Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book – The STiXXclusive Review

Chance the Rapper has to be one of the most interesting artists out right now because of where he stands in Hip Hop, and what he means to independent artists across all genres. After not taking much interest in him after hearing 10Day, Acid Rap is where I became a fan of his style, where he fused together the sounds of Chicago with house/techno vibes, his Gospel upbringings, and whatever the current sound of Rap was at that time. His unique voice and delivery is either enticing or annoying, but there was a level of appreciation I gained for his music once I soaked it all in. Speculations arouse as to if he was going to sign to a major, but that never happened, and all the music he’s made, has been for free. He really just makes money from touring and whatever merchandise he sells, and that’s what makes him so interesting. Although Acid Rap is considered a mixtape, most have said that it is really album worthy, and to that I do agree, especially with the follow up Surf project that was aided by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment (his band). What was more enticing about Chance was his appearance (and what turned out to be some influence) on Kanye’s most recent album, The Life of Pablo (or TLOP for short). His verse on Ultralight Beams is heralded as one of the best this year thus far, and him battling for Waves to make the cut on the album was probably one of the best things he did for that album, given that it’s one of the best songs (most would say that it is). For Chance’s music, from my experiences, has had to have its opportunity to grow on me, because initially it doesn’t hit right away, with the exception of a few songs. You can place that on the song itself, or production, or as I mentioned before, his voice, but to each their own. What he stands for is a positive message for the kids. I’m talking kids 10 years younger and then some. He’s also particularly speaking to the kids in his city, and for him to stand as a pillar of positivity (amongst many) to look at, it’s an added strength that builds him as an artist and as to why he’s so respected in the game. Fatherhood has also lead a great deal of impact, as his first child has sparked a shift in his development into manhood, in which most people often do transform when a child enters their lives. Acid Rap & Surf were great pieces of music, and Chance definitely built himself up to the point where you just expect great music to drop, regardless of any situation, which is why the anticipation for what was previously referred to as ‘Chance 3’ was so great.

I’ve been conflicted with Kanye West since Yeezus, and although I do appreciate what Kanye brings to the table, musically, lyrically in more appearances on tracks, he’s hit or miss, and it’s to the point where the mental exhaust I have is disappointing. Setting all fandom aside, sometimes you just have to say, “you gotta go,” even if it’s one of your favourites. With All We Got being the intro, I will say that there’s a lot going on, and it’s the beat itself that has that signature Chance sound, that I felt was overpowering at times, and it didn’t resonate at first listen, and over time as I was getting into it. I almost want to swap out Ultralight Beams for this, because it was that song that heightened the expectation for a powerful intro, but as stated on the verse by Chance himself, this was the entrée to that intro, so I respect it.

The surprise factor that made Surf such an enjoyable album because the features weren’t listed, made it fun to listen to and get those “oh shit” moments as the songs rolled along. There were many unlikely pairings that I didn’t expect Chance to have worked with at any point, but Chance has delivered before, and that was at least something to trust in. No Problem (which is a great Lil Scrappy song, by the way) brought about the unlikely pairing of 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne (who dropped a collaboration album recently – randomly). Catchy hook, bouncy beat, and not bad verses from the guests (plus a cool video), I thought I would have liked this song more than I did when I first heard it, but I found myself not caring for it much (as I’d find out more in the project). You know when a song is just there just chillin’ in the background, but you’re not paying it any mind? That’s how I feel about this song, and also to following Summer Friends. Yet another song that’s just there and doesn’t sway me in any way outside of it being a mellow that has some vibe to it that you can bop along to, but deeper than that, it serves no purpose for me. At this point, albeit only 3 songs deep, I’m disappointed, but I know there’s a lot more tracks to get through before I overreact.

The last we heard the vocals of one D.R.A.M on a project in which Chance happened to be on, Caretaker was the jam (the remix with SZA is madness as well). He did not disappoint then, and that made me gain interest in his EP, Gahdamn! I’m upset that D.R.A.M Sings Special is so short, but it’s at least a positive that I was hoping for that at least told me to slow my roll and wait for the better songs (for me) to come about, and that’s where Blessings came at the right time. After watching him perform this on Jimmy Fallon before the official version came out, that also prompted promise for the album (whatever you want to call it).

