I tell people this all the time: Chance the Rapper is already a legend. He continues to transcend his cream-of-the-crop music on a seemingly daily basis. Chance is not merely breaking down his genre’s barriers, he takes a stand for his hometown community as well as musicians in general. He is the co-creator of Chicago’s Warmest Winter 2016 project. The nonprofit effort delivered high-tech (aka water-resistant, self-heating, and double as full-size sleeping bags) winter coats for the homeless sleeping on the cold, unforgiving streets of Chi-town this past winter. Not only that, the drive took those very same homeless individuals and gave them full-time seamstress jobs to help get them back on their feet.
Do you see what I mean? This man is a saint. Chance is also currently heading a petition that the Grammys panel is strongly considering to give music releases without a price tag their own award category. Chance is a culture pusher, a voice for the voiceless, and a man of the people. And you can hear it in his mixtapes. When Acid Rap first dropped it took me a while to get hip. Luckily, I have a friend from Chicago that might even know more about music than I do. I told him I had seen the song “Acid Rain” on Facebook but didn’t think to click on the link since I had no idea who Chance the Rapper was. He then essentially told me I had made a huge mistake, instantly playing the song from his phone. I was hooked immediately. I listened to that song on repeat for days. Chance’s introspection reflects the lifestyle and times of his beloved and crime-stricken city. When Chance smiles Chicago smiles; when they cry, he cries and vice-versa. In a time when his city needs his strength and Hip-hop needs his audacity, Chance the Rapper has never shone brighter.
The tape opens up with a bang as Chance brings out the Chicago Children’s Choir and “Ultralight Beam” partner in crime Kanye West. “All We Got” is a fantastic way to get the party started. It reminded me a lot of West’s College Dropout opener “We Don’t Care” which just so happens to be Chance’s favorite Kanye track. Both songs feature vocal aid from a chorus of kids to help relay a simple and important message. Kanye’s opening statement was one that would define his career’s purpose: “We wasn’t s’posed to make it past 25/Joke’s on you we still alive/Throw your hands up in the sky/We don’t care what people say!” Each bar represents a piece of West’s personality and lyrical content: sociopolitical commentary, brazen humor, party anthems, and unapologetic confidence. Chance, on the other hand, has much less to prove on a personal level. If you’ve heard Acid Rap (which if you haven’t, stop reading this and go find it) then you know Chance’s rap style and lyrical substance. On Coloring Book, he takes this opportunity to expand on the gospel influence we heard on Acid Rap, and uses that to propel a message of positivity and reminisce about past relationships.
One of the first things I noticed about this project was that there are fewer bangers here than on Acid Rap. “Favorite Song,” “NaNa,” “Juice,” and “Smoke Again” all have the ability to get people out of their seat. There certainly are dance-worthy songs on Coloring Book, but I believe Chance toned down the amount of snares and pure Rap direction in this mixtape’s production to give it a grander sonic palette. The Social Experiment are responsible for eight of the 14 beat credits. The trumpets, guitars, strings, and organs heard throughout give the record a one-of-a-kind organic feel. Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of Surf I was surprised at how much I liked the concept of fusing horn section instruments with Pop and Hip-hop melodies. These tracks make me feel happy because I can hear how joyful the recording process for this project was. “Blessings,” “Angels,” and “How Great” find Chance in his natural habitat taking time to stop and thank God for all He’s done for him in his career thus far. Not too many rappers can pull off this style without being labeled as Gospel or told they aren’t real Hip-hop. This kind of universally recognized free release is risky to make considering it features unpopular lyrics and genre blends. Not even Kanye had this much Gospel laced in his tracks yet Chance glides over each of his with the confidence of a 10-year veteran.
Coloring Book is full of efficient guest spots as well. D.R.A.M., Future, Jay Electronica (quite possibly the most impressive of all), Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Jeremih, Saba, Jamila Woods and Justin Bieber are just some of the featured artists here. Chance wanted to go big or go home and ended up accomplishing both. He created an epic collection of trendy sounds and features without the project feeling forced or out of place at any point. Each song sounds conceptualized with every contributing artist in mind. This is a feel-good experience. Because of that fact, Coloring Book may not be everyone’s go-to mixtape or album for all situations. But the free-flowing cohesion and optimistic energy presented here more than make up for the uncommon boxed-in moments. I grew up with Gospel music so I might not grow tired of its inclusion as quickly as others may. However, I can see why some would still treasure Acid Rap more than Coloring Book. Chance’s 2013 breakout is more generally likable and musically herded. It’s difficult to say which is better. His discography is as debatable as Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West’s, and he continues to prove how talented he is with every feature and every mixtape release. Conscious but never self-conscious; uplifting but never overbearing, Coloring Book is truly free — both spiritually and financially.