Chance The Rapper Goes Against the Grain on ‘Coloring Book’
Extraordinary people take risks and Chance The Rapper lives up to his rap moniker by doing that on his latest mixtape, Coloring Book. Arriving a year after Surf, his collaborative effort with Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, and his first solo effort since his classic 2013 tape, Acid Rap, Coloring Book illustrates the young Chicago MC's immense faith in God and the good in humanity over the course of its 14 tracks.
Spirituality and triumph are the two calling cards of Coloring Book and listeners get a heavy dose of each on the introductory track, "All We Got," which finds Chance teaming up with Kanye West and recapturing the magic of their last meeting on "Ultralight Beam," albeit in a more glorious manner. Employing a soundscape that include horns, pounding drums and handclaps, Chance helms the track and wastes no time getting into the proceedings. "This for the kids of the king of all kings/This is the holiest thing/This is the beat that played under the Word/This is the sheep that ain't like what it herd," he rhymes. His lyrics, along with Kanye's crooning on the song's hook and bridge, make it evident from the onset that church is definitely in session.
Chance's pulpit could rival that of the most renowned televangelist, as he summons a few of the biggest names in rap today to help him minister to the hip-hop congregation. 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne can be found preaching on the fan favorite, "No Problem," produced by Brasstracks, during which Lil Chano flexes his independent muscle with the warning, "If one more label try to stop me/It's gon' be some dreadhead niggas in ya lobby." Jay Electronica shows up on "How Great" with My cousing Nicole and T-Pain flexes on "Finish Line / Drown" alongside Kirk Franklin, Eryn Allen Kane and Noname. Then there are newer names like frequent collaborator D.R.A.M., who turns in a stellar solo performance on "D.R.A.M. Sings Special," the youth's favorite rapper Lil Yachty on "Mixtape" featuring Young Thug and fellow Chicagoan Towkio on the Rascal-produced "Juke Jam" with Justin Bieber.
"Blessings," reminiscent of a praise and worship song, features Chance relaying a message he got from the man above. "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," he delivers. The line is a testament to the religious overtones found on Coloring Book, but Chance makes sure to infuse wordly vibes into the mix. On the CBMIX-produced "Mixtape," featuring the intriguing pairing Young Thug and newcomer Lil Yachty, Chance meshes with the two effortlessly, proclaiming, "Am I the only nigga still care about mixtapes" while navigating the 808-and-synth-driven soundscape. He syncs up once again on the Knox Fortune-assisted burner, "All Night," the latter of which wins with its pulsating instrumental and obnoxious, yet endearing hook.
"God is better than the best thing that the world has to offer" is a sentiment that precedes Chance's most impressive spittage on the Coloring Book highlight, "How Great." Hip-hop's latest recluse Jay Electronica makes a rare appearance with his supporting verse and while he serves a few highlight bars, he's ultimately bested by his young co-star, who goes banoodles. "Magnify, magnify, lift it on high/Spit it Spotify to qualify a spot on His side/I cannot modify or ratify, my momma made me apple pies/Lullabies and alibis/The book don't end with Malachi," Chano from 79th drops, proving he's as adept at lyrical miracles as he is at embracing spiritual ones.
After taking a quick "Smoke Break" with Future (the track produced by Garren), Chance The Rapper gets back to the testimonials on "Finish Line / Drown." The first half, consisting of an upbeat praise song, features a surprising revelation: his past addiction to Xanax. The line "Reclining on a prayer, I'm declining to help/I've been lying to my body can't rely on myself" paints a vivid picture of his near self-destruction. The second portion of the track is an intense offering featuring rapper Noname and gospel artist Kirk Franklin, who ironically popularized bridging the secular with the spiritual himself more than 20 years ago. Noname delivers a sobering spoken word poem and reminisces on her god-fearing mother before Franklin sends it home with a few words of encouragement. Alter calls then give way to confessionals on the Coloring Book closer, "Blessings (Reprise)," which features Ty Dolla $ign and a backing choir consisting of BJ The Chicago Kid, Anderson Paak, Raury and Nico, bringing the mixtape full circle.
Chance The Rapper is undoubtedly the most valuable player on Coloring Book, but the Chicago Children's choir gives him a run for his money. The choir's vocal performances on standouts like "Same Drugs," a sobering piano-and-violin-laden tune, as well as additional highlights like "All We Got," "How Great" and "Finish Line / Drown," bolster the project's ambiance, with Chance taking a page out of mentor Kanye West's book. Christianity being the crux of Coloring Book may tempt some to credit the rapper, along with Kanye West, for brokering the marriage of religion and traditional hip-hop in the mainstream, but DMX, who famously reserved the closeout tracks on his albums for prayers, is one of many notable artists to pay homage to God when it comes to hip-hop.
Subterranean acts like Killah Priest, Brother Ali and Lecrae are all MCs who have never shied away from using their influence as a spotlight to display their faith. However, as far as more mainstream acts go, Coloring Book is the most high-profile rap project in recent history to embrace religion on such a grand scale. The artistic statement here was essentially risky, in which fans could be alienated for looking to a genre known more for turn-up anthems than worship odes, but Chance The Rapper's considerable feat proves effortless; his message is embraced. Coloring Book, replete with a spiritual aura and talk with the man above, is a heavy contender for the best project released this year because it goes against the grain while still building upon hip-hop's foundation. Speaking to God in public never sounded so good.
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