“It seems like blessings keep falling in my lap,” Chancelor Bennett, aka Chance the Rapper, says on his 3rd mixtape Coloring Book. It’s a fitting statement, because ever since the Chicago native dropped his critically acclaimed 2013 mixtape Acid Rap, he’s been one of rap’s most eclectic, talked about talents. However, some would say that he hasn’t taken advantage of the hype, as Coloring Book is his first solo project in a little over 3 years. Nonetheless, he’s back now and hasn’t lost a step, moving past “acid rap” to a more gospel influenced sound.
On track 1 of the tape, we hear this new sound right away. “I get my word from the sermon/I do not talk to the serphent/That’s the holistic discernment,” he declares, saying he finds his voice through God and not the Devil. On the outro, delivered by Kanye West and the Chicago Children’s Choir, we’re suddenly teleported Sunday mass. “We know, we know we got it,” the two harmonize over choir. It’s a fitting intro to an essentially gospel, not hip hop, album.
3rd track “Summer Friends” has Chance reminiscing about growing up in the south side of Chicago and the violence that has befallen the city. One of the best storytellers in the game, he vividly describes summers in his hometown (“Socks on concrete, jolly rancher kids/I was talking back and now I gotta stay at grandma’s crib/Bunch of tank-top, nappy headed bike-stealing Chatham boys”). Yet Chance’s summers weren’t always joyous times. The gang violence and shootings that occurs in the city are well-documented, and Chance feels distraught that some of his summer friends may not live another one. “You’re my friend/Summer friends don’t stay/Summer friends don’t stay,” he sings on the chorus, accompanied by frequent Chance collaborator Francis and the Lights.
While this tape is rife with songs containing religious tendencies, none are more pronounced then on “How Great.” The first 3 minutes of the nearly 6 minute song is an excerpt from Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God.” Chance then comes on the mic, powerfully wearing his religious on his sleeve. “With the faith of a pumpkin-seed-sized mustard seed/Here, for I will speak noble things as entrusted to me,” he raps with his usual laser-like precision. He wasn’t always this comfortable with his Lord though. “I used to hide from God/Ducked down in the slums like ‘shh.'” After a brief pause, we get a rare verse from one of the most elusive rappers out there in Jay Electronica, who joins Chance in sharing his religious past. “I was lost in the jungle like Simba after the death of Mufasa,” he opens with. “I was so far down in the mud couldn’t even let my light shine/But you was always there when I needed to phone a friend or use a lifeline.” Along with Electronica, Chance seems to have had a religious epiphany. Though he’s mentioned his faith before, most notably on “Sunday Candy,” his band The Social Experiment’s standout single off their 2015 album Surf, he’s never been this upfront about his faith. Regardless, it suits him well, as he’s never sounded as confident as he does on this project.
Chance has always been open about how he feels concerning record labels. “It’s a dead industry,” he said in a 2013 Rolling Stone interview. “… I might not ever drop a for-sale-project [on a label]. So far he’s been true to his word. “I don’t make songs for free, I make ’em for freedom,” he says on 5th track “Blessings.” “Am I the only nigga still care about mixtapes?” he asks on “Mixtape,” one of the only straight hip hop songs on the tape. He’s annoyed but at the same time feels sorry that artists would sign with a label, essentially giving up control of their creative freedom. Chance is trying to lead other artists, enslaved by the music business, to the holy land; with Egypt acting as the music industry, Coloring Book being the Ten Commandments,and Chance being the holy prophet Moses.
The mixtape has a wide array of features, from legends like Lil Wayne and Kanye, current powerhouses such as Future and Young Thug, to relative unknowns like Saba and Knox Fortune. Despite the more than 20 guest that appear on Coloring Book, Chance’s presence throughout the project is ever present and always felt. Even when dastardly, debaucherous rappers such as 2 Chainz and the aforementioned Future get on the mic, Chance brings them into his world, and not the other way around. “Me and God dappin/This is my blessin’/This is my passion” 2 Chainz raps on “No Problem.” His ability to utilize features and have them not stray from the song’s underlying theme or message is very impressive, and shows the respect he’s garnered in the hip hop world.
In a story conducted by Pigeons and Planes, Brandon Breaux, the man behind each of Chance’s 3 mixtape covers, explained the meaning behind them. 10 Day has Chance looking up at what’s potentially to come. Acid Rap has him looking ahead amidst a starry night, alluding to his impending stardom and how he’ll tackle it. Coloring Book has the Chicago spitter looking down at all he’s accomplished; if you were to zoom out from the picture, you would see him holding his daughter. It’s refreshing to see that, among everything that Chance has earned, the right to be called a father is number one on the list.
Instead of sticking to the drug-fueled realm of his prior self, Chance went to church and became the pastor of his own world. He made new friends, joined a band, became a father and turned into the most talked about rapper out of Chicago since Kanye. And just like Kanye before him, Chance has a chance (pun intended) to change hip hop culture for the forseeable future. In a rap world filled with drugs, gang violence and greed, Chance the Rapper could potentially lead a paradigm shift into a more positive directon and away from the more depressing sound that’s prevalent today; a shift that we’ve already started to see with artists such as Lil Yachty (who, perhaps not coincidentally, is featured on this project). Only time will tell if he ultimately will or won’t, but the ride will definitely be worth riding. Even the man himself seems to think so, as he has comedian Ha Ha Davis ask him (and ultimately the listener) on the last line of the mixtape, “You ready big fella?”