Third time’s the charm! Chance has always been a background character for me; Acid Rap was okay but it didn’t grab me like his new mixtape did. In fact he was actually off my radar until his fantastic feature on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam” (the best feature on The Life of Pablo). Before that he was just that guy on Action Bronson’s “Baby Blue”. I realise now, however, that the hype he’s achieved is more than warranted, with the release of what is sure to be one of the best mixtapes this year.
Remember everyone’s complaints about Kanye never reverting back to his College Dropout era sound? Well, Chance did it for him. All the hallmarks are here: clean instrumentation, fantastic choral arrangements and best of all—this mixtape is fun. When compared to Drake’s newest release Views, which is packed full of pretentiousness and posturing and leaves no room for honest fun, the contrast is outstanding. Every major hip hop release this year has followed Drake’s pattern of a few trap ‘bangers’, followed by whining about cash, women, and not getting enough ‘respect’. It’s so monotonous to listen to day in, day out. So imagine how surprised I was to see that Chance’s mixtape, lo and behold, is lyrically positive! He actually sounds like he wants to be rapping and making music, like an overzealous younger sibling that’s just happy to be hanging out with you and your older friends.
Even when this mixtape lowers the mood, it comes across as genuine instead of a pity party. Heck even Justin “Bugatti” Biebs has a feature that doesn’t offend. While I’m definitely not a Belieber myself, as a featured voice he is impressive. Lil Wayne’s verse is actually intelligible (for once), and Kanye avoids this hallmark “big head mode,” keeping his feature small but tasteful. Even Young Thug has a feature; this can generally make or break a track, but his verse on Coloring Book not only makes sense but is really fantastic. 2 Chainz brings his usual swagger and even T-Pain has been recruited for a chorus feature with his trademark auto tuned vocals. However the best feature has to go to the Chicago Children’s Choir. Chance and Kanye struck gold; they sound just beautiful. Chance also has his own flesh-and-blood cousin Nicole feature, who I presume is behind the amazing gospel choir vocals on “How Great”. The effect is immense; it makes me feel like I’m in a massive congregation, and I honestly didn’t want it to end.
Coloring Book feels like a celebration. It’s Chance’s audio party. Like a party, we have the elated moments on “All We Got” and “Finish Line/Drown”. We also have the comedown and the more somber moments on tracks like “Same Drugs” and “Juke Jam”. There are a few interesting lyrics that one could call “struggle bars,” but in the scheme of things, it’s a minor downside. While no one is going to compare this record’s lyrical complexity to the Kendrick Lamar’s of the world, I don’t feel like that was the point—this mixtape is a just one big celebration. Chance’s joy at being able to do what he does is so infectious you can’t help but groove along with him; you don’t need a history lesson on all his drama to understand it like you do with Kanye, or a dose of misogyny and a Toronto Raptors jersey like you do with Drake. My only hope is that people see this mixtape and start to replicate it; hip hop needs more positive, uplifting mixtapes.
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