Album Review: #3: Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
by sarah muhammad
In a general consensus, 2016 has been shining reminder of failure and a complete disengagement from hopefulness for most. In spite of this, there have been a handful of people able to restore the faith through their artistry. Back in late September, I drove almost 3 hours from Mississippi to Memphis and caught an early flight back home to Chicago to see a young man who grew up in the same neighborhood as myself break the attendance record at the White Sox Stadium on the South Side, something for which I am very proud of. That young man brought together young people of every identity from everywhere to a music festival called Magnificent Coloring Day, a day that I will never forget. That young man is Chance the Rapper, and in 2016 he dropped the most talked about project of the year, Coloring Book. Coloring Book itself is a contradiction of mass proportions, blending the secular with religious, and in essence making it one of a kind, a rap/gospel album that actually meets us where we are at. In an over three year gap since Acid Rap, Chance’s fanbase has been able to see him grow and develop his sound, but he still holds on to the youthful and childish touch, hence the project title. On the mixtape’s opening track, “All We Got”, Chance collabs with his mentor Kanye West, where he gleefully praises his baby mama (“Tryna turn my baby mama to my fiancée...Man my daughter couldn't have a better mother/If she ever find another, he better love her”) over the cheerful instrumentation by friends, The Social Experiment, and vocals by Kanye and The Chicago Children’s Choir. The line “Music is all we got”, represents an actual source of inspiration and an escape for many. A somber yet familiar story is told through “Summer Friends”, where Chance again speaks on the loss of friends through increasing gun violence in Chicago summers (“First day, nigga's shooting/Summer school get to losing students/But the CPD getting new recruitment/Our summer don't, our summer/Our summer don't get no shine no more/Our summer die, our summer time don't got no time no more”), as well the commonalities of summer as a black kid in Chicago (“Bunch of tank top, nappy headed bike-stealing Chatham boys...JJ, Mikey, Lil Derek and them/79th street was America then/Ice cream truck and the beauty supply/Blockbuster movies and Harold's again/We still catching lightning bugs/When the plague hit the backyard/Had to come in at dark cause the big shawtys act hard…”), creating such a deep nostalgic feel for myself thinking about my own summer growing up in Chatham with my siblings and cousins. The song draws deep parallels to “Paranoia” from Acid Rap, where Chance talks about his strong fear of death of loved ones. The more upbeat and fun moments on the tape come from tracks such as “D.R.A.M. Sings Special”, the anti-label, summer anthem “No Problem”, featuring Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, “Mixtape”, a trap joint featuring Young Thug and Lil Yachty, “Angels” featuring fellow Chicago rapper Saba, “All Night”, and “Juke Jam”, a slow R&B tune interpolating R. Kelly’s “Feelin on Yo’ Booty” to pay homage to the Chicago Juke scene of the mid 2000’s, featuring vocals from Justin Bieber and Towkio. The most extensive metaphor on the project is featured in “Same Drugs”, where Chance tells a story of a lost friendship between him and a childhood friend, (“When did you change?/Wendy, you've aged/I thought you'd never grow up/I thought you'd never/ Window closed, Wendy got old/I was too late, I was too late/A shadow of what I once was”). The reference of “drugs” is used as a metaphor to describe how him and the friend have grown apart since they no longer share the same interests. The ‘coloring book’ references that entangle this project come again towards the end of the song (“Don't you color out/Don't you bleed on out, oh/Stay in the line, stay in the line”), where ‘the line’ represents the innocence of youth and things that are familiar to them both. There are 4 gospel songs on the mixtape which include “Blessings”, featuring Jamila Woods, “How Great” featuring Jay Electronica, “Finish Line/Drown”, featuring T. Pain, Kirk Franklin and Noname, and “Blessings (Reprise)” featuring Anderson.Paak, BJ The Chicago Kid, Raury and Ty Dolla $ign. These songs hold the weight of the most inspiration for the project, revealing for the first time Chance’s unashamed relationship with Christ and his lessons growing up as a Christian kid. On “How Great”, Chance’s cousin delivers her version of “How Great is Our God”, by Chris Tomlin until the breakdown, where Chance and Jay Electronica deliver the best bars on the project, and Chance professes that he “used to hide from God”, drawing biblical and historical references of epic quantities. He again recruits rapper Noname on “Drown” to deliver her own flawless lines in her personal appreciation for God (“I know my God/I know my God seen His breaks and His edges/Are jagged for giving that pain to His city in gold”). The final track on the album “Blessings (Reprise)” puts a cap on the overarching theme of the album as Chance expresses his deep gratitude for his own blessings and opportunities, such as his family, his relationship with God, and making it big without signing to any label, but challenges the listener to be ready to accept their own blessings in whatever way is meaningful to them. Coloring Book could not have come at a more perfect time to uplift the spirits not only in the City of Chicago, but across the world. Chance has proven himself capable of being both related and being able to transcend more than one major idea at a time, blending youth and growth, the world and God, and connecting people in the shared armor of happiness.
Best Tracks: “Summer Friends”/“How Great”/ “Finish Line”/“Drown”
Best Production: “No Problem”/“Angels”