Review: Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book

Ladies and Gentlemen...Pastor Chancelor Bennett

Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book

"I don't make songs for free; I make 'em for freedom," Chance raps on the first of two songs titled "Blessings" on Coloring Book

I'm reminded of the Southern Civil Rights Movement. Music was the heartbeat of the black struggle for liberation. Coloring Book taps into the same courage of the '50s and '60s when music soundtracked the plea for justice and equality. 

Hymns, poems, prayers and Negro spirituals — elements of the Civil Rights Movement that captured the irrepressible and triumphant spirit of African-American culture. Chance draws inspiration from those glorious songs to sketch his own powerfully liberating portrait of triumph.

Chance has been preaching the gospel for a minute. Acid Rap's "Cocoa Kisses," for instance, opened with church organs. Surf gave us one of Chance's best individual performances in "Sunday Candy." Chance teamed up with fellow Windy City wordsmith BJ the Chicago Kid on the intrepid "Church," in which he praised his Christian roots: "Keep my head up, I wrap the silver round the cloud / I went to junior church, little children running round." "Ultralight Beam," bolstered by a show-stealing Chance cameo, was the closest Kanye West came to realizing his vision of delivering a gospel album on The Life of Pablo.

Chance radiates optimism. Everything he touches turns gold, even when he’s wagging his finger at label executives on “No Problem.” His spirit is infectious. He’s like that friend who can’t stop smiling no matter how tough things get.

Album Highlights

“Angels”—a triumphant tune about hometown pride—is a prime example of Chance’s infectious spirit. Over a gospel hook and stuttering drums, Chance shouts out his city’s two core urban stations ("GCI, 107.5, angel goin’ live/ Power 92, angel gon’ juke, juke, juke”), looks forward to a brighter future (“Clean up the streets so my daughter can have somewhere to play”), affirms loyalty (“I ain’t change my number since the 7th grade”), and shows solidarity (“I just might share my next one with Keef/Got the industry in disbelief—they be asking for beef”). 

On paper, Coloring Book's guest list reads like a lottery basket of big names. In reality, it sounds like Chance agreed to work his collaborators on the condition that they’re content as accessories. For instance, the second song titled “Blessings” ends with a choir comprised of stars like Ty Dolla $ign, Raury, Anderson .Paak, BJ the Chicago Kid, Nico and Chance.

Despite cameos by T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber and someone named "my cousin Nicole," Chance is always in control. The exception is "Mixtape," where Chance and Lil Yachty play second and third fiddles to Young Thug. Jay Electronica blacked out on the outstanding "How Great." He had to—he was following up a stellar Chance verse.

What's also interesting is that Chance is subtly paying homage to the cast of guests. On "No Problems," he echoes Lil Wayne's raspy, vocodered delivery. On "How Great," he invokes a Jay Electronica-style multi-syllabic rhyme scheme. And on "Mixtapes," he mimics Young Thug's zany flow. Tracing flows as a sign of respect? This is Chance's Coloring Book, after all.

Coloring Book is joyous, explosive, and exhilarating. It’s the smile that lights your way in the dark. It's the filament that illuminates the abyss. It’s your best friend, pretending she's still listening to your rant, and offering comfort as dusk turns to dawn.

Music's All We Got

As for the music, Coloring Book is a mix of dusty oldies and a sweet dollop of splendor. Driven by warm samples and scintillating harmonies, Coloring Book is nakedly inviting. It pulls you in and offers a full embrace.

On "All We Got," Chance and Kanye declare: "Music is all we got." It sounds like a sequel to "Ultralight Beam", complete with a performance by the Chicago Children's Choir. Though not as fully realized as their previous single, the song's message underlines a wrinkle created by Chance's generous spirit.

Chance regularly releases quality music to the masses at no cost. Last year, he collaborated with Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment on the free album Surf. He also teamed up with Lil B to freestyle on the appropriately titled Free mixtape.

Unfortunately, his freebie policy excludes his music from being considered for the Grammy Awards. He's leading a petition to change the rule. 

Whatever the outcome, this much soul should be embraced, celebrated and rewarded.