Image: YouTube/ JRBeats

Faith, friends and focus: Chance the Rapper’s Colouring Book

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It goes without saying that you don’t just listen to some good music. You feel it deep in the pit of your stomach. It makes you bop your head, tap your toes and break into the odd grin or two. Chance the Rapper’s long awaited third LP: Colouring Book does all of those things and more. It’s a complex, genre bending masterpiece that sees the 23-year-old affectionately nicknamed “Chano” sift between between Gospel, Chicago Soul, Jazz, Funk and every sound in between without losing his trademark verve.

“This isn’t just a journey through dark Illinois street corners, it’s a peek into his soul on the road to his blessings.”

The brilliance of Colouring Book lies in the fact Chance hasn’t changed his formula, he’s only grown with it. The features list reads like a who’s who of hip hop royalty, while his subject matter has gone from endearingly ambitious to transcendent. He’s still the same Chicago kid embodying the spirit of his city in earnest, but this time he’s also channelling his faith. This isn’t just a journey through dark Illinois street corners, it’s a peek into his soul on the road to his blessings.

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Image: Flickr/ Dan Patlan

Wasting little time, Chance goes big right away, teaming up with his mentor Kanye West to open the show with a blustering intro ‘All We Got.’ West’s now trademark autotuned, slurred vocals come in over the top of rich trumpets. An underrated lyricist, Chance is as sure of himself on the microphone as he’s ever been, spitting “I get my word from the sermon, I do not talk to the serpent. That’s the holistic discernment.” He starts as he means to go on. ‘No Problem’ sees Chance once again play off illustrious guest features whilst holding his own, this time enlisting 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne to stick his middle finger up at intrusive record labels declaring playfully “If one more label try to stop me it’s gon’ be some dreadhead ni***s in ya lobby.”

This free-spirited independence runs right through Coloring Book. Whether trading sing-songy bars with Young Thug and Yachty on ‘Mixtape’, incorporating the haunting codeine dripped tones of Future on the immense ‘Smoke Break’ or letting Justin Bieber work his vocals into ‘Juke Jam’, Chance sounds at home in all his chameleonic, versatile glory. Be it rapping, singing or simply riding the beat by humming and chirping, it’s pretty clear this is Chano’s party; not anybody else’s.

“Coloring Book offers the listener a refreshing break from the macho posturing and ‘stunting’ that has come to characterise modern hip hop and dominate the airwaves.”

Though his fanbase and reputation have grown substantially, Chance still maintains his most endearing qualities: he’s still vulnerable and he’s still human. ‘Summer Friends’ takes us on a stroll through the streets of his hometown West Chatham at dusk. Spitting with a solemn reminiscence, he references the widespread street violence he grew up around “We still catching lightning bugs when the plague hit the backyard. Had to come in at dark cause the big shawtys act hard. Okay now, day camp at Grand Crossing , first day, ni***s shooting, summer school get to losing students.” Another stand out offering, ‘Same Drugs’ sees Chance tug on the heartstrings with a soft piano driven look back on a childhood relationship which unravelled as the pair grew apart. Candid, emotional and effective, much of Coloring Book’s content offers the listener a refreshing break from the macho posturing and ‘stunting’ that has come to characterise modern hip hop and dominate the airwaves.

That said, the element that truly sends Coloring Book into the stratosphere is Chance’s focus on his faith. He treads the same ground as Kanye West’s divisive February release The Life of Pablo. But rather than give us a fragmented patchwork of religious musings with a good dose of self-aggrandisement like West, faith offers Chance peace, serenity and closure. Coloring Book’s home straight is a divine, inspiring finish in which he reminds us no matter what, everything is going to be alright.

“…rather than give us a fragmented patchwork of religious musings with a good dose of self-aggrandisement like West, religion offers Chance peace, serenity and closure.”

His use of gospel samples and popular Christian refrains are enough to make even the hardest of hearts flutter. A stirring rendition of Chris Tomlin’s ‘How Great is our God’, originally performed by the rapper’s cousin Nicole at his Grandmother’s funeral provides a moving backdrop for Chance to trade bars with hip hop’s resident recluse enigma Jay Electronica referencing “faith the size of a mustard seed” as well as other biblical tropes in a strikingly powerful song. He then reaches for ‘The Finish Line’ in a two-part penultimate track with assistance from T-Pain. He notably references his battle with a Xanax addiction before Kirk Franklin brings the song to an end with a typically upbeat word of prayer. As if that wasn’t enough, Church is still in session as Chance saves best for last in the form of his outro, the ‘Blessings’ reprise. He works off Fred Hammond and Radical For Christ’s ‘Let The Praise Begin’ to draw the curtain on a truly outstanding piece of musical artistry. He reflects on his rise to rap stardom with typical positivity and lyrical dexterity rhyming: “I speak to God in public, I speak to God in public, he keep my rhymes in couplets, he think the new s**t jam, I think we mutual fans.”

Hip Hop has had few bright spots in a year in which some of it’s biggest stars have flattered to deceive with lukewarm offerings. In Chance 3 we found hope and better yet; we found a blessing.

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