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Chance Made It In Chicago, And 'Coloring Book' Is His Victory Song

By Chicagoist_Guest in Arts & Entertainment on May 16, 2016 2:40PM


By Quinten Rosborough

Parenthood changes you, or at least that’s what all my friends with kids tell me. You don’t go out as much; it's hard to find time to sleep; and you suddenly have a lot less disposable income. Despite all this, I’m told, you’re also happier than you’ve ever been.

It’s this unmitigated happiness that oozes from Coloring Book, the much anticipated third mixtape from Chicago’s Chance the Rapper. Coloring Book documents everything that’s changed since 2013’s Acid Rap, the critically acclaimed mixtape that established Chance as Chicago’s brightest star. Chance the Rapper is now Chance the Father and at times Chance the Pastor; on Coloring Book, he uses a palette of horns, organs and choirs to tell stories about his daughter, her mother and his relationship with God.

Rap’s mainstream hasn’t been this positive or God-fearing since College Dropout, the album whose soulful humility established Kanye West as rap music’s everyman. It’s tempting to think of Coloring Book as a College Dropout for 2016, and in a lot of ways it is. College Dropout was as much of a departure from rap’s bling-bling era as Coloring Book is a breath of fresh air in rap’s current obsession with pharmaceuticals. Still, it’s probably better to think of Coloring Book as an epilogue to Dropout’s “We Don’t Care,” an anthem for minorities everywhere growing up in a world where survival isn't guaranteed.

“We Don’t Care” was written for Chance and kids like him. When Chance sings “I made it through” on “Blessings,” Coloring Book’s closer, he’s talking about surviving the city Kanye described here: bad schools, few dads and little opportunity south of the Loop. Think of Coloring Book as Chance’s victory song: a mixtape about escaping the problems that plague Chicago’s South Side, finding God and conceiving a daughter. The joke’s on us. Chance is still alive.

It’s fitting, then, that Kanye had Chance introduce his latest album, The Life of Pablo. Chance’s verse on “Ultralight Beam” works as an introduction to Coloring Book’s various themes, and the piety that made “Ultralight” one of the year’s best songs is all over Coloring Book—from the gospel loop of “No Problems” to the woozy Hammond organ on “How Great.”

Coloring Book’s strongest moments come when Chance sheds the baby-talk flows of Acid Rap for those of his collaborators. “Mixtape” sees Chance channel Young Thug’s staccato; on “How Great,” he picks up Jay Electronica’s "Jay Elec-Yarmulke" compound rhyme schemes; and on “Smoke Break” he tries out Future’s dizzying repetition. Throughout Coloring Book, Chance is finding his voice, trying on flows in ways only rap’s best can. Bar-for-bar, Chance proves to be a sharp as anyone in the game, painting vivid pictures of South Side nostalgia (“Summer Friends”) and making witty references to Peter Pan, Harry Potter, and Dreamgirls. “Smoke Break” is a clever song about parenthood, and “Angels,” with its juke influence and use of lingo like “Ooh wap da bam,” is as Chicago as anything we’ve heard all year.

Coloring Book has its faults, too. Its sweetness can become saccharine, as it does on “Same Drugs." At times, the album’s mixdown sabotages its highest points—most noticeably during Kanye’s contribution to “All We Got," where muddy horns clash with his auto-tuned vocals. Furthermore, as good of a slow-burner as “Juke Jam” is, 2016 probably isn’t the best time for an R. Kelly interpolation—even if it is of “Feelin’ on Yo Booty.”

That being said, it’s important to remember that Chance is only 23. Coloring Book is good, very good, and someone his age putting out a project this ambitious and complete is incredibly rare. I could count the rappers capable of this mixtape on one hand. Just wait until Chance is Kendrick’s age. Just wait until he’s Kanye’s age.

Chance wants Coloring Book to win a Grammy, and it probably will if a petition to make free music Grammy-eligible succeeds. Still, the marker for the success of this project won’t be its critical acclaim, but its reach. For Coloring Book to be a success—for Chance to really be “Kanye’s best prodigy,” as he calls himself on “Blessings”—it needs to resonate not only with those who read music blogs, but with those who don’t care about internet critics in the slightest. We need to hear it on the radio, in clubs and blasting through car windows. Will we? I sure hope so.

Follow Quinten Rosborough on Twitter.