REVIEW BY: STEPHANYE WATTS
This year in music has been paramount. After years of feeling like American music had spiraled into a lull that it could never recover from, the sleeping beast has awakened and taking no prisoners. Chance the Rapper has officially thrown his hat into the ring with Coloring Book.
Picking up where Acid Rap left off (down to the same colorway in album artwork), Chance returns with his brand of Chicago juke-50s jazz hybrid music, thanks to the ever-present Donnie Trumpet. From the opening of the album, we are reminded of how graciously Chance carries Chicago on his back. “I'm in love with my city, I sleep in my hat” he exclaims on “Finish Line.” Literally, in his continuous efforts to engage and provide opportunities to the city’s youth and helping the homeless survive the brutal winters. Figuratively, in his commitment to not only having Chicago artists constantly featured on his music (CB has everyone from Jeremih to NoNameGypsy) but sticking to the regionality of his sound. You know a Chance record when you hear it, and it’s drenched in that Harold’s mild sauce.
As hard as we try not to compare artists, it’s impossible to not see the Kanye in Chance. The pride in their city. The middle class, but very black upbringing. The desire to push the boundaries of hip-hop. The transparency. Chance even says it himself on the album closer “Kanye’s best prodigy/ he ain't sign me, but he’s proud of me.” It made perfect sense that the album began with his voice.
Themes of gratefulness for what he’s been able to accomplish and his insanely functional co-parenting relationship with his child’s mother shine a light on how Chance has evolved as a man since Acid Rap. However, Coloring Book is business, err Chance as usual. The bravado holds greater weight, but the growth in his bars remains stagnant. The perils of maturing and self-actualizing early, I’d assume. What one must applaud Coloring Book loudly for though, is the way he seamlessly bridged the generations of hip hop. 2Chainz (nee TityBoi) and Lil Yachty served as the perfect bookends to the old guard and new-new Atlanta.
FEATURED TRACK: NO PROBLEM
Speaking of 2Chainz, he and Lil Wayne resumed their Collegrove roles and spit like crazy men on the Basstracks produced “No Problem.” With opening lyrics like “If one more label try to stop me/ It's gon' be some dreadhead niggas in ya lobby”, Chance is reestablishing that he is self-made and with the shits, if anyone attempts to threaten that. On “Mixtape”, Chance assembles with Young Thug and Yachty, the holy trinity of now rappers. As much as people give Thugger for laxing on lyrics, he managed to best Chance as they ask if they’re the only ones that care about a mixtape.
Where the album lacks in cohesion, the grandiose, stadium music courtesy of Chicago’s Children's Choir throughout push the record to sacred proportions. Chance repeating – “I speak to God in public” in “Blessings” connects how the church is just as responsible for R&B artists, as it is rappers. Chance is able to salute his God in a way that’s not cheesy or preachy. It feels personal, bringing you into his private prayer closet. The appearance of Kirk Franklin on the mixtape was equally as surprising as his cameo during Chance’s 2015 Pitchfork Fest performance. Kirk has always been committed to bringing young folks into the Jesus fold, but between Coloring Book and The Life of Pablo, he is back to his peak height from the “Revolution” era.
Whether you call him the savior of hip-hop or an industry plant, Chance the Rapper will be forever iconized as the kid from Chicago that created his own lane and achieved wild success, all while staying true to himself, his God, and his native land.
As NYC’s biggest fan in the form of the coolest black girl alive, Stephanye’s quest to discover everything dope, cheap, and black+ excellent below 14th Street is chronicled on her travel site iso14below.com. Stephanye is also the woman behind NYC’s only R&B trivia night, "Rhythm & Bodyroll". Follow her on Twitter at @iso14below.