Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper (Independent) – May 2016
Chance took a major ‘chance’ here. His first solo effort since 2013’s classic mixtape Acid Rap (and one of my personal favourite projects of all time), Coloring Book is unlike anything that has ever been done in mainstream hip-hop. Proudly hailing from Chicago, the young MC shines a light on the rarely-seen positive side of the Windy City, while also wearing his faith in God on his sleeve for all to see.
The triumphant opening track, “All We Got” which features one of Chano’s idols in Kanye West manages to top their last collaboration on “Ultralight Beam” on The Life of Pablo. Religion is a key theme throughout this song and Chance’s lyrics, along with the choir and Kanye’s vocals on the hook give this song a very church-like feel right from the off.
The album then transitions into the glorious “No Problem”, where Chance proves himself to be music’s most successful free agent, flexing about how great it is to be independent. He calls on the Collegrove duo, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz to help him out which is apt considering they have both had issues with labels in the past. Another of Chance’s idols, Lil Wayne delivers a buoyant line about freeing “Tha Carter”, which suggests he is fighting to give us his long-awaited twelfth studio album as soon as possible. The song’s hook, “You don’t want no problem with me”, is a threat to record executives who have actively attempted to hold Chance the Rapper’s movement down. His attitude, however, is defiant. He won’t be stopped.
Other superstar guest spots are given to the elusive Jay Electronica, who pops up on “How Great” with a characteristically brilliant verse, T-Pain, who does a sublime job of complimenting Chance’s bubbly singing voice on “Finish Line / Drown” alongside the iconic Kirk Franklin, Noname and Eryn Allen Kane and Justin Bieber who does lends a glowing chorus to the Chicagoan anthem “Juke Jam”.
As well as these big names, Chance allows several newer names to join the party like D.R.A.M., who gets a solo track with “D.R.A.M. Sings Special”, Lil Yachty, who is fresh off of a great mixtape of his own in Lil Boat and doesn’t disappoint on “Mixtape” featuring the always-polarising Young Thug who also delivers the goods.
“Blessings” was premiered on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where it was announced as Coloring Book’s third single. Here, he vows to keep preaching until he “fades away” and touches on how the birth of his daughter monumentally changed his life. He delivers a brilliant series of lines on this song: “Jesus’ black life ain’t matter, I know I talked to his daddy/Said you the man of the house now, look out for your family/He has ordered my steps, gave me a sword with a crest/And gave Donnie a trumpet in case I get shortness of breath,” which are a tribute to the religious leitmotif on Coloring Book, suggesting that perhaps God sent him this message directly.
Chance takes a slightly different direction with “All Night”, which is a more commercial sounding song, however infectious without getting annoying (I can assure you this, I must have heard it hundreds of times now). The Knox Fortune-produced joint is lively, vivacious and has that endearing hook that will be stuck in your head forever.
Returning from a quick “Smoke Break” with Future, Chance begins to shut up shop on “Finish Line / Drown”. In the first half, he admits to a past addiction to Xanax and pushing his body to its limit. The second portion, however is an intensely spiritual contribution featuring female rapper Noname and gospel artist Kirk Franklin. Noname delivers a theistic spoken-word verse before Franklin tops it off with a prayer-like donation to the Book. The tape closes out with “Blessings (Reprise)” which brings everything full circle neatly with a Chance-led choir of Ty Dolla $ign, BJ the Chicago Kid, Anderson .Paak, Raury and Nico. Each of their unique voices blend together to create a gospel/hip-hop fusion that is undeniably striking.
Chance the Rapper seriously comes into his own on this mixtape. Songs like “Same Drugs”, “All We Got” and “No Problem” mean if Chance was to retire tomorrow, he would have a discography worthy of a rap icon. Artists like Kanye West and DMX may have laid the foundations for the introduction of religion into traditional hip-hop but no-one has ever done something so spiritual on such a high profile project. The ‘chance’ that I mentioned Chance took at the start of the review is that he put it all on the line despite the possibility that the worship would alienate fans looking for gangster talk and turn-up records. The chance paid off and Chance effortlessly floats from song to song, keeping the religion discrete enough so as not to put off the casual listener.
At the end of the day, Coloring Book is probably one of, if not the best project of the year. It loses none of its inventiveness and imagination after countless listens and goes against the grain in a satisfying way, all while whetting the appetites of Chance’s original fans.
Listen to the mixtape on all streaming platforms now!
Follow me on Twitter @boombapacidrap
Follow Chance on Twitter @chancetherapper