After the long anticipated releases of Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo and Drake’s Views, there still remained two huge projects that rap fans were patiently waiting for in 2016, Frank Ocean’s sophomore release Boys Don’t Cry and Chance The Rapper’s first solo project since his 2013 breakout and sophomore mixtape, Acid Rap. And while Frank’s fans still have an indefinite wait ahead of them, the rap world rejoiced as Chance The Rapper finally blessed fans with his third
mixtape free album. Titled Coloring Book, a title that was kept secret until its release, this may be Chance’s top project yet and a definite and promised improvement from his Social Experiment collaboration and heavily guest featured 2015 project, Surf. While Coloring Book still shares an all-star cast of features (Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Future, Lil Wayne, Young Thug, 2 Chainz and many more) that Surf made headlines with, it excels in the overall quality of music and is a much more cohesive project than Surf, similar to Chance’s efforts on Acid Rap, yet an album that differs from Acid Rap in many ways. Three years for a solo project since Chance The Rapper became the new young face of Chicago hip-hop may have seemed like an eternity, but we can now say that it was well worth the wait.
Coloring Book opens with ‘All We Got’, an intro track that instantly pays homage to Chance’s hometown by recruiting none other than Kanye West and a Chicago Children’s Choir. While Kanye doesn’t play nearly as big of a role in this record as Chance does in Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo record ‘Ultralight Beam’, providing vocals on the hook and outro, it’s Chance’s opening flow that makes this track especially addictive. With a flow that sounds influenced, but not directly biting, from Drake’s flow on his If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late track ‘6 Man’, Chance brings attention to the importance of music throughout the record. Recruiting his musical idol and giving a children’s choir a memory that they’ll never forget, Chance is definitely not one to downplay the importance of music in our lives. ‘All We Got’ may not be as great of a Chance/West collaboration as ‘Ultralight Beam’, but it’s Chance’s best album intro yet, which is no easy task given Chance’s ‘Good Ass Intro’ (a title inspired by Kanye’s scrapped LP, Good Ass Job) on Acid Rap.
Chano stays with the huge features on ‘No Problem’, a record that Chance debuted on Zane Lowe’s Beats1 a day before Coloring Book’s official release. While the record’s beat is great and consistent with the rest of Coloring Book‘s gospel infused instrumentals, the record features two rappers known for their amazing verses. 2 Chainz always brings it with his guest features, yet supplied a underwhelming verse on ‘No Problem’ and Weezy didn’t do much better. While I can expect Wayne’s verse to be polarizing (depending on how loyal you are to Lil Wayne’s skills in 2016), and although his flow is great at times and slightly reminiscent of circa ’05 Wayne, the guest feature got me excited only to leave me wondering how great it could have been. In total, ‘No Problem’ is still a good track, and Chance certainly delivered on his end.
The next song in the 14-track album is ‘Summer Friends’, and while it won’t be one of the most popular tracks on Coloring Book, it is one of the best and does a number of things. The record takes a good minute to really get going, but even in its intro and its unconventional song structure, it reminds us that Chance (especially in 2016) isn’t at artist that conforms to what the average listener expects from a song, something that he probably learned in parts from Kanye West. Chorus, 16 bars, Chorus, 16 bars, gets redundant and boring, and with a song like ‘Summer Friends’ that does none of that, it makes it unique (especially when done right). The record also reminds us of Chance’s unmatched ability to paint a picture of Chicago, the good and bad, but while still keeping the record positive and certainly not advocating gang life. Singing about how “summer friends don’t stay”, eluding to the high mortality rate during Chicago’s summertime, something Chance also addresses in his Acid Rap track ‘Paranoia’, “Cause everybody dies in the summer. Wanna say ya goodbyes, tell them while it’s spring.” Finally the record reminds us why so many artists recruit the voice and talents of Jeremih for their albums, and given the record’s focus on Chicago, Jeremih was the perfect choice to close out the record.
“Socks on concrete, jolly rancher kids,
I was talking back and now I gotta stay at grandma’s crib,
Bunch of tank top, nappy headed bike-stealing Chatham boys,
None of my nigga’s ain’t had no dad,
None of my nigga’s ain’t have no choice.”
