I can still remember the first time I heard Chance the Rapper. It was in 2013, not long after Acid Rap had dropped, and I was making the 11-hour drive from Dallas to St. Louis.
The song was “Pusha Man/Paranoia,” and it absolutely blew me away. The whole track is great, but after the long pause between “Pusha Man” and Paranoia,” when Chance spits, I’ve been riding around with my blunt on my lips/ With the sun in my eyes and my gun on my hip, I knew I had just discovered one of my new favorite artists.
Acid Rap is an all-time classic, and I still have not grown tired of hearing songs such as “Pusha Man/Paranoia,” “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” “Juice,” “Interlude (That’s Love)” and “Favorite Song.”
Here we are, three years later, and Chance is having a hell of a 2016. He stole the show with his verse on “Ultralight Beam,” the best song on Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, and on Friday, he released Coloring Book, his solo follow-up to Acid Rap.
So … is Coloring Book any good? Yes, my friends. Yes, it is.
Chance has crafted a dense, detailed record that alternates between “Ultralight Beam”-esque, positivity-soaked gospel and fun, carefree party anthems.
It’s tempting to just go and compare it to Acid Rap, but that isn’t fair to Chance’s talents or his vision. He and his producers have developed a one-of-a-kind sound that is loose, inspiring, and refreshingly enthusiastic.
Also, much like a Kanye album—and unlike, say, one from Drake or Meek Mill—Coloring Book offers a ton of variety. Listeners get the sense that anything can happen at any moment, and if you expect something to happen, it almost certainly will not.
Chance kicks things off by flexing his Rolodex a bit, opening with the Kanye-assisted “All We Got” and “No Problems,” which features recent B.F.F.s Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz. Both tracks are solid, and “No Problems” especially is a lot of fun to listen to while driving around with the windows down, but things stumble just a bit with “Summer Friends” and the random weirdness of “D.R.A.M. Sings Special.”
Fear not, though, because Chance flat-out kills it after that, knocking out of the park with four straight classics: “Blessings,” “Same Drugs,” “Mixtape,” and “Angels.”
“Blessings” is a bit of a sequel to “Ultralight Beam,” with a little more rapping and a little less Kirk Franklin (Don’t worry, Franklin fans; he shows up later on “Finish Line/Drown”) At the end of the day, “Blessings” might be the album’s most powerful song, and Chance’s entire first verse is electric: Jesus’ black life ain’t matter, I know I talked to his daddy / Said you the man of the house now, look out for your family / He has ordered my steps, gave me a sword with a crest / And gave Donnie a trumpet in case I get shortness of breath
I have to give some love to “Mixtape” as well. Producer Stix steps in, piecing together a slow, murky beat that perfectly fits guest stars Young Thug and Lil’ Yachty. Chance even switches up his flow for the song, sounding distant and disoriented as he spits about mixtapes, listening to Kanye’s College Dropout, and his the creative freedom he has thanks to releasing independent mixtapes instead of studio albums.
Coloring Book has a lot of other highlights, but this would get way too long if I went into detail about each one. I will say, though, that anyone curious about Chance needs to listen to both the Kaytranada-produced “All Day” and “How Great,” which features more than three minutes of gospel singing before Chance and Jay Electronica show up and drop phenomenal verses. Jay’s is especially powerful: I was lost in the jungle like Simba after the death of Mufasa / No hog, no meerkat, hakuna matata by day / But I spent my night time fighting tears back / I prayed and prayed and left messages but never got no hear back, or so it seemed / A mustard seed was all I needed to sow a dream / I build the ark to gently, gently, row my boat down Noah’s stream / Sometimes the path I took to reach my petty goals was so extreme
I could go on and on here, but I won’t. The only track I straight-up can’t get into is “Juke Joint,” which features Justin Bieber (?!) and Towkio singing as Chance raps about a young relationship. And even “Juke Joint” isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just … kind of there.
And, OK, I’ll give in to the temptation. Is this new record as good as Acid Rap? It’s too early to really tell, but … probably not. Who cares, though? It’s still a lot of fun, especially once you start to acclimate to all of the different sounds and ideas Chance is playing with.
I highly recommend giving Coloring Book a listen. If you like your hip-hop to have a lot to say without taking itself too seriously, you will love what you hear.
Coloring Book is an Apple exclusive for another week or so, but you can also listen over at LiveMixtapes.com. Just click here.