Friday, May 13, 2016

Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book Review

A three-year wait between mixtapes in the Internet age is unheard of. Then again, not every up-and-coming artist is Chance The Rapper, someone who, in the interim period between then and now, has appeared on albums by Skrillex, Madonna, and Justin Bieber. 2013's Acid Rap allowed Chance to soar out of Chicago and into the globe's consciousness, with an infectious form of Pop Rap that paraded joy despite conditions surrounding him showing anything but. It seemed by all accounts that the Social Experiment member himself foresaw this rise, just take a gander at his three mixtape covers. 10 Day, his debut, sees cartoon Chance looking up, Acid Rap has him confused and lost in the middle, while Coloring Book, his 2016 release, looks down with an assured grin. He's on top of the world now, and he knows it. As a continuation to 'Sunday Candy' and his grand verse on Life Of Pablo's 'Ultralight Beam,' Coloring Book is a glorification of positivity through the eyes of God. And not only does he have to lift the spirits of an entire city, he now has to chaperone his newborn daughter's. Chance's third mixtape is her coloring book, one filled with bright colors, limitless imagination, and a cast of kooky characters.

In an interview with Pharrell on his Beats 1 radio show, Chance confessed that "I didn’t know love until I had my daughter." This, coming from the man who made 'Interlude (That's Love),' one of the most rewarding tracks on infatuation ever made in the genre. And if the guy creating that never felt true love at the time you better hold onto your hats to hear what's next. As expected, Coloring Book sees Chance go Gospel. With Surf's focus on harboring good vibes and the evolution of his Acid Rap sound, that much was obvious. Bringing a new life into this world's sure to have an effect on its creator, and for Chance the best way he knows to help breath positivity through her is with religion and music. If it weren't for an odd digression with Future on 'Smoke Break,' the last three songs on Coloring Book can be seen as Chance, and his collective of friends, welcoming his daughter by way of a baptism. Choirs jump in and out, Kirk Franklin reprises his handyman preacher role, and Noname hands down life lessons like a withered great grandma witnessing her blood run deep.

That's on 'Finish Line / Drown,' which doesn't include 'How Great's' near three-minute zealotic fanaticisms or 'Blessings' revelatory re-awakening. That is all to say Coloring Book may be, by its own grounded standards, the preachiest Hip-Hop album of all-time. Here, God is inescapable, a figure constantly appearing to spread joy to those who choose to cherish him, and Chance is going to make damn sure you know that. What else is obvious though is the fact that this is an ode to his daughter, with tracks like 'D.R.A.M. Sings Special' acting as an affectionate lullaby, overlooking a crib whose sole inhabitant warms your heart with every little squirm. These moments are very much a double-edged sword, as this mixtape is not for everyone. It's sappy, self-indulgent, and, at times, sanctimonious, but that same love and adoration spreads to souls already expecting to be blessed. Rest easy either way though, not every song drowns in this. Chicago hardships, musical merits, and after-hours dance parties branch out Coloring Book to include a somewhat diverse palate guided by Chance's trademark style.

This is where the friends arrive, and boy are they wild. The feature list runs the gamut, with each select plucked distinctly for their role in each respective song. This works to varying effect, based on how far Chance removes himself from his Juke scene. When he's indebted to the city the tracks excel, like lead single 'Angels,' with a show-stealing chorus from Saba, or 'Summer Friends' that reflects on Chicago's violent streak for losing friends. They're wonderfully executed cause Chance knows it best. What's not, and much more inconsistent, is when Chance incorporates the South, a move everyone's doing now, into the soundscape. 'Mixtape,' which features Atlanta's biggest name (Young Thug) and its newest craze (Lil Yachty) fragments Coloring Book thanks to some unnecessary Trap that sees Chance far out of his comfort zone. Thugger and Yachty do their thing but it's so jarring that it can't help but be questionable. Same goes for 'Smoke Break,' albeit to a less obvious degree, with Future. Interestingly enough two legends of the South, 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne, appear on 'No Problem,' a track so seeped in what Chance is known for that it's odd the others didn't do the same.

That's not it though. Hip-Hop's self-proclaimed messiah, Jay Electronica, appears on 'How Great' to provide his once a year expectedly stunning verse, while Justin Bieber ('Juke Jam') and T-Pain ('Finish Line / Drown') fizzle in the middle without contributing much, a good thing I suppose. The biggest offender though is Kanye West on the opener 'All We Got.' Partly because of poor execution, the grand opener is anything but due to a claustrophobic feel where all instruments, including Kanye's vocoder-assisted hook, vie for the top spot. The mixing job found here, and elsewhere, make for a difficult listening experience and that's a shame. The majority of songs, if not let down by mixing issues, struggle to find an identity thanks to Chance's already hazardous production method, which misshapes beauty in an attempt at glory, achieving it only a handful of times. 'No Problem' is a prime example, with a beat that accentuates his style wonderfully, but so much so that it becomes disarranged with vocals splayed out everywhere with no backup contingency plan. 'No Problem,' and others like it, should've heeded the lessons learned on 'Angels,' a track that intertwines all Chance's elements brilliantly.

In terms of foundational variety, Coloring Book bears the same similarities to Acid Rap, and even though all spots don't land, that's a good thing. There's a healthy dose of highs, middles, and lows here, so if one facet of the Social Experiment enigma isn't your thing (Coloring Book does continue Surf's way of handling production) another will surely catch your eye. While a bit out of place the Kaytranada-produced 'All Night' tantalizes with a vibrating beat that uses funky instrumentation to graze a giddy hook by Knox Fortune. An embellishment of Chance's aesthetic, the screwy 'Summer Friends' forces listeners to dance at Chance's downest moment too, with excellent pacing and spacious use of Francis & The Lights' background harmonizing. Finally, the low humdrum of 'Juke Jam' make it anything but, crawling at a snail's pace by Coloring Book's standards without anything interesting to boot, something 'Same Drugs' does to the same effect but with a much better outcome. A large appeal of Chance's is his inflection that drives the sound, causing diversity in the smallest of places, and while the choir hooks may become tiresome to some there's enough elsewhere to make up for it.

Unfortunately, Coloring Book, whilst definitively a Chance mixtape, feels less authoritative than Acid Rap, a release that launched him thanks to a premier focus on the self. Apart from the stretch where Childish Gambino, Action Bronson, and Ab-Soul appeared rather uncomfortably Acid Rap was largely a Chance, and a Chicagoan, affair, with the bevy of features being birthed out of the area. They're here too, but so is Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, and the radio, and each time someone not in Chance's close-knit circle appears Coloring Book distances itself from something special. While the Chicago scene may not be the biggest it's arguably the most important, the lack of exclusivity here lessens its appeal, even if slightly. Add to that the content's lack of urgency, where 'Summer Friends' can't hold a candle to 'Pusha Man's' desperation, 'Blessings' waters down 'Sunday Candy's' impervious grace, and 'Same Drugs' lacks the personal touch of 'Cocoa Butter Kisses,' and you have a release that sees Chance becoming more mature, slowly losing the untamed kid inside him. But hey, that comes with the onset of parenting, and for Chance, Coloring Book is exactly what him, and his daughter, needed. A grand affair that's rough around the edges.

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