Chancelor Bennett has come a long way in three years. After his massively successful release of Acid Rap in 2013, the rapper has only grown more and more popular. He has become one of the most talked about rappers in the music industry, hitting new highs after guesting on Kanye West’s Life of Pablo, spitting arguably the most memorable verse on the entire album. He’s become the face of the new music industry, one with free content and no labels. He’s become the face of Chicago, going out of his way to give back and call attention to his city. He has done all this without releasing an album or mixtape under his name in three years.
With Coloring Book, Chance The Rapper ends his dry spell and faces the colossal hype that has been built around his name. The result is a 14-track celebration packed with unexpected guests, surprising sounds, and infectious beats. The album is filled with swelling choirs and passionate preaching. From the first track, it becomes clear that Chance is not simply creating a hip-hop mixtape, he is creating a work of modern gospel.
Chance has not only been hitting professional milestones over the past three years. In 2015, Chance became a father when his girlfriend, Kirsten Corley, gave birth to his daughter, Kinsley Bennett. This massive change to his life has very clearly colored the creation of his third album. On the quiet and personal “Same Drugs”, Chance speaks of going clean, singing sweetly, “We don’t do the same drugs no more”. having found happiness in his new family. But aside from specific references to his daughter, being a father has made Chance’s lyrics zoom out– promoting wider themes of peace and happiness. “Don’t forget the happy thoughts”, he says on “Same Drugs”, “All you need his happy thoughts”.
But don’t let the positive vibes fool you– this isn’t a “Peace on Earth” sing-along. There are deeper complexities throughout Coloring Book that ponder where this happiness is. In many moments on the album, Chance looks for joy in childhood, when things were simpler. On the steamy “Juke Jams”, Chance raps about young love. On “Summer Friends”, he paints a vivid picture of growing up in the Windy City: “JJ, Mikey, Lil Derek and them / 79th street was America then / Ice cream truck and the beauty supply / Blockbuster movies and Harold’s again”. But childhood, it becomes clear, was not so simple. “Summer Friends” is a choral lament, an ode to friends Chance lost in the violence when school was out. “Summer friends don’t stay around”, he croons.
Coloring Book is a testament to many things: Chicago, gospel, God, Kanye, Kinsley, faith. But above all, it’s a testament to Chance’s versatility. “Same Drugs” sounds like a lullaby as Chance whispers in our ears. Suddenly, on the next song “Mixtape”, Chance is rapping over a trap beat with an Atlantan flow alongside Young Thug and Lil Yachty. On “All Night”, Chance raps over an infectious dance beat with Knox Fortune singing a party-anthem chorus, “All night, I’ve been drinking all night.” Smash-cut to the heartfelt “How Great”, which opens with a powerful three-minute choir singing, “How great is our God?” It’s a conflict of ideas and sounds, of partying and praying, pondering and proclaiming.
So what are we to make of these juxtapositions? What is Chance trying to tell us when he raps beautiful verses like, “I speak of promise lands / Soil as soft as momma’s hands / Running water, standing still / Endless fields of daffodils and chamomile”, on the same album where he has 2 Chainz snear, “Inside of the Maybach / Look like it came out of Ikea / Run shit like diarrhea / Big yacht, no pies there?” Perhaps he is dragging faith into 2016, a time where faith seems to be dying out. This is gospel for the 21st century, where different ideas intermingle and push back and forth, where devout muslim Jay Electronica can rap about The Lion King and Jerusalem in the same verse on a Christian epic.
There are simply too many ideas that Chance wants to explore for him to stay in one genre, on one train of thought. He needs to discuss his success. He needs to praise his daughter. He needs to address the changing music industry. He needs to talk to God. He needs to cover all of this, and he needs us to have a good time listening to the good-ass job that he’s done with Chance 3.
But no matter how many genres he traverses, Chance the Rapper’s joyous rap style will always be right with him, bursting at the seams. At many times on Coloring Book, you can hear him smiling as he glides through a verse. He’s made it, and he knows it.
Hip-Hop | Self Released