A publication is supposed to publish write-ups of albums and mixtapes that let people know whether those projects are worth listening to, whether they’re worth the time and money that listeners have to pay out of their hard-earned salaries. When it comes to Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper’s most recent project—released last Thursday—those considerations are moot for a number of reasons, not least of which that Chance is still committed to giving away his product for free. It’s probably true that as this goes to press, most Chicagoans have already heard the album, so think of this instead as an appreciation—not just for the music of Coloring Book, which is singular, warm, and welcoming, but for Chancellor Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper, the “blueprint to a real man,” who has remained committed to his city, his people, and his angels on 79th in more ways than any of us could have imagined.
And if you haven’t: listen to Coloring Book. Appreciate Chance the Rapper. After all, “music is all we got.”
The latest offering from Chatham’s own isn’t the story of “entertainers who always leave” and never look back. It’s another, less common one—of the kid who grew up, saw the sights, made friends in high places, gained hordes of admirers, and then looked around at the world at his feet and said, “You know what, I think I’m good on the whole ‘world-beater’ thing. Do you guys wanna just hang at my place instead?”
Previous entries in Chance’s now-storied discography were sprawling, cramming in as much as they could to show, as he said in an interview with Hot 97’s Ebro Darden, “what I can do eventually.” Coloring Book strips away the unnecessary—fewer bars, fewer offhand experiments, less showing off—in favor of something more concise and at ease, even if it’s not the oft-feted “debut album” that he will (hopefully) someday release. Gospel intros, instrumental breaks, and layers upon layers of instrumentation thicken the mix, and allow it to settle in the grooves the songs form, taking the sound Donnie Trumpet and his Social Experiment explored on Surf and allowing it to settle around its natural protagonist.
The mixtape features a star-studded cast, making it obvious that Chance is thinking bigger than he was on 10 Day, Acid Rap, or even Surf. But their quickness and precision leaves room for Chicago’s own sweethearts—check how Towkio easily outstrips Justin Bieber on slow jam “Juke Jam,” or Noname’s honey-coated verse on “Finish Line.” Chance makes some nods to the roots and styles of his collaborators—“Mixtape,” for example, has Chance trying on the triplet flow of partners in crime Young Thug and Lil Yachty for a braggadocio-filled track about their respective idiosyncrasies as artists. “No Problem” is a straight-ahead banger, complete with 2 Chainz verse.
But those “sacrifices” to genre staples and distant rap stars are sandwiched between effusive odes to city, family, and God, which have always been Chance’s three pillars. There’re the gospel interludes from Kirk Franklin, Jamila Woods, and Ty Dolla $ign, plus the featured vocal on “How Great” attributed to “My cousin Nicole.” There’s also “Summer Friends,” arguably the most emotional of all tracks on the tape, in which Chance wanders back and forth between fond memories of Harold’s and mumbled eulogies for friends of his that have fallen victim to gun violence during Chicago’s summers. He repeats his home street of 79th until it becomes a mantra, then slips away to let fellow South Sider Jeremih sing us home.
“i wish i loved anything as much as people from chicago love chicago,” reads a recent tweet from Brooklyn writer Morgan Parker. When Chance croons about rolling at “The Rink” (on 87th Street by Avalon Park) or turns 79th Street into his city on a hill, that love becomes the fullest it could be, amplified until the whole world can hear it.