Chance the Rapper
Self-released | Apple Music Exclusive
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“And we back…”
The first words spoken by Chance the Rapper on “All We Got,” the opening track off of his new mixtape Coloring Book, are the same words with which he began “Good Ass Intro,” the opener to 2013’s Acid Rap. Chance acknowledges the parallelism, but quickly distinguishes between the two tracks—“this ain’t no intro, this the entrée.”
Indeed. By the time Chance finishes the blistering crescendo of a first verse on “All We Got,” in which he praises his musical influences, his family, and God, the comparison to “Good Ass Intro” makes clear the difference between Coloring Book and its predecessor. “Good Ass Intro” is a great song, as musically appealing as “All We Got,” if not more so. Some will surely prefer its giddy irreverence to the latter track’s earnestness. But “Good Ass Intro” is mostly about bravado and drugs, and, like many of its Acid Rap companions, it ends up feeling like empty calories—delicious, infectious, and irresistible, but ultimately missing something when it comes to lyrical substance. There is nothing missing on Coloring Book.
“Chance grows up,” that’s the story this week. We can’t really know to what degree that’s true as regards Chancelor Bennett the person. But the truth of his music, at least, is more muddled. Coloring Book is a step in a new direction, to be sure, but there are tracks on Acid Rap that match the gravity of “All We Got” and tracks on Coloring Book every bit as light as “Good Ass Intro.” That’s not a bad thing, either—I defy anyone to resist “All Night.” Plus, with efforts like “Sunday Candy” from last year’s Surf (a sort of Chance 2.5), Chance has already proven that “substantial” and “fun” need not be mutually exclusive. Coloring Book’s “Blessings,” “Angels,” and “Finish Line” confirm the potency of that combination.
Like all of Coloring Book, those tracks benefit from stellar contributions by Chance’s instrumental collaborators, including the omnipresent Nico Segal (a.k.a. Donnie Trumpet). Particularly impressive is the way in which the album consistently nails the smallest details of orchestration, from the steel drums that grace the chorus of “Angels” to the tantalizingly brief organ postlude on “D.R.A.M. Sings Special,” a much sunnier but no less alluring counterpart to Surf’s “Caretaker.”
Strong instrumentals are nothing new for a Chance album, of course. Surf was released not under Chance’s name but that of his band, The Social Experiment, after all. Still, Coloring Book’s production is so rich and varied that it’s clear Chance is exploring new sonic realms even while maintaining his core sound. Often, the production reinforces the lyrics in satisfying and creative ways. “All Night,” for example, evokes its drunken nocturne with a moment of staggering textural density (skip to 1:03). Moments of restraint are no less striking—the heartbreaking “Summer Friends” features an appropriately bare-bones beat, while “Blessings (feat. Ty Dolla Sign)” supports Chance’s lucid monologue with an equally lucid accompanying texture, nothing more than flowing, wordless voices.
Coloring Book isn’t perfect. The album is probably about three tracks too long, but then again everything is these days. Every once in a while, the combination of ultra-earnest lyrics and slick production steer things in a cheesy direction—“Same Drugs” is moving, but it also sounds just a bit like Chance the Rapper covering the Rent soundtrack.
These, though, are truly quibbles. Coloring Book may be overstuffed and occasionally obvious, but Chance has such a knack for conveying enthusiasm and sincerity that it hardly matters. Even moments that might be considered missteps end up working in his favor. Consider, for example, the following lines from “Blessings”:
“Ain’t no blood on my money, ain’t no Twitter in heaven,
I know them drugs isn’t close, ain’t no visitin’ heaven.
I know the difference between blessings and worldly possessions,
Like my ex-girl getting pregnant and her becoming my everything.”
That broken rhyme scheme isn’t particularly good poetry, but who needs poetry when the facts are that beautiful?
As it turns out, Chance doesn’t even need language to get his message across, much less poetry. “And we back” are the first words he speaks on Coloring Book, but they aren’t actually the first sound he makes. About ten seconds into “All We Got,” we hear one of Chance’s signature vocal bursts (I wouldn’t know how else to describe it, but you’ll know it when you hear it). He almost could have stopped right there. That opening gesture is full of such energy and commitment that it already signals a point made abundantly clear throughout Coloring Book—Chance the Rapper is back, and he isn’t going anywhere.
Notable Tracks: “All Night” | “All We Got” | “Blessings (feat. Ty Dolla Sign)” | “D.R.A.M. Sings Special” | “Summer Friends”
DOWNLOAD Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book via Apple Music