“Jesus’ black life ain’t matter, I know I talked to his daddy
Said you the man of the house now, look out for your family
He has ordered my steps, gave me a sword with a crest
And gave Donnie a trumpet in case I get shortness of breath”

The religious tones might be too much for people who don’t care for it, but certainly it’s what shapes Chance’s character, and has been reflective to some degree in his music, but in this project in particular, he’s laying it all out from the bars to the beats and the hooks. Many people don’t find the time to count their blessings just to be appreciative of the little or big things that they have in life, which may seem insignificant for oneself, but on a grand scale for another. I am guilty of this, but we really do need to (at times) stop trying to always chase the bigger thing when one thing that is a good thing, just comes and goes. There’s not a lot of appreciation that lingers for too long. It’s always on to the next. There’s a Pro & Con to that, but still – be grateful. Chance was flowing all over, and around this point is where the album started to pick up for me.

Same Drugs is an interesting song, because that was another song where I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I will hand it to Chance that his ability to work within his imagination and spin it with his reality is skillful, but it’s sometimes in the delivery where I’m ‘meh’ about it. We all grow up, and metaphorically looking at our past selves in the mirror, and even the people we were around as kids, we often become distant and unrecognizable because of the different paths that were taken, and there’s no greater evidence than scrolling through your Facebook Home Feed to see who’s having kids, who just bought a house, who just got engaged/married, and figuring out who you were actually friends with to begin with. But, that’s just life – you outgrow a lot of things. You outgrow hobbies/activities, passions, and people especially. They don’t get you on that proverbial high anymore.

I definitely did not envision myself listening to an artist who refers to himself as Lil Boat, ever in my life, and I’m already not a Young Thug fan, yet here both of them are on Chance’s Mixtape and it’s actually not (that) bad. With the sound of Rap ever changing, the determinations of what is ‘good’ changes with that, because with more artists out here mimicking each other’s flows, singing off-key and mumbling a 16 bar verse where 40% of it is actually coherent English, it takes a lot for me to not be that ‘old guy,’ and just accept that the party atmosphere is what’s popular and in certain spaces, it’s certainly acceptable. Doesn’t mean I have to like it (or bash it), it’s just there for its intended purposes that I just can’t relate to on a full scale. That’s why I don’t listen to Young Thug and whatever disciples he (or Future) has spawned, with Lil Yachty seemingly falling into that category. I rate this song for its turn up potential, but it’s not one that I’d listen to willingly on my spare time. However, the question that lies within the song, “am I the only nigga that still cares about mixtapes?” is a good one, because they have really come a long way in the past 10-15 years to the point where even The Grammys are even having a conversation about their inclusion for a category for the prestigious award. We’ve seen many artists (including Chance) make their careers off of them, and they are certainly the staple in starting a rap career. It’s just passing through another generation now.

What I’ve written about in recent years, has been my appreciation for the city of Chicago, and just how artists within the city have a concerted effort to work together and make music together. Even being in the city and witnessing first hand, a couple of music showcases, there’s a genuine comradery amongst them, despite the troubles the city is enduring at the moment. They find themselves and connect through music, and it’s evident if you listen to Chance the Rapper or Vic Mensa and their respective collectives. Saba is an artist who too has his own thing going on, but he’s always been included with Chance’s work at some point, and on Angels, it was a good song to be featured on. Whether they’re Guardian Angels, or Angels that have just passed on from being sent up to Heaven too early in life, there’s a positive message that has a darker undertone, and that’s where Chance does his best in holding that light high above for a hopeful outlook rather than wallowing in the rut of what is constantly being portrayed outwards to the rest of society.

