It’s plain to see that things are working out for Chance The Rapper. In the week following its release, Chance’s hyper-anticipated Coloring Book mixtape garnered over 57 million streams to become the first recording to chart on the Billboard 200 due to streaming alone.
To boot, Chance seems convinced that everything is going to work out for you and me, just like everything has worked out for him. “Are you ready for your miracle?” he asks as “Blessings (Reprise),” Coloring Book‘s final track, comes to a close. With this question he intends to uplift, to ready his audience for the inevitable day when all life’s obstacles will crumble like the walls of Jericho before the Israelites.
So why is it that, by the time these fourteen tracks of pop rap doused with Gospel and R&B are finished, I feel less-than-inclined to share Chance’s optimism? During “All We Got” he exultantly declares: “I swear my life is perfect, I could merch it.” For the rest of the record, Chance is not content merely to let us take his word for it. He is going to merch it, and merch it hard. In his quest to demonstrate just how successful and happy he has become, Chance often pushes all of Coloring Book‘s other themes to the back burner.
Now 23 years old, the Chance captured by this album is stuck uncomfortably between the youthful days when he recorded Acid Rap and the adulthood into which the birth of his daughter last year has placed him. The awkward contrast between the coquettishly puerile croon in the intro to “Same Drugs” and the bombastic, “I’m the blueprint to a real man!” declaimed in the first verse of “Angels” typifies Chano’s situation: he has neither left behind Chance The High School Student, nor become Chance The Adult.
The universal championing which Coloring Book has enjoyed, with a Metacritic rating of 90 out of 100, would rank it among the greatest records of all time. Yet upon close inspection, the heart of this release is charmless braggadocio and glib Gospel-inflected R&B, resulting in a shallow, messy, and disappointing mix tape.
Coloring Book is not all bad, and its strongest moments come during the tracks which Chance has devoted to something more than himself. The reminiscing first verse of “Summer Friends” is evocative of a childhood spent in the grim shadow of Chicago’s violence, even though it seems leftover from the writing of Acid Rap‘s “Paranoia.”
The Gospel-themed tracks “Blessings (Reprise)” and “How Great” both deliver strong verses containing rich images like, “I speak of promised lands / Soil as soft as momma’s hands,” and even a dash of desperately needed political rhetoric with, “Jesus’ black life ain’t matter.” The latter half of “Finish Line / Drown” sees Noname effortlessly bring about not just the best verse, but the best forty seconds of the album.
Yet, for every bright musical moment Coloring Book has to offer, there is another that kills the vibe dead. The hardly-bearable “Mixtape” makes a chorus of the afflictive rhyme: “I’m the only nigga still care about mixtapes / Bad little bitch wanna know how lips taste.” The useless, airheaded interlude “D.R.A.M. Sings Special” might be the worst lullaby you will ever hear. The dark, grooveless, Justin Bieber-ed nadir that is “Juke Jam” is simply unlistenable.
Hearing this release makes me yearn for a Chance The Rapper who not only says, “Jesus’ black life ain’t matter,” but is able take that idea further in a way that rappers like Kendrick Lamar have. When Chance says “Last year I got addicted to [Xanax],” I worry most about why the story ends there. In the scattered moments when Chance alludes to life as a young father, one can glimpse for a split second down a well of experience, and wonder why Chance is unwilling, or unable, to communicate it more deeply.
For Chance The Rapper’s latest music, news, and tour dates, check out his Zumic artist page.