Chance the Rapper is becoming a legend right in front of our eyes. He has made progressively bolder and more confident statements with each chapter in his trilogy of mixtapes released thus far, reaching increasingly larger audiences in the process: On 2012’s 10 Day, Chance introduced himself to the world, spurred by a suspension and a passion. He made 2013’s Acid Rap a go-to for underground hip-hop heads and casual listeners alike, throwing himself into the spotlight with a style as varied as it was confident and wordplay that told stories and stretched minds. On Coloring Book, Chance proclaims to the world his security with who he is. He knows who his friends are, where he stands in the music world, and what he’s doing on this Earth. And if you don’t, then he’s about to tell you.
From the mixtape’s opening line, you can hear the smile on his face. From the very first verse—his inflection, his words, and the sounds surrounding him—we understand how much he loves his music, his family, his God, and his life. That’s the theme here, and the message he’s conveying: things can be great, and for him, right now, they are. They can be bad sometimes, sure, and he admits some problems/weaknesses throughout (which we’ll talk about later), but he’s taking those into account and celebrating everything that makes his life what it is.
To help him celebrate, Chance brings along plenty of enthusiastic friends, portrayed best by the beautiful collaboration, “Blessings”. Between Chance’s assured yet grateful energy, The Social Experiment’s skyward-looking, spiritual instrumentation, Donnie Trumpet’s heavenly horn, and Jamila Woods’ divine vocal prayers, the entire group works together so kindly and carefully to thank God and celebrate the gifts they’ve received from Him.
To be honest, as a relatively agnostic person, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. But I felt comfortable writing it because Chance, Jamila, Noname (featured on “Finish Line / Drown” as she weaves poetic accounts of her relationship with her flawed God), and everyone else on the project speak about God in such an accessible way that, despite not being a religious person, I want to celebrate with them. Kirk Franklin actually preaches on the mixtape, for goodness’ sake, and it doesn’t bother me one bit. Chance and his friends introduce Kirk and his choir in such a non-threatening way that I have no qualms with letting the sermon wash over me. They all give praise and thanks without forcing anyone else to, and speak to the wonderful ways in which their faith benefits them.
Coloring Book‘s accessibility and relatability shine through between these moments of praise, as a myriad of different thoughts and ideas develop in many different styles. On “No Problem”, Chance throws a huge middle finger to all the labels who want to control him, cranking out a flow we’ve never heard from him while a Brasstracks-produced beat keeps spirits high. With “Juke Jam”, he lays out his syllables carefully on top of a slow, sensual beat courtesy of German producer Rascal that would stump plenty of otherwise-great rappers. And on “All Night”, Kaytranada gets behind an absolute monster of a dance track while Chance bounces all over it, offering something new and wildly fun. Just because Chance is celebrating on this tape doesn’t mean he’s taking it easy; he brings in a wealth of different producers and collaborators to challenge himself and his style, all the while making it look effortless.
As expected, in the midst of this experimental jubilation, Chicago’s poster boy takes the time to touch on difficult topics. On “Summer Friends”, he speaks alongside the ethereal vocal layers provided by Francis and the Lights to touch on his childhood summer memories, personal flaws (“Fucked up and fucked all my friends”) and neighborhood violence (“Okay now, day camp at Grand Crossing / First day, n****s shootin’”) included. He effectively brings light to the problems in his hometown without trivializing or detracting from the strength and accomplishments of those experiencing them. This is shown best in “Angels”, where he and Saba speak to the problems that affect Chicago (“It’s too many young Angels on the South Side / Got us scared to let our grandmamas outside”) while still celebrating the city that raised them (“City so damn great I feel like Alexand’”). A remarkable thing about Chance is how much he cares about his city, and how he uses his platform to bring Chicago’s issues to nationwide attention without painting Chicagoans as victims and while still celebrating their efforts, their lives, and their city.
With all of this packed into one project, it’s hard to believe how cohesive Coloring Book is. But, then again, it makes a lot of sense. Coloring Book speaks to a slice of time and looks at exactly how things are right now. Real life is complicated. There’s happiness, there’s sadness, there’s confidence, there’s confusion, and there’s fun. That’s how Chance brings every piece of this mixtape together: he isn’t just celebrating success, he’s celebrating life itself. He isn’t naive or in denial about the downsides of events, of people, or even of God; he takes those in stride and creates a work that praises every aspect of his own and others’ lives.
That’s why Coloring Book feels so right. Chance, The Social Experiment, Jamila Woods, Kirk Franklin, Noname, Saba, and many more like Kanye and 2 Chainz take the good, the bad, and the ugly, put it all out there, and say as one, “Here it is. It’s complicated, it’s not perfect, but it’s here, and we’re in love with it.”
I’m in love with it, too.
Stream Coloring Book on Spotify, SoundCloud, Tidal, and everywhere else. Follow Chance the Rapper (SoundCloud/Twitter/Facebook) and Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment (SoundCloud/Twitter) on social media.