It’s not easy to find someone that emits more positivity than hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper, who released his third studio mixtape “Coloring Book” last Friday. One look at the mixtape’s gorgeous cover art makes that even more clear, as Chance smiles to himself with his back to a bright and colorful landscape.
Chance, who has defied music industry standards by remaining independent and giving away his music for free, is a believer in people. One of the defining tracks of his beloved 2013 mixtape “Acid Rap” found him gleefully proclaiming that “everybody’s somebody’s everything.” A similar sentiment runs through “Coloring Book,” coming to a head on the mixtape’s lone interlude, which finds rapper D.R.A.M. singing “You are very special/You’re special too/Everyone is special.”
Where “Coloring Book” takes a different path is the way it incorporates Chance’s religious nature. Remember when Kanye West told us that “The Life of Pablo” would be a Gospel album, and outside of the Chance-featuring “Ultralight Beam,” that proved to be completely untrue? “Coloring Book” fully embraces that promise, bringing on a host of Gospel choirs and dedicating large chunks of the mixtape to letting them shine.
This Gospel influence appears right at the outset, as West returns the favor with an assist on “All We Got,” an impressive opening track that calls upon the Chicago Children’s Choir for help. The first of two tracks named “Blessings” is a direct love letter to God, with Jamila Woods singing “I’m gon’ praise Him, praise Him till I’m gone” on the hook.
“How Great” opens with nearly three minutes of Chance’s cousin Nicole singing the song “How Great is Our God,” followed by many religious references in verses from both Chance and welcome guest Jay Electronica. It’s certainly a refreshing and admirable path for a hip-hop project to take, although certain listeners may react poorly to the religious themes’ massive presence. Others will be in love.
Now, as a rap mixtape, “Coloring Book” is quite impressive. Chance has rounded up a diverse and impressive roster of collaborators, and they occasionally deliver greatness. Rappers 2 Chainz, Lil Yachty and Future stop by from the world of trap to lay down great verses, while singers Saba and Justin Bieber handle two of the mixtape’s best melodies.
Interestingly enough, with so many features scattered across the track list (there are 19 credited, and many more uncredited), the mixtape flattens some of Chance’s sheer individuality. On “No Problem,” “Mixtape” and “Smoke Again,” he seems to take on the flows and styles of his guests rather than do his own thing.
Regardless, those three tracks are some of the best here, and that can be partially attributed to Chance’s versatility. But fans of the verbal gymnastics and spastic ad-libbing of the rapper’s previous efforts may leave “Coloring Book” somewhat disappointed.
What carried over flawlessly from Chance’s backlog, especially “Acid Rap,” is the effortless ability to conjure summer vibes. Get used to “All Night,” an infectious dance anthem ready-made to stand next to Drake’s “One Dance,” because it’s going to be playing for a while. “Angels” and “Juke Jam” are similar stories. It’s almost expected from high-profile rap releases these days, but the production here is uniformly stellar.
It’s clear that even on the cusp of superstardom, Chance is unafraid to take chances. By continuously refusing to sign with a major label, and infusing his latest efforts with such divisive creative choices as the heavy religious influence, he’s doing things his way. He believes in himself, and by continuing to create strong music like this, he’s turning the rest of us into believers too.
Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.