“City so damn great, I feel like Alexand’
Wear your halo like a hat, that’s like the latest fashion
I got angels all around me they keep me surrounded”

The eventual slow jam of the album always happens, and Juke Jam is the one; Lord is it something. I’ve been on record saying that I’m not a Bieber fan (Journals & Purpose can gwan though), but he certainly held his own on this one, considering the subject matter of the song being reflective of a past love. It’s almost as though he used this song to reach out to you-know-who, but we won’t get into that. Not sure if this can qualify as a baby-maker, but this is some stare-in-your-eyes-as-I-give-you-this-work music, and I’m not ashamed to write that. Juke (or Juking) is just another word for partying, although in some forms there’s footwork involved. I find it interesting to see what the world outside of Toronto calls their parties. Like, we have Jams & Fetes, because of the West Indian culture, but in other parts of North America where they have the same things, they all have their own names. It’s not something grand to marvel at, but I find it interesting. Towkio rolls with the SAVEMONEY crew as well, and his solo work isn’t bad, so it was dope to hear him on this song too, which has (for the moment) positioned itself as best song on the album. Don’t catch yourself sending an “I miss you, I miss us” text message, however. Be safe out there.

Right as ‘Juke Jam’ introduces the party scene, All Night continues that with the effects of being under the influence (inebriated in whatever form). This is a fun song for real. Get your two-step going, your little 1-2 move, and it’s jiggy. I have no qualms with this song. Maybe the reason why it’s so dope is because KAYTRANADA laid hands on the beat and produced flames. I mean 99.9% is one of the best albums this year so far, so it’s a completely valid statement. For Chance to be one that features the dance heavy tracks often in his career, who else to get it percolating in this dancery than the boy from Montreal? Who, I say? But this song was needed, because when you see How Great up next with Jay Electronica featured (first of all, how?), you know something is about to go down and it’s about to be laced with a plethora of bars that’ll need you holding your head for concentration purposes.

A Gospel choir will always touch my soul. Maybe because I was raised in Church, but how could one not have any feeling of spirit when angelic voices with piercing high octaves are singing praises? Cha. Unno guh look God an ketch blessings, yes? (Translation: Go to Church). The intro alone hypnotizes you, and then you’re hit with the beat out of nowhere without realizing that there’s actually a song to be had between the two wordsmiths. It was setup perfectly. By the time Chance & Jay were done trading bars, there was no way that it was a debate anymore for what best song on the album was. The rap form of confessionals that came about in humble yet aggressive nature was spectacular. I knew that Chance had bars within him, but he certainly stepped it up more so than on a majority of the album (being that most of the songs didn’t call for bars to exactly be elevated).

“The type of worship make Jesus come back a day early
With the faith of a pumpkin-seed-sized mustard seed
Hear, for I will speak noble things as entrusted me
Only righteous, I might just shrug at the skullduggery
I couldn’t stand to see another rapper lose custody”

If there are two things that you can take away from Chance at this point, if you’ve listened to him enough, it’s his faith in God, and his determination in withholding his independence as an artist. He fights for the new brand of artist who isn’t relying on sales to make a career, and where he may be one of a select few who are doing so, he’s not sacrificing his artistic integrity for the purpose of leaving it in the hands of a major, like most artists strive to do. With the references of Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal on the song to enforce the notion that streaming services are supposed to be geared in helping the future of music consumption, you certainly have an understanding where Chance & Jay Elec stand on that.

Speaking of Mr. Electronica, it’s not even a surprise anymore to hear him distribute a flurry of bars in dope fashion – it’s almost annoying now, because Act II has been so long delayed, that I’m thinking Frank Ocean might actually drop an album before him, and he’s been gone since Jesus was in short pants. However, in all seriousness, getting a wrap around his mindset is as complex as the bars he spits, but with The Lion King references right out of the gate to get most of the audience to relate, there’s a collective “Ohhh” that passes around (that amongst other things).

“I was lost in the jungle like Simba after the death of Mufasa
No hog, no meerkat, hakuna matata by day
But I spent my night time fighting tears back
I prayed and prayed and left messages but never got no hear back”

Hopefully he has found himself and his album (which will likely only be a Tidal exclusive) will come about and prove to be what most rap fans expected it to be, some years ago. Only time will tell, but I appreciate the trading of lyrical punches on this one. It’s certainly one that’d you have to leave on repeat, which I did many a times.

