I’m gonna take you back to last Thursday evening. I was driving late and had around fifteen minutes ahead of me before I made it home. I’d been listening to the recently released James Blake collaboration with Bon Iver. An amazing, somber, soul-searching track that leaves you pondering where you are in life and all other kinds of deep shit. Anyway, the sun was setting around this time, filling the skies with deep pink hues which led my mind straight to Chance 3, the third studio project by my favourite Chicagoan, Chance the Rapper.
In anticipation for the upcoming tape and appreciation of Chance’s unrivalled artistry, I immediately traded Blake’s dulcet tones to the gospel-great, I’m-ready-to-take-on-the-world pin-ultimate track from Surf, the masterful free album from The Social Experiment. I had Sunday Candy on repeat until I reached my house, belting out the lyrics through a smile and feeling that nervous excitement for the following day. It had been three years since the release of Acid Rap, the free mixtape that granted Chance a worldwide stage and huge respect and acclaim amongst the many aficionados of the hip-hop world. And tomorrow, its follow up was due to drop.
Fast-forward about twelve hours and I’m sitting at my desk at work, waiting for the last of the “good-mornings” to pass so I could comfortably hit play without any predictable distractions. It was time.
The all-too familiar trumpet work of Donnie sets us off and immediately gets me gassed up, followed by Chance’s distinguishable yelps. There’s something so familiar and yet so disparate about this opening. I put it down to Chance’s noticeable development over the past three years. Since the release of his sophomore album, Chance has performed all over the world, collaborated with his greatest idols and become a father, an experience that has already had generous references in his latest songs. As his album artworks exemplify, Chance has definitely gone on a journey and it really shows in the opening moments of Coloring Book. He enters the track with his trademark quips, but with a gratified, relaxed tone instead of his usual hyper-energetic style. Chance is at the peak of his career, unchallenged by the shackles of a corporate label, free to take his music in any direction he wants to and distribute it however he likes. The opening moments to this album embody this sense of freedom perfectly.
I follow through the whole album, undisturbed and completely engrossed. I find myself falling in-love with songs like Summer Friends, Blessings, Same Drugs, Juke Jam, How Great and Finish Lines. They represent all that Chance has become. Amongst these songs, Chance shows off his versatile style, bouncing from that slow-tempo, thought-out spoken word to energetic verses over-flowing with effervescent whips and wordplays. He illustrates the blissful summers running around Chathem as a kid on Summer Friends but somehow manages to balance it with the dark tone of violent life in Chicago. He has mastered rapping along side brass and gospel choir backdrops and switching up his styles to compliment whatever shape or form the production has taken. Tracks like Angels leave me wondering whether there is any other rapper in history that can convey the feeling of joy like Chance does. This album often feels like the ultimate jam session with close friends, probably going on in a church after service has long ended. This is the style of Chance’s music that I love so much.
But there are definitely moments on this album where my frown burrowed and I had to really listen to shit closely. I couldn’t simply ride the euphoric wave of Chance’s sounds that I’ve become so accustomed to. For me, my initial feeling was that the bigger artist names, such as Kanye, Wayne, 2Chainz, Young Thung, and Future completely changed the tone and feeling of a sound I’ve grown to love so much. Chance’s music is full of versatility, but it remains within a distinct style that sets him apart from almost every other rapper I know of that are big right now. For me, no-one quite comes close to replicating what Chance does in his music, making his style entirely unique in that sense. To hear him mimic the low-tone and lethargic sound of Young Thug on Mixtape really killed my vibe. As did the moment 2Chainz featured on a Chance the Rapper song. I just didn’t think it would ever happen. These were the moments during my first listen where I felt a little bit like Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith – “You were the chosen one, Anakin! You we’re meant to bring balance to the force, not destroy it!”
So, I listened again. And again. And I definitely found the beauty in those tracks. I began to understand Smoke Break and started to feel the party vibes of No Problem, regardless of 2Chainz unsurprisingly dead verse. However, I still feel like spots on this album for a Favourite Song, a Sunday Candy or a Juice were replaced or wasted on large-name collaborations that were simply Chance paying homage to music he likes. And there is nothing wrong with that. Who am I to say he can’t play with music he enjoys, or artists he admires? I can’t. But as a fan, they certainly changed the album experience for me and not exactly for the better.
Regardless, Coloring Book still feels like an incredible gift to the music world and is undoubtedly a project I’m going to be listening to for a long time. It is a great addition to Chance’s immaculate catalogue of work. My only plea is that he never loses his uniqueness and his talent to the mainstream trends that have, in my eyes, distorted the genre. The final harmonies of the album softly croon the question “Are you ready?” leaving me once again eager and impatient for more from hip-hop's new crowned prince.
Listen to Chance The Rapper's new album, Coloring Book, here...