In recent years, exploring spirituality has once again become a lot more present in mainstream Hip-Hop. Some tackled it in dark ways, such as Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly. Others artists, like Kanye West, approached the life of debauchery and misanthropy on the album The Life Of Pablo, which featured an incredible verse from none other than Chance The Rapper on the track ‘Ultralight Beam‘.
Ultralight Beam was a precursor from what to expect from Chance’s third mixtape, following 10Day and Acid Rap. Many people will initially be disappointed when listening to Chance’s new mixtape if they’re expecting more of the rampant drug-fuelled energy from Acid Rap. Coloring Book takes a laid-back approach to the music, as Chance deploys as much Gospel as he can into his music without it sounding preachy or overly corny. On Acid Rap Chance was just out of his teenage years and you could tell, whereas on Coloring Book he’s had an opportunity to explore more of life and reflect on its events.
Coloring Book pays homage to his hometown, to his family and to his friends all with the eye of someone who’s growing up. One of the most touching examples is when he talks about his ex-girlfriend / mother of his daughter on the opening track ‘All We Got‘, featuring Kanye West – “I swear my daughter couldn’t have a better mother if she ever finds another he better love her”.
Every time Chance tackles a subject it’s easily recognisable as his own, he never particularly puts on a front like many rappers. He takes pride in the way he’s uncool. Even when he’s detailing a break up on ‘Same Drugs‘, he does it with a sweet Peter Pan analogy over the top of cute piano keys and light strings. He’s not bitter, he just says that they ‘Don’t do the same drugs no more’ – it’s the ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’ of this mixtape. Even the chest-pounding ode to his City on the track ‘Angels‘ is made personal when he mentions how he wants to make sure the streets are safe for his daughter to play in.
Chance sounds more contemplative than ever on both of the songs on the mixtape entitled ‘Blessings’, as he dives into his spirituality and his devotion to his religion. On the first Blessings track, Chance thanks God for everything he’s done for him including giving him a daughter and for the gift of making music. On the Blessings Reprise, he’s overwhelmed with everything that he’s been given the opportunity to do and offers some insight into what might happen next.
The weakest moments on this tape come when Chance dives outside from his Gospel/Jazz influences. ‘Mixtape‘, featuring Young Thug and Lil Yatchy, is a decent song with great features but it simply doesn’t belong on this project as it leaves a dent in the optimism offered in the other tracks. The song ‘Juke Jam‘ is one of the least effective songs on the album with a lacklustre hook from Justin Bieber over the top of an awkward stagnating slow-jam about his girl dancing for him. ‘All Night‘ takes a leaf from Kanye’s book with his recent attempt at a Hip-House track with ‘Fade‘. Yet unlike the menacing beast that Fade was, All Night is cheap with thin production, a gutless hook and awkward struggle bars from Chance.
It’s noticeable that Chance does a much better job of expressing feelings of being uplifted than he did on last year’s Surf with Donnie Trumpet. However, the bad mixing that appeared on Surf appears here too, even if not so prominently. With vocals often feeling shoehorned into the mix as well as vocals being way too loud. This is most prominent on songs like ‘No Problem‘ where Chance is mixed so much louder than either of his guest rappers and on the aforementioned ‘All Night’.
Outside of these few missteps that don’t work so well, Chance channels diverse influences that all hone in a feeling of being uplifted. Whether it be the joyful gospel choirs of ‘How Great‘ before he and Jay Electronica come in for equally brilliant verses; or the auto-tuned pop gem, ‘Smoke Break‘ which proves that we need Future on some production outside of Metro Boomin; or the low-key moments such as ‘Summer Friends‘ with Bon Iver-esque singing and a minimalistic beat as Chance explores friends who have come and gone with a brilliant verse from Jeremih to finish it off.
Much like Chance’s previous projects, Coloring Book has plenty of blatant flaws and imperfections with there being a slightly frustrating sense that some of the songs simply could have been more well-formed. Yet with this being said, Coloring Book also contains some of the best music of Chance’s career so far. He sounds like a rapper who is always moving and evolving, and no one bats an eyelid when he basically says he’s the offspring of Kanye. This mixtape will make many others very excited and on board to see where Chance goes next, not just because he’s a genuinely brilliant person, but because his music demands it from his listeners.