Chance the Rapper rises to lyrical sainthood with latest album

Crystal Zhong/Staff

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GRADE: A-

“I’m gon’ praise Him, praise Him ‘til I’m gone.”

This line off “Blessings” succinctly sums up Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper’s long-awaited third mixtape. The project is a testament to Chance’s emotional and religious growth as a first-time father, while never losing sight of the magnetic positivity and addictively carefree flow that has fans on a furious hunt for his concert tickets.

In terms of collaborative efforts, Coloring Book is Chance’s most ambitious project to date, featuring industry heavy-hitters such as Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Justin Bieber; nor does he shy away from the likes of Young Thug and the elusive Jay Electronica. Chance never takes full control of these collaborative tracks, but he doesn’t need to. His gospel-inspired beats grant him an omnipotent presence without stealing the spotlight.

Chance the Rapper doesn’t let the listener forget that he’s there and that he’s loving every minute of it.

The mixtape opens with “All We Got,” a song in celebration of all the things Chance is thankful for. His signature trumpet licks back lines such as, “Man I swear my life is perfect, I could merch it / If I die I’ll prolly cry at my own service,” which immediately set a tone of gratitude and humility founded in the church. Chance’s voice and easygoing flow brim with life and a gratefulness untarnished by ego, something that resonates thoroughly on every track. Kanye’s autotuned crooning is a reassuring nod from Yeezus himself that Chance is doing everything right.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Chance review without some comparison to 2013’s Acid Rap, Chance’s critically acclaimed mixtape that arguably launched his career. Party bangers are noticeably absent on Coloring Book. Fewer songs from this mixtape will make it onto your kickback playlist than beloved Acid Rap tracks such as “Favorite Song” and “Juice,” but the quieter, more mature sound of Coloring Book invites examination of its introspective lyrics.

“Same Drugs,” held together by a sweetly melancholy piano and a gospel beat, finds Chance’s fragile voice mourning the drifting paths of him and a woman known only as Wendy. But the potent metaphor of drugs as changing ideals also applies to Chance himself: The old xanny-swallowing, acid-dropping Chance has no place on this sermon-turned-mixtape because the love he has for his daughter has him soaring higher than any chemical rush.

Coloring Book doesn’t hesitate to praise the Lord, but Chance never preaches to his listeners. Instead, his lyrics are an honest account of his musical and spiritual journey for anyone willing to listen. In “How Great,” the first two and a half minutes of gospel choir are remixed into a smoothly distorted beat for Chance’s Biblically-laden verses. Lines such as, “With the faith of a pumpkin-seed-sized mustard seed / Here, for I will speak noble things as entrusted me,” reveal an ever-growing faith and a gentle self-awareness of his influence on his listeners, while Jay Electronica doesn’t disappoint with his multi-layered lyricism and heavy delivery about his own religious growth. From the pews, Chance the Rapper and Jay Elect have risen to lyrical sainthood.

Peppered throughout the mixtape, however, are several tracks that don’t belong thematically. One song in particular, “All Night,” has Chance lazily rapping about alcohol-fueled nights and the honeys at the club that go along with them. Despite the high-energy beat, his stagnant delivery sounds as bored as he is with the idea of drinking his time away. The juvenile track seems outdated for the new Chance; it might have found a place on Acid Rap or 10 Day but never should’ve made it onto Coloring Book. Chance can (and should) be experimenting, but after hearing all the tracks that came before it, “All Night” just sounds sloppy.

As jazzy organs, vocal harmonies and Chance’s singsong voice close out the project, it’s easy to see that Coloring Book isn’t your typical mixtape: It’s a personal diary turned modern Bible, detailing Chance the Rapper’s growth as an artist, a Christian and, most importantly, a father.

In his last verse of the mixtape, he raps, “I speak to God in public / He keep my rhyme in couplets / He think the new shit jam, I think we mutual fans.” So are we, Chance. So are we.

 

Contact Kelvin Mak at [email protected].