During a joint interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and star of the wildly successful play “Hamilton,” with Complex Magazine, Chance the Rapper provided deep insight into the state of his life in 2016. Coming off of a show-stopping feature on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” and the accompanying “Saturday Night Live” performance, it would make sense for Chance’s focus to rest on his personal successes.
Instead, when asked about his legacy, Chance took a wider view: “I have a daughter who’s going to be raised in this world, and my music and my art are powerful tools in getting that [world] to be formed the way I want it to.”
The article came out a few days before Chance’s new project was supposed to release, and this quote from Chance can be viewed as all of “Coloring Book” distilled into a single sentence. More than just simple musical growth (which is present in spades), “Coloring Book” displays an advanced perspective and personal growth well beyond Chance’s 23 years.
It’s been three years since Chance’s last full release, “Acid Rap,” took the rap world by storm. That project in particular featured dark production, druggy lyrics and a bleak outlook on the world at large. The song “Paranoia” embodies this style completely, in which Chance laments the treatment of his hometown, Chicago: “They murking kids, they murder kids here, why you think they don’t talk about it? They deserted us here.”
Three years is a long time. The new project features a new Chance, one with a more grounded, positive look on life. Chance the Rapper is now playing the role of Chance the Father, with a young daughter and also a new priestly direction in his art.
“Coloring Book” feels like the natural continuation of “Ultralight Beam,” with gospel-heavy production and positive vibes permeating the entire project.
The album starts with the phenomenal “All We Got,” which features a cyborg-esque synth-laden chorus by Kanye West. Among the first lines we hear from Chance show a wisdom and maturity far beyond his years as he talks about the mother of his daughter: “Tryna turn my baby mama to my fiancee” and “man my daughter couldn’t have a better mother/If she ever find another, he better love her.”
His love for family can only be paralleled by his love for God, which pervades every track. Whether or not you personally feel a connection to any particular religion, the connection Chance feels with his God is inescapable and incredibly uplifting. On the first of two songs titled “Blessings” on the tape, Chance exchanges lines with Chicago soul singer Jamila Woods, attributing much of his success to God: “When the praises go up, the blessings come down/It seems like blessings keep falling in my lap.” Similar themes follow through the remainder of the tape, all expertly handled, both lyrically and musically.
If this project was helmed by a less talented musician, the religious themes might be overbearing and preachy, but Chance expertly rides the line between preaching and sharing in a relatable way.
And if there’s one thing Chance innately succeeds at, it is sharing. The features list on the mixtape reads like a who’s who of the music world, including: Kanye West, Lil Wayne, 2Chainz, Jeremih, Young Thug, Future, Justin Bieber, Jay Electronica and T-Pain along with uncredited features, including Anderson .Paak. Besides the heavy hitters, Chance made sure to secure his city the shine he feels it deserves, featuring Chicago artists like his good friends The Social Experiment, Knox Fortune, the Chicago Children’s Choir, Saba and his cousin Nicole, who floored him when she sang a song at his grandmother’s funeral.
It’s not all blessings for Chance, though, as he still has a strong grip on the harsh realities facing the world and particularly his city. On “Summer Friends,” a triumph featuring Bon Iver-esque backing vocals by Francis and the City, Chance transports the listener back to his troubled childhood and the place gang violence took in his life at a young age. “We was still catching lightning bugs/When the plague hit the backyard, had to come in at dark cause the big shawtys act hard,” he says in the first verse. Summertime in Chicago brings an increase in violence and Chance describes the fear of death ruining the entire season, continuing, “Our summer don’t get no shine no more.”
In my personal favorite song from the project, the T-Pain featured “Finish Line,” Chance touches on his history of drug abuse, which was a prominent theme of “Acid Rap.” About abusing the prescription anxiety drug Xanax, he says “last year got addicted to xans, suffocated my name and starting missing my chance.”
In its entirety, the project feels grounded and inspirational. It’s a masterpiece.
“Coloring Book” will likely be Chance the Rapper’s big step forward into the upper echelon of rap where he truly belongs, shepherding rap fans into the future.