Review: Chance the Rapper Goes For Variety On “Coloring Book”

It is amazing to see what Chance the Rapper has achieved as an independent artist.

Having only released two solo mixtapes, and a free album with his band, The Social Experiment, the Chicago artist has gone on several tours and gained a massive fanbase through his use of social media. One of the most notable achievements he’s got is that during this season of Saturday Night Live (SNL), Chance The Rapper became the first independent artist to ever perform on the legendary sketch show.

As most of his fans know, this all started when he released the critically acclaimed mixtape “Acid Rap” in 2013. On the mixtape, Chance The Rapper displayed a very outlandishly emotional personality performed in various energetic inflection. Coupling his unique style of flow with very instrumental and jazz inspired production, he had become one of the most promising new artists of the decade.

Aside from his musical endeavours, he’s also done a lot for his community. Ever since he became a rising star, the biggest use of his free time is dedicated to helping the youth of Chicago. His help has consisted of leading campaigns against gun violence and helping kids embrace their artistic side.

Back to the music though. Earlier this year, Chance The Rapper was featured on the gospel heavy opener for Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo“, “Ultralight Beam”. His verse was so well written and delivered with such genuine emotion that it quickly became a highlight for anyone who heard the album.

This time around we’ve really gotten what the title of the project suggests, a coloring book. The way the tracklist was put together does make it feel like each cut is an individual “drawing” on the coloring. So in order to discuss the album right, I have decided to do a track-by-track breakdown, rather than our usual analysis. 

All We Got (feat. Kanye West, Chicago Children’s Choir): The album kicks off with this emotional subject matter that has Chance The Rapper going off about how proud he is to be a father. His bars are full of just the right ratio of braggadocio and religious content, definitely letting the listener know that he has still got the skills. However, West’s feature is so poorly mixed that it makes the fact that it’s just another auto-tune feature more disappointing. You’d think that after what Chance The Rapper brought to his album, he’d show up with some bars for this one, but no. Instead, we get the same involvement he’d give a French Montana song. To be fair, once the initial disappointment has passed, it’s just an okay hook and an overall good start to the album.

No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz): Once more, the features on the song are what keep it from being great. The beat is standard Chance The Rapper – jumpy, yet relaxed. The most out of the box thing in the song is the inflection he’s experimenting, it’s a very modern, southern tone that works surprisingly well. Unfortunately the two features deliver standard verses that bring nothing to be table, and there’s something about how 2 Chainz’ vocals were mixed that seems very poorly done.

Summer Friends (feat. Jeremih, Francis, The Lights): This is one of the saddest songs we’ve heard from Chance, and it’s so well realized. The instrumental and vocals are delivered in such a bittersweet tone that it’s impossible not to relate to his nostalgia. He has tackled the idea of losing friends in the summer before in the second half of “Pusha Man”, and this is a great continuation of that song.

D.R.A.M. Sings Special: Honestly, this song doesn’t really contribute much to the record. While the sentiment behind it is nice, there’s nothing here we haven’t got before.

Blessings: This is some fire to play at Sunday school right here. The first fully religious song on the album manages to have a very positive message without being corny or preachy; it feels genuine. Tracks like this show how Chance The Rapper has changed since “Acid Rap”.

Same Drugs: Another emotional highlight on the record, Chance The Rapper gives us a look into a break up. The lyrics are charged with several emotional reactions he’s had to a break up, which makes the song easy to relate to. It’s a shame that such a well written song has such a standard ballad instrumental.

Mixtape (feat. Young Thug, Lil Yachty): For a song that is supposed to talk about their love for the mixtape industry, it’s a very generic mixtape track. The hook feels very uninspired and it features some of Chance The Rapper’s worst bars: “She ask if I may, Cinco de Mayo.” It’s also a shame that mixtape stars, Young Thug and Lil Yachty, brought some very boring vocals and standard bars.

Angels (feat. Saba): This song compiles everything that’s good about Chance The Rapper’s style. It stays energetic the whole way through, the bars are fun, the ad libs are on point and the instrumental features some great steel drum work.

Juke Jam (feat. Justin Bieber, Towkio): Even though it’s one of the poppiest cuts, it’s still infectious and relaxed. As a music reviewer, it’s hard to not be attracted to a track all about relaxing to some music. The only gripe with this one is that there’s a little too much of Towkio’s generic vocals, which could easily be replaced with Bieber taking over.

All Night (feat. Knox Fortune): It’s one of the funnest songs on the record but it’s barely over two minutes long. This short burst of excitement is fun while it lasts, but it could use a third verse.

How Great (feat. Jay Electronica, My Cousin Nicole): Here is where Chance The Rapper’s religious influence really takes over a song. The entire first half is a religious choir singing praises to God followed by Chance The Rapper and the ever so mysterious Jay Electronica going full Christian. The verses are very well put together but are very outright about their message, making it hard for someone who isn’t interested in religion to enjoy it.

Smoke Break (feat. Future): On a rather unexpected turn of events, this is one of the collaborations that works the best. Together, their styles create a fantastically endearing “Stoner Love” song. The lyrics are intricately put together, integrating the several ways to smoke into relationship struggles, while the beat keeps a pulsating pace. Who would’ve thought?

Finish Line Drown (feat. T-Pain, Kirk Franklin, Eryn Allen Kane, Noname): Probably the most uplifting song, this one is all about working to get to that ‘finish line’. While, for Chance The Rapper, this obviously means heaven, it’s still a great song about reaching your goals. Unlike “How Great,” this one has certain essence that makes it more universal. Barring the end, which is all about letting Jesus rescue you.

Blessings: The second song by this name, as well as the closing track of the album, gives us a closer look at Chance The Rapper’s mission. It’s emotional, determined, and religious. He made a good choice ending with such an identifying track, if this is what his music is going to be like from now on.

Overall: As he said in a recent Reddit AMA, everything he does from now on is for his daughter. With that in mind this would be a great album for a parent to make for a daughter, and it definitely portrays Chance The Rapper’s progressive, yet Christian approach to parenting. However, for the rest us, this can feel inaccessible for people who aren’t looking for music infused with religion. Since not all the album deals with religion, it can feel thematically jumbled. Couple that with more than a few wasted features and Chance the Rapper slips short of making a great album from front to back.

Grade: A-

Similar Sounds: Childish Gambino, Vic Mensa, Kanye West

Highlights: “Summer Friends”,  “Juke Jam”, “All Night”, “Smoke Break”, “Finish Line Drown”

Lowlights: “No Problem”, “D.R.A.M. Sings Special”, “Mixtape”

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Jose Alberto Orive

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