaborators Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment.
From being the first streaming-exclusive album to chart on the Billboard 200 (at a comfortable #8) to Chance’s Magnificent Coloring World extravaganza in Chicago, Coloring Book has certainly made its impact. Garnering high scores from a range of album reviewers including Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, the mixtape promises to be one of the best of 2016.
And, it is interesting that Chance released Coloring Book so close to Kanye West’s Life of Pablo (2016), which came out two months ago. Given Chance’s memorable and highly-praised contribution to Kanye’s album-opener “Ultralight Beam” and the two artists’ various shout-outs to each other over social media (Chance recently posted on Facebook, “It’s crazy cause I feel like I met Kanye the first time I heard We Don’t Care… he’s been there for me since 2004”), music fans have witnessed the pair grow musically and spiritually—and it seems, especially now, that they are doing it together. Chance has stated several times that Kanye was an influence growing up, especially because both rappers share a hometown. The two of them have now elevated Chicago as a legitimate home base for hip hop. As he triumphantly raps on “Ultralight Beam,” “I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to hell / I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail.”
Not only is Chance’s confidence conveyed on Coloring Book, his reflective, matured side is revealed as well. Replacing the smoke-filled angst of 10 Day (which was made during 10 days of suspension from high school) and the haze of Acid Rap is a newly grateful, awed Chance. In the face of many of life’s gifts, including a baby girl born last September, he has recorded a mixtape that demonstrates that he has grown up, though perhaps not entirely, at least yet. We see Coloring Book balance an array of themes, from religious sentiments (“I get my word from the sermon” is the very first line of the first track “All We Got”) to growing up in Chicago and witnessing the city’s violence (“Summer Friends”) to taking time off every once in awhile (“Smoke Break”). Half of the album is a gospel-inspired lullaby, while the other half shows off Chance’s lasting ability to create summer-defining anthems—“No Problem,” which features Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, is a clear example of this.
The album features a variety of guests, from big names like Kanye, Future, Justin Bieber, and T-Pain to lesser-known names, like Chance’s gospel favorite Kirk Franklin, Chicago rapper Jeremih, and Chance’s cousin Nicole. Collaborating with so many artists is something the rapper continues to do, and something he seems to really love. Consequently, each song sounds fresh, even after repeated plays. Highlights of the mixtape include “All We Got,” “Angels (feat. Saba),” and “All Night.”
Of course, Chance being Chance, he also carries and expresses musically a powerful sense of nostalgia. On “Same Drugs” he sings longingly, “We don’t do the same drugs no more,” and later, “The past tense, past bedtime / Way back then when everything we read was real / And everything we said rhymed.” To be clear, the kid in Chance is not gone. He recently redesigned baseball hats for the Chicago White Sox (of which he is a longtime fan) and every interview, performance, social media post, and promo video presents us with an earnest picture of Chance the Rapper. At just 23-years old, he is still not far from the picture we have of him as a teenager—an incredibly talented teenager. Chance may be increasingly confident on Coloring Book, but he remains young, which so much of his charm and the impressiveness of his abilities derive from. Both he and his listeners know he still has more to give us in the future, and if it is anything like this release, it will be absolutely glorious.
Article by Valerie Law