A full three years removed from the release of his critically acclaimed mixtape, Acid Rap, Chance the Rapper finally delivered the follow-up to that breakthrough project, and a true benediction to his devout fanbase in the form of his third solo release, Coloring Book. Chance did not disappear from the spotlight in that lull between his two most recent tapes; in fact, the young MC from West Chatham, Chicago saw his star sky-rocket to astronomical heights during that time. Chance filled the 37 month void between projects with a couple show-stopping singles, must-see television performances, and over an hour’s worth of guest features that generally stole the listener’s attention away from the other artist on his or her own track.
Chance the Rapper is a bit of an anomaly in the current of landscape hip hop and contemporary music in general. All of this buzz and evident success has come without the backing of any sort of record deal, and Chano continues to blaze his own trail in the music industry by doing things that no one has accomplished before him. Back in December, Chance became the first independent artist to be the musical guest on NBC’s long-running sketch-show, Saturday Night Live, where he performed a new song, “Somewhere in Paradise”, and the track, “Sunday Candy”, which appeared on the free album Surf he recorded with his backing band and frequent collaborators, The Social Experiment. That record likely never happens had Chance elected to sign with a label, as the suits who front the money for such projects would have surely been clamouring for his next solo release and their piece of the cake. As an independent artist, Chance was able to give his full attention to Donnie’s album, and pursue his own endeavors as he saw fit. Over the course of this past year, Chance has collaborated with New Era for a redesign of the Chicago White Sox baseball cap, headlined the Pitchfork Music Festival, put forth his Warmest Winter initiative that provided over 1,000 coats for homeless citizens in Chicago, and even began hosting an Open Mic Night for the high school students for in city of Chicago. With Coloring Book, Chance is on the verge of accomplishing yet another feat that no other musician has done before him. According to Hits Daily Double’s count, Chance’s third mixtape will likely reach between 30,000 and 40,000 unit’s worth of “sales” in streaming revenue, making it the first project ever to chart in the top-10 of the Billboard 200 without actually being sold. This unheard of gravity towards any one artist is astonishing in its own right, but it’s shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise considering the overall vision and scope of the project Chance just put forth.
Coloring Book stands up as Chance the Rapper’s most commercial release both in terms of impact and quality. The high-level of production is miles ahead of how his last project Surf sounded, and Chance hopped on some of the catchiest and hard-hitting flows of his career without sacrificing his natural ability for wordplay, or diluting any of his message. He used the auto-tune vocal effect to perfection on tracks like “Smoke Break”, where he raps about needing time to relax but can’t because of his new daughter; “Mixtape”, a song about his love for that titular artform and the strain it puts on the music industry; and “No Problem”, a full-fledged banger that takes shots at every record label that has tried to compromise and make money off his art. Coloring Book also features the most high-profile guest list of any release in Chano’s catalogue with appearances from Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, 2 Chainz, Justin Bieber, Young Thug, Future, Jay Electronica, Ty Dolla $ign, Jeremih, and T-Pain; as well as uncredited contributions from Anderson Paak, BJ the Chicago Kid, Raury, Jamila Woods, and Donnie Trumpet of The Social Experiment.
Coloring Book remains incredibly engaging throughout thanks to a wide variety of influences that really show Chance the Rapper’s versatility as a performer. Of course you have the jazz and soul instrumentation that have The Social Experiments’ fingerprints all over it, as well as the aforementioned new-Atlanta tracks like “Smoke Break” and “Mixtape”, but what really sets this project apart from all other rap records that will drop this year is its heavy gospel element.
Chance’s relationship with God was something that always shined through in his music, particularly on tracks like “Sunday Candy” and “Somewhere in Paradise”, but Chano even prophesied these coming inspirations for Chance 3 in his verse on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam”. Everything from Chance’s biblical references on “All We Got” and “Blessings”, to the church organs the drive “How Great”, to the supporting choirs that are sprinkled throughout and share the stage with him on “Same Drugs”, these songs constantly point back to the holy air that constantly permeates from Chance in every move he makes. It puts forth this overwhelming sense of optimism and pure bliss that is more and more infectious with each listen, and can really alter a listener’s mood in a positive way. You don’t need to be a particularly pious person to find the beauty of this tape; you don’t even have to believe in God for these moments to be powerful if you just let Coloring Book be your church.
It feel unjust to classify this mixtape as just a feel-good record because Chance is preaching a lot more than “good vibes” on here. Of course, there are songs strickly for constructed for having fun such as the phenomenal groove on “All Night”, but Chance continues to do so much more like put on for his city with tracks like “Summer Friends” and “Angels”, and key features from the Chicago Children’s Choir, Towkio, and Saba as well as. He also consistently addresses his career in music with his DIY ethics and unique mindset. When you really think about it, Coloring Book is more of a celebration record than anything else. It’s a celebration of family, independence, faith and success. There are all different kinds of songs on this project to scratch all different kinds of itches, and while I won’t pigeonhole this tape as just one thing, I will say that music has never felt as good as it does on Coloring Book.