Chance the Rapper, the witty, humble, deeply talented hip hop artist has just released his sophomore effort, Coloring Book.
In 2013, Chance was launched into the limelight. His third mixtape, Acid Rap, became enormously popular, receiving critical acclaim, and giving him his well deserved breakout into the mainstream. Since then, he’s collaborated with beloved artists Kanye West, Childish Gambino, James Blake, Hoodie Allen, Joey Badass, Lil Wayne, BJ the Chicago Kid, Busta Rhymes, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. That’s a laundry list of artists championing this young man’s ability, and he’s taken all this fame in stride. His team knows how to advertise him. He’s appeared on comedy shows like The Eric Andre Show, and Saturday Night Live, and straighter shows like The Arsenio Hall Show.
Chance starts the album off with a reference to Acid Rap‘s intro song — “Good Ass Intro.” Within seconds we hear the return of his “yat!”; a swarm of trumpets crowd the lyrics; mechanized vocals… And singing. Here, Chance takes his voice to places first hinted at when he was featured on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam,” and he employs some of the same rhythms of delivery as well.
“No Problem,” is a disappointing turn after such an excellent opening number. It doesn’t pop. Had it been included further down the line, it might have a better life, but here, it pales. Still, 2 Chainz gives a great performance.
“Summer Friends” lives somewhere in between gospel and electronica, and Chance’s crafted, laid back style of rap fits snugly in with both. As a listener we get the most from this voice of his. He frequently raps about anxiety with an aggressive squawk, but since he utilizes the alternate, it’s more enjoyable. It’s the vocal work on this track in general that makes it so special. The music borrows its style from Bon Iver’s “Woods,” and it’s a well-chosen addition to the already eclectic range of sounds he has in his arsenal.
“D.R.A.M. Sings Special” is what it is, and it sounds great. The modified strings and organ beeps keep it quaint and small.
Chance has an ear for where a female voice could feature well in the music he creates, and here, on “Blessings,” we’re ushered into its slow-moving, squeaking brass atmosphere by one that is perfectly showy and emotional. Beneath is a simple structure and simple melody, the perfect marriage to showcase his clever turns of phrase, his highly detailed painted picture lyrics.
“Same Drugs” is a naked description of a relationship with downers, and the aftermath — sobriety. It’s plain and heartfelt, in the same vein as “D.R.A.M.”
Don’t forget the happy thoughts, all you need is happy thoughts / the past tense, past bed time / way back then when everything we read was real / and everything we said rhymed. – “Same Drugs”
“Mixtape” is an example of a generic hip hop song. Trap beats, little to no melody in the hook where it seems as though the artist is just tossing it away. It’s a toss off song. It’s a smudge on a record with a meticulously crafted sound.
“Angels” intelligently combines RnB horns and steel drums in its chorus, which lifts it above the typical.
“Juke Jam” includes a surprise… Justin Bieber. The song begins like a slow jam, so the title is apt. The music on this track is possibly the album’s best; the way the melody in the hook seems to lift into the air because of the slightly stretched background vocals, as well as the snippets of acoustic guitar and organ that worm their way through the layers of the chorus. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously, steeped in nostalgia and singable lines.
The rink was the place but in that space I was too young for you / as you were for me, too worried ’bout Frooties and Chews / ’til I found out all the shorties with cooties was cute / and realized what booties can do. – “Juke Jam”
“All Night” contains a Latin flair that keeps it interesting throughout the entire song, and a tumbling vocal hook that grows as the song gains confidence.
“How Great” brings back the gospel aspect to a whole other level, preaching the word of God as electrical hiccups and more mechanized vocals blend beneath. One voice rises above the rest, bathed in reverb that recalls the sound of music played from a cheap cell phone. And then we hit a point, and Jay Electronica doggedly raps over a slow clap rhythm with a confidence necessary to make the juxtaposition of the background work.
“Smoke Break” comes to life thanks to the smart use of auto-tune and Future’s chunk of a rap verse, which is a mouthful. There’s so much to be pulled from this deceivingly complex song, a definite highlight.
“Finish Line / Drown” brings with it the most pleasing Chance rap style: he tosses off lyrics beneath ‘doo doo doos’ from light backing vocals and over a building piano progression, filled with multiple textures, and a sense of enthusiasm. The song closes with my favourite element of Chance’s sound: a strong female voice. It comes through a wash of light hip hop mechanical claps and watery piano melody.
“Blessings (Reprise)” Chance talk-raps some of his most beautiful lyrics over what sounds to be a two-person choir.
I speak of promised lands / soil as soft as momma’s hands / running water, standing still / endless fields of daffodils and chamomile / rice under black beans / walked into Apple with cracked screens. – “Blessings (Reprise)”
Crystalline lap steel guitar notes rise and fall. The music builds until multiple voices fold together.
Are you ready for your blessings / are you ready for your miracle? – “Blessings (Reprise)”
Overall, what were left with is an album greater than the simple sum of its parts. As “Blessings (Reprise)” comes to a close, one feels an appreciation for the sounds Chance succeeded in bringing to the mix, not only as accents to familiar types of sound, but as the highlight on certain tracks. Although this left me less elated than Acid Rap, I imagine what comes next will be as exploratory but even more successful. Ultimately, this is a transitional album.