A highlight of Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo is undoubtedly in its first few minutes, in opener “Ultralight Beam”, where Chance The Rapper takes the spotlight and proceeds to give one of the most powerful sermons you’ve heard in a long time. It was a true revelation, for everyone listening. “This is my part, nobody else speak”, he said, but it wasn’t that time just yet. That was just the intro.
This. Now. Coloring Book, is truly his part. The main act. This. His new album. Or rather, his new mixtape. The two are different after all. The latter is free, and usually it’s an independent venture, and Chance has always done things the free way, and his way. “I used to pass out music / I still pass out music”, he says in the second version of “Blessings”.
And it’s a principle he continuously comes back to throughout Coloring Book, so much so there’s even a track called “Mixtape”, that celebrates the format’s value and important function in hip hop. He doesn’t want or need to be tied to a major label, tied to the dirty business of the music industry, it would only end up clipping his wings, the wings he uses to reach for the “Blessings” and “Angels”, and the glorious gospel heights that he hits on Coloring Book.
It turns out Chance’s little flirtation with gospel-tinged hip hop on “Ultralight Beam” wasn’t just that. This was a budding love that’s now blossomed into a full and uplifting passion, a strong vocation. “Music is all we got” realise him and guest Kanye – returning the favour for Chance’s guest spot on TLOP – in opener “All We Got”.
A sentiment that many a church goer in the black community would share, where music plays such a big part in the way religion is practised. It’s this particular form of spirituality, a melodic one, which flows through the entirety of Coloring Book that gives it the unique, inviting energy shooting out of it from every angle.
And while the religious themes are overt, it’s not overbearing, and it’s not smothering, not by any means. Instead, it makes you want to smile and cry at the same time, but the good kind of crying. It’s a cathartic kind of energy and warmth, one that will not only wash away any sins you might be looking to atone for, but also anything else that’s weighing down your heart and soul.
It’s such a positive, strong energy that Chance is channelling, it even coaxed the ultra-reclusive Jay Electronica in from the nomadic wilderness, to “spark the dark with the pulse of light” on “How Great”, with its opening three-minute chorale unarguably the shiniest moment of gospel on Coloring Book.
It just edges out the gleaming and life-affirming sounds of “Finish Line”. And if that’s one of the brighter shades of gospel in Chance’s book, then “Summer Friends” is on the other end of the scale, though not dull, just more a pastel-like, subdued form of gospel.
Chance reminisces about being “jolly rancher kids” growing up without a care in the world in his native Chicago, which turns into a lament for the friends he’s lost throughout his life due to the ever-present violence that exists in his city. “Our summer time don’t get no shine no more” he grieves, while guest feature, fellow Chicagoan Jeremih, admits he would always treat “his gang like family members”.
These stories unfold as Francis of Francis & The Lights weeps to “put your head on my shoulder” in the background, effectively crying out for change in the city, and while Chance and Jeremih no longer have that option for some of their friends, you feel laying their souls bare on the requiem-like track acts as somewhat of a healing process for the both of them.
All throughout Coloring Book, Chance embraces the peaks of life along with the valleys, and while up on the peaks it’s nothing but rapturous, it’s his ability to maintain his bright outlook while walking in those shaded valleys that feeds your soul with a blend of joy, inspiration, and strength, to not just live, but to be alive.
In closing track “Blessings (Second Time)” Chance takes a moment to mention a few things. He says, “I got some ideas you gotta see”. We say show us. Show them all to us. He says he’s “Kanye’s best prodigy”. That may be true, but after hearing Coloring Book, you can’t help but wonder how much the prodigy has influenced the teacher in recent times.
He says, “He think the new s**t jam”. He as in Him. And the big guy isn’t wrong. He says, “[I] make you remember how to smile good”. And that’s just it. You listen to Chance, and you smile. And if you surrender yourself fully to his melodic spirituality, to all the shades in his Coloring Book, it will make you feel better about yourself, about your life, about living, and about the world. “Are you ready for your blessings? Are you ready for your miracle?”. You better believe it.
Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book is out now and available here.
Words by Oli Kuscher