Three years after his critically acclaimed mixtape, Acid Rap, Chance the Rapper has finally released his highly anticipated Coloring Book. It is his third solo mixtape, coming to us less than a year after the experimental soul album, Surf, which piggybacked on Chance’s ethos despite featuring him sporadically. Coloring Book is a true Chance the Rapper masterpiece, effortlessly infusing gospel into a blend of hip-hop and soul, combining the best elements of Acid Rap, Surf, and Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo.
Coloring Book is Chance’s most ambitious project from both a lyrical and musical perspective. Unlike on Acid Rap, Chance is now an established force in hip-hop. While fame has been known to distort a rapper’s perspective, Chance’s new authority has created a sense of confidence that lends itself to authenticity. From beginning to end, Chance flows with his signature assertive positivity over a seamless mix of large production rap beats, high-tempo dance numbers, and beautiful, stripped-down tracks.
The biggest thematic progression from any of his previous projects is the introduction of gospel and religion. Where 10 Day was a declaration of his value outside the educational system and Acid Rap served as a drug-induced exploration into his identity, Coloring Book is the product of Chance’s developing spirituality. He has given us glimpses of religiosity before (he asserts, “I should bring my butt to church” in “Sunday Candy”), but in this album, he seems to fully embrace his faith. In both his music and lyrics, gospel is the single most pervasive theme. Chance incorporates choral backing vocals in half a dozen songs, sings about the blessings in his life, and even samples a cover of the 2004 worship song, “How Great is Our God.” Unlike The Life of Pablo, Coloring Book carries a motif of joy and celebration – Chance seems to be simply sharing his own good news and newfound appreciation for life. This development may be due to the recent birth of his daughter in the fall of 2015. The importance of family has always been a motif in Chance’s music, but as a father, he now has to take care of his family in a way he never had to as just a son or grandson. In “Blessings,” he writes just that, “[God] Said you the man of the house now, look out for your family.” In the following song, the joyful and triumphant tone is punctuated with what seems to be a direct response to Acid Rap. Chance beautifully reminisces over the previous chapters in his life in “Same Drugs,” ultimately coming to the conclusion that he no longer feels the need to use and that “all you need is happy thoughts.”
Despite the the thematic changes, Chance continues to release his music for free, a fact he doesn’t shy away from discussing. After opening the album with the assertion that “music is all we got,” Chance follows up with the in-your-face anthem “No Problem,” which tells record labels that he will continue to make and release music his own way. Chance preluded this concept with his verse on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam,” in which he reflects that he has to sell his music to “snatch the Grammy,” but instead of giving in, he remains resolute. In “Blessings (reprise),” he says, “I used to dance in high school / I used to pass out music / I still pass out music,” as he remains consistent with the idea that he is more focused on sharing than selling. Moreover, Chance seems to believe the value in his music lies in it’s message, rather than its profitability. “Blessings,” which he performed two weeks before the album’s release on The Tonight Show, opens with the affirmation, “I don’t make songs for free, I make them for freedom.”
In his third solo album, Chance the Rapper has put forth his most complete work yet. Star-studded with features including Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, Future, and 2 Chainz, Coloring Book has immediately established itself as a classic. Like 10 Day and Acid Rap before it, this album should cement itself as a staple in your library, and given its brilliance, should usher in an era of preeminence for Chance the Rapper.
Coloring Book is available for free on Apple Music.