After some awesome ad space to the talented D.R.A.M., a small interlude by the Chicago rapper/singer similar to his efforts on Surf, is Chance’s most religious record, ‘Blessings’. A track that Chance originally debuted on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Chance’s lyrics are second to none. Rapping about his choices to make music free, a conversation with God, Biblical references to the Battle of Jericho and more, Chance made a 100% religious record that a man or woman of any religious can still relate to. While Chance certainly isn’t as clean as “Christian rapper” (for lack of better words) Lecrae, Chance has the best ability to make religious records that can still have a broad appeal, similar to Kanye West’s abilities in 2004 with ‘Jesus Walks’.
The album’s next stand out track is Chance The Rapper’s Young Thug and Lil Yachty Chicago to Atlanta collaboration, ‘Mixtape’. While the verses don’t stay too attached to the hook of “being the only n*gga (that) still care about a mixtape,” Chance’s verse impressively has a theme of threes, of course since Coloring Book (which many originally though would be titled Chance 3) is Chance’s third mixtape/album. Lil Yachty, Thugger and Chance all work well together, making for the collaboration that we never knew we needed.
After ‘Angels’, a record Chance previewed months ago and which is great for many of the same reasons as ‘Blessings’, is the unlikely collaboration of Chance, Towkio and Justin Bieber. Although Chance and Towkio, and Chance and Bieber, have individually worked together in the past, the three together make for an unlikely but awesome match. When Bieber’s vocals kick in at the 1:30 mark, the song hits it high point. And while you may expect Towkio to supply a verse to the record, his vocals on the hook show us singing talents that we never knew the Chicago SAVEMONEY rapper had. One of the slower and laid back records on the album, but definitely one that will get a lot of play for its awesome cast and overall feel.
Another great record and previously unexpected collaboration is ‘How Great’, a track that got Jay Electronica out of hiding. The song starts with a gospel choir, singing about God, again something that would normally turn many rap fans off, but given Chance’s track record of awesome gospel infused hip-hop records, fans will surely give the song a chance, and a full listen before writing it off is worth the wait. And sure enough, three minutes into the record the rap kicks in, while still keeping the gospel vocals in the background, and it totally works. Chance also changes up his voice and cadence in this record, and that works as well. And as for Jay Electronica’s verse? Despite his history of disappointing fans (mostly due to his inactivity), Jay’s flow is A+ and he definitely delivers and stays consistent to the theme of the record. Both MCs delivered with there verses, but Chance’s may have took the cake.
“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,
Devil will win employee of the month by the dozen,
Till one score and three years from the third when he doesn’t.”
After ‘Smoke Break’, a decent record but without enough going on and not living up to how good a Future and Chance The Rapper track should be, the album’s next standout record is ‘Finish Line / Drown’. And while many of the records on Coloring Book had an all-star cast, it’s an unlikely name (well, unlikely if you haven’t been paying attention to Chance’s best recruited features in the past) with Chicago female rapper/poet, Noname (formerly Noname Gypsy). Noname kills it in her verse, which should be no surprise given her efforts on Chance The Rapper’s tracks ‘Lost’ and ‘Isreal’. ‘Finish Line / Drown’ is the longest track on the album, even though the records are essentially two separate songs, but each half is equally great.
Coloring Book, although very different from Acid Rap, 10 Day and Surf, is everything you should have expected from Chance The Rapper’s third solo project. A free project with album quality, awesome guest features, themes sounding Chicago’s streets, gospel-infused tracks and instrumentals, awesome horns from Donnie Trumpet that surround overall great production from the whole Social Experiment cast, and top notch Grade-A lyrics from Chance The Rapper. So early in and after a few full listens, it will be difficult to predict how this LP will compare to Acid Rap, but it is certainly a great step up from Surf (which was still a quality project), and it’s perhaps Chance The Rapper’s best efforts to date. Upon his emergence into rap, Chance’s flow and themes were an acquired taste, but three years later the new king of Chicago is untouchable. Chance The Rapper is unlike any other rappers in the game today, and with so much popular rap music centered around either guns, bitches or more commonly nothingness, Chance The Rapper is everything rap music needs right now.