Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” is a bonafide Gospel-Rap Masterpiece

Joe Levin, Eastside Staff

Chicago native, Chance the Rapper, born Chancelor Bennett, may never release an official debut album. But if he keeps putting out mixtapes like Coloring Book, I think his fan base will be satisfied. The mixtape (his third) was released on May 12, 2016. Independent from any record label, Chance takes pride in releasing all of his music himself. Coloring Book is undoubtedly the album of the year so far in 2016. It is very different from other rap albums that have been released in both 2015 and 2016; what sets it apart from other popular rap works is its gospel elements and its primary purpose not to brag about money or lifestyle. Truly an uplifting, spiritual masterpiece, Coloring Book has the ability to make even non-religious rap fans feel appreciative and connected.

The album begins with “All We Got,” a horn-driven, jazz-sounding intro that expresses Chance’s appreciation for music. The song also features Kanye West, who returns the favor after Chance shared some lines on West’s recent album titled The Life of Pablo. It makes sense that Chance featured Kanye West on Coloring Book because The Life of Pablo also contains gospel overtures. West handles the chorus; he professes that “Music is all we got / So we might as well give it all we got,” keeping with the theme of gratitude towards music. Chance also decided to feature the Chicago Children’s Choir on this song, which I admire. It shows that Chance will never forget where he came from. The song concludes with Kanye West and the Chicago Children’s Choir singing the outro in unison; they sing, “We know, we know we got it / Music!”

The mixtape’s second track is “No Problem,” an anthem in which Chance warns record labels about the dangers of standing in his way. In the chorus Chance cheerfully sings, “If one more label try to stop me / There’s gon’ be some dread-head [people] in your lobby.” Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz are guests on the track. 2 Chainz’s verse offers nothing new or original, but Lil Wayne’s verse will remind true rap fans of the old Lil Wayne, back in the early 2000s. It has been awhile since Wayne replaced trite lines about money and girls with the clever metaphors and wordplay that made him so famous, but we see a glimpse of this in his verse on “No Problem.” He raps, “Half a milli in the safe / Another in the pillowcase / Codeine got me movin’ slower than a caterpillar race.” The track is one of my favorites on the mixtape; it shows three artists who clearly get along well with one another rapping over a refreshing, gospel-sounding beat.

One of the highlights of Coloring Book is definitely “All Night,” which features Knox Fortune. This track, the tenth on the mixtape, stands out from the rest because of its ‘70s-’80s pop feel and rhythmic, thumping beat. I love the contrast between Knox Fortune’s light, upbeat chorus and Chance’s sharp lines. The song discusses the drawbacks of fame; now that Chance is so famous, more people are approaching him and asking him for favors. He raps, “Long discussions / Oh, you my cousin? / No you wasn’t, you just wanna ride / You just wanna talk about politics, Chicago [stuff] and rocket ships.” People from his hometown of Chicago may pretend to be his cousin, but Chance is alright with this as long as they don’t ask for his money or take advantage of him; “You just wanna / You just wanna / You just wanna / Shut up! Start dancin.’”

Chance may not belong to any record label, but his mixtapes have more meaning and substance than any official album I have listened to so far in 2016. I hope he receives the praise he deserves for Coloring Book, a gospel-rap masterpiece with the ability to bring young rap fans together.