It’s clear that the latter half of the album has been where I’ve enjoyed it the most, and that’s certainly fine. Smoke Break, which features Future (how gracious of him to lend a hand here – and also random) is also arguably one of the better songs here, and the fact that Chance was able to use his flow so effectively, my goodness. On Acid Rap he had Smoke Again with Ab-Soul, but this is like the grown up version of that, which involves a lady friend, and we all know about Future’s famous lady friend that he still has connection with in his life. It’s a whole thing, whether you’re tired of the news or don’t pay it any mind. You just have to chill from time to time and take a break from whatever on-the-go lifestyle we seem to have normalized. I can’t relate, but this definitely a relaxed song, but Future took over and laid out some passion on this one. He wasn’t having it; he was fed up, and it flowed effortlessly. Damn Ciara, you’re a cold one. This is one of his better performances.

Heading towards the Finish Line, it’s been an interesting race for sure, but it picked up speed midway and has been powering through for a solid finish (don’t forget to dip at the line). T-Pain & Kirk Franklin, how man? The ‘how’ part might be more geared towards T-Pain, because where the hell has he been? You get the Father of Autotune on the same album as his offspring, that’s impressive.

“I’ve been getting blocked just trying to make songs with friends
Labels told me to my face that they own my friends
I got to pray I got to pray, like Hammer after “2 Legit”
I got the power I could poke Lucifer with crucifix
I cannot scrap the stupid shit”

The music industry is a cold game sometimes, and because of restrictions that may come to be when trying to get verses from others, I sense a great deal of frustration within these words (which was also in the Hook for No Problem). I mean, when you’re putting out an album for free, I can understand why label heads may be upset, however, let the music live, damn it. Stop being a ting. Where I did have appreciation for the Gospel that was the initial half of this song, I almost feel like skipping it just to get to Drown because Noname has bodied damn near everything she’s been a part of when it comes to Chance’s music. And mix that in with the choir as Kirk Franklin drops legendary ad-libs? Come on, man. This should have been the only song in this slot, no disrespect to T-Pain. This was just that much better.

To end it off with a second version of Blessings, that’s just not fair. This was certainly the strong finish that I had hoped for, and it was one that was delivered. Chance is the artist for the new generation, and he makes it loud & clear with his constant moves that propel him into another level that can’t warrant comparison.

“I speak of wondrous unfamiliar lessons from childhood
Make you remember how to smile good
I’m pre-currency, post-language, anti-label
Pro-famous, I’m Broadway Joe Namath
Kanye’s best prodigy
He ain’t signed me but he proud of me
I got some ideas that you gotta see”

I certainly didn’t expect his meteoric rise to come about in this way, but it has, and it’s been pleasant to see, especially when you factor in that Chance is basically a Christian rapper without being designated as one. The make-shift choir comprising the likes of BJ the Chicago Kid, Anderson .Paak, Raury, Ty Dolla $ign, and others, is one some We Are The World 2016 levels, and I couldn’t think of another artist who would be able to put that together outside of Chance (actually – Kanye West has – see: All of the Lights). Coming from the South Side of Chicago to where he’s at now, being a young person who wasn’t consumed by the environment that was ‘pre-determining’ his life outcome, it’s a small miracle that many people should be blessed to be witnessing. He certainly reflects that graciousness in his music, and that’s what makes him so genuine.

It speaks volumes that you can go forth with your own vision and execute the way that you want without having a label come to your doorstep and say “No.” There are many exceptions to the rule when labels give their artists free reign and artistic freedom (see: TPAB) and they work out, but to do it as an independent and get the respect of a major, only to be backed by a lot of noteworthy artists (including a co-sign from Yeezus himself), Chance certainly has earned the right to brag and flaunt out his accomplishments, but he takes them in stride, and you see that play out, as well as his charismatic personality. There has been growth in his music since Acid Rap, and where I don’t find that Colouring Book (I’m Canadian, deal with it) is better, there’s another level that Chance has stepped up to, and you often wonder what he’d be able to do with a major deal behind him. And then again, at that same moment, you realize that he doesn’t need one, nor will he (of course, the jury is still out on that). There’s certainly a more chilled vibe to the album, and the sounds are plenty filled with gospel influence, but it may take more time to grow on me, or it’s just an album for particular moments. I’m not going to force myself into loving it, but I take it for what it’s worth at its current moment. It’s at least worth the time to consume & live with it, so if you’re in need of a blessing or two, lay back and embrace the Gospel of Chance. But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review,

That’s My Word & It STiXX

 

 

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