Chance The Rapper Finds Religion On ‘Coloring Book’
As indicated on the cover, Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book was originally entitled 3 as it is the third in a series of mixtapes that have launched the young musician’s career into the stratosphere. But Chance The Rapper has done far more than simply release a treble of mixtapes. Chicago’s heir to the hip-hop throne has been sketching his career in his image for a half decade, culminating in a feature on Kanye West’s ‘Ultralight Beam’ earlier this year, however after working with so many different artists it seems Chance himself has lost the most salient qualities that made Acid Rap so thoroughly entertaining.
Like the cover, the track listing on Coloring Book paints a fair picture of the album’s contents, and it’s a clusterfuck. Kanye West, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Young Thug, Lil Yachty, Justin Bieber, Towkio, Knox Fortune, Jay Electronica, Future, T-Pain, and My Cousin Nicole can be found on tap. That last one sounds like a joke, but I assure you My Cousin Nicole exists. Like the majority of the artists above, she does little to enhance the song they can be found on. In fact, by simply not being on the record, my cousin Mike did more for the tape than many of the names above. This orgy of features is one the biggest problem with Coloring Book. When at his best, Chance The Rapper is a master of his craft relative to the names above, but he does nothing to solidify that status on this mixtape.
Coloring Book opens in the style of The Life Of Pablo, this time enabling Kanye West to ruin what was previously an epic moment on Acid Rap. And while I understand the appeal of slipping Kanye West’s name on to track one of an album to beef up its appeal (see “Juke Jam” feat. Justin Bieber) I’d like to think it should render a positive sonic experience. Instead, Kanye West’s presence is merely the musical equivalent of tracklist clickbait, convincing the listener to get excited over what is ultimately Kanye drunk on autotune, singing “music is all we got” to underwhelming effect. Worse yet, the song serves as entree to a full-course meal of over-tuned under-performed scrapbook material.
If you read my review of The Life Of Pablo you already know how I feel about raw, unfinished material. And while Coloring Book is a free mixtape, it was still released as an honest reflection of Chance The Rapper’s current musical mindset, and it’s not a good look.Tragically, the problems that plagued TLoP seem to still have infected Chance The Rapper as well.
Putting aside the overwhelming number of lacklustre features on both TLoP and Coloring Book, both albums are plagued by the same issues; over-indulgent transitional tracks (See ‘I Love Kanye’ / ‘D.R.A.M. Sings Special’), agonizing religious bullshit (See ‘Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1’ / ‘Blessings’, ‘How Great’), genuinely regrettable songs (‘Wolves’ / ‘All Night’) and a seriously lack of quality rap from the artist of note.
Where Chance was rapping with a furious rage on Acid Rap regarding things like Chicago’s gun violence issues, on Coloring Book he has transitioned to matters of family and faith. And frankly, the sonic manifestation of this mindset pales in comparison to the ferocious young man that had the guts to exclaim “Where the fuck is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric in here” mid-bar.
Of all the disappointing songs on Coloring Book, the track with the most potential seems to be ‘Summer Friends’, mostly because Chance The Rapper is featured here more than most other songs on the tape. Despite his lyrical prowess, Chance is mostly held down by the awful and irritating crooning of Francis & The Lights which punish the listener before, after, and during decent verses from Chance. Remove Francis & The Lights altogether here and you might have something.
While lone elements of Coloring Book can be only minorly frustrating to listen to at first, the repetition of tired themes, lame features, and over-preaching makes for a tiresome mixtape which fails to reward the listener for otherwise exhausting moments. ‘Juke Jam’ for example, is hardly worthy of Justin Bieber’s time, as much as I hate the little punk. His inclusion on the record is nothing more smart marketing, and it shows.
And if Justin Bieber and the auto-tune army featured on Coloring Book don’t wear you down enough, the religious rhetoric likely will. I can ignore the concrete meaning behind lyrics when the audible elements enhance the song or message, whether it be secular or spiritual, however I feel Coloring Book takes the rhetoric to such a level I’m given little chance to engage with the music. For example, the opening to ‘How Great’ is a consonant and wonderful little intro…
“How great, is our God. Sing with me, how great is our God…”But this refrain goes on for two minutes and forty five fucking seconds before a beat comes into the track. After all that wait, the payoff is the dumbest phrase I’ve heard on a record all year (And let me remind you I reviewed TLoP): “God is better than the world’s best thing. God is better, than the best thing that the world has to offer.”
This is where I feel Coloring Book crosses the line from gospel to religious rhetoric, leaving listeners like myself on the outside listening in. I enjoy many musicians and albums that weave together spirituality and/or religion together to make beautiful music, however they rarely root themselves in concrete realities like Chance has. Son House, Sufjan Stevens, Charles Bradley, Neutral Milk Hotel, Jack White, and a slew of blues musicians of old have used bible stories and religious narratives to make beautiful music, but the resulting sounds on Coloring Book come nowhere close to justifying what is otherwise a preachy, ignorant, and childish album.
Like production partner Kanye West, Chance The Rapper seems locked into a pacified state of parenthood in which artistic ability has faded away. Without the drive (or drugs) to produce something on par with his previous material, Chance has similarly pivoted to his own private (and polarizing) world on Coloring Book, sharing childish ideas from the perspective of a parent. And while Chance’s daughter isn’t yet old enough to understand the principles at play here, it will one day become clear that daddy didn’t pray hard enough before he released Coloring Book.