REVIEW: ‘Coloring Book’ is Chance The Rapper at his best, most reverent

chance coloring

Artist: Chance the Rapper
Album: Coloring Book
Genre: Hip-Hop, Gospel

Where were you when you first heard “Ultralight Beam”? Was it during the streaming event Kanye West held at Madison Square Garden to premiere The Life of Pablo? Beyond the event that is a Kanye album release, we also got the already famous verse from fellow Chicago native Chance The Rapper that started the hype for Chance 3, now known as Coloring Book. Since that day all the way back in February, we got very little news. We now knew the mixtape was coming, but no one knew when. Then, at the end of April, Chance changed his social media pictures to the cover art you see above. Two weeks and a couple of singles later, here we are. Three months after “Ultralight Beam” blew our minds, Coloring Book shares many similarities with that verse. It’s unapologetically Chance, deeply rooted in spirituality and religion, and absolutely brilliant.

It’s hard not to start with the religious overtones of Coloring Book, because they are prevalent in every facet of the album. There are a number of songs that are directly religious in subject matter, like the gospel choir-backed “How Great,” the exalting “Blessings” and its reprise, and “Angels,” featuring another Chicago rapper, Saba. “Sing with me / how great is our God,” the choir proclaims on “How Great,” but even in songs that don’t have God as their focus, the influence of religion and gospel can still be felt. There’s the excellent choir sample on “No Problem,” the celebratory horns of “Finish Line / Drown,” and the appearance of the Chicago Children’s Choir on opening track “All We Got.” More than just the musical elements though, Chance carries the best qualities of spirituality into his lyrics. The album is equal parts full of praise, self-reflection, hope, and thankfulness. Even for those who don’t consider themselves particularly religious, these are qualities that resonate and should be aspired to. Chance has clearly entered into a good place in his life, and is able to look around and appreciate his faith, what brought him to this point, and remaining hopeful through it all. “Don’t forget the happy thoughts / All you need is happy thoughts,” Chance reminds us on “Same Drugs.”

Coloring Book is also notable for the quality and number of guest features. Seriously, everyone is on this album. There are 20 listed features, plus a few that are unlisted. Kanye West returns the favor from TLOP and delivers an autotune-drenched hook on “All We Got.” 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne drop great verses on “No Problem,” including the latter commiserating with Chance about label problems. Recent R&B star Jeremih gives a silky smooth outro to “Summer Friends,” and Justin Bieber’s bridge on “Juke Jam” will be on repeat in your head. Knox Fortune provides the chorus to the catchy and hilarious “All Night,” a song about the people who cling to Chance now that he’s famous (“Is you is or is you ain’t got gas money / no IOUs or debit cards I need cash money” will probably always make me laugh). Future continues knocking guest verses out of the park on “Smoke Break,” and Jay Electronica delivers a moving verse about faith while also referencing The Lion King in “How Great.” It might seem unnecessary to list all these features, but they’re all incredible and perfectly meld with the production and the vision Chance has.

By the time the star-studded chorus singing “Are you ready for your blessings? / Are you ready for your miracle?” fades away at the end of the album, Chance has taken listeners on a musical and spiritual journey. It’s been a long time since I’ve been as moved by an album as I am by Coloring Book. It’s fun, insightful, uplifting, thought-provoking, and everything else that we know Chance The Rapper can be. Now excuse me while I go refresh Chance’s website until tickets for the tour go on sale…

SCORE: 9/10

Gabe Aikins

Gabe Aikins resides in Michigan and writes with his trusty 18-year-old cat by his side. When not writing, he is more than likely working through his back catalogue of video games or reading a book. Follow him on Twitter to listen to him give opinions on pop culture and yell about sports.
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