Even before he released it in 2013, Chance the Rapper’s second mixtape “Acid Rap” was assumed to be a breakthrough project. Anyone who had been paying attention to the young Chicagoan knew that he was teetering on the edge of stardom and that this project would be the push to take him there.
And it did.
The feeling prior to the release of his third mixtape, “Coloring Book,” was different but no less optimistic. The three-year interim saw Chance rise to superstardom, headline Lollapalooza, drop a record with his band The Social Experiment and assume enough power to delay a Kanye West album.
Just like “Acid Rap” was assumed great three years ago, the dominant thought during the wait for the third mixtape was, whatever we would hear, it would be something special.
And it is.
“Coloring Book” is a gospel-soaked expansion of the “Acid Rap” sound. Still present is Chance’s hyperkinetic rapping, his magnetism and knack for melody. But what separates this album from his previous work, and from many other recent high-profile rap releases, is a new sense of adventurism, manifested by instances like the industrial slaps of sound in “All We Got,” the two-minute vocal intro to “How Great” and the wonderful merging of voices on “Finish Line / Drown.” His other work has been by no means orthodox, but it is rewarding to see him stretching even further out to new sounds.
And he pulls off every adventure he sets out on on this record. The Christianity theme, covered in at least half of the songs, comes across as a simple profession of one man’s faith, not an imploration to accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. The busy production keeps its soul, complex instrumentals that are disorienting but soothing at exactly the right time.
The backbone of “No Problem” is a soaring gospel choir, rising and falling then roaring back louder than ever. Through one listen, it is hard to tell what is happening behind Chance, 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne, and I am still not sure if the vocal sample is chopped up or simply played around with, but it is an intersection of multiple genres like I have never heard before.
“Summer Friends” is gospel dipped in auto-tune, giving Chance’s thoughtful lyrics about an old neighborhood and friends a confessional tone, like maybe he should be reciting it as monologue onstage, giving the audience insight into a character they thought they knew.
The guests on “Coloring Book” are varied and perfectly placed. Atlanta rappers Young Thug and Lil Yachty add verses to “Mixtape,” and R&B singers Jeremih and T-Pain make strong appearances. The elusive Jay Electronica shows up, as does Future, and the newly musically legitimate Justin Bieber adds vocals to “Juke Jam.”
Released right at the precipice of summer, “Coloring Book” will be the soundtrack to many warm weather days. It has its deeper meaning, its spiritual side, but the celebratory feel means it is sure to be heard through car windows and poolside for at least the next few months.