Rating: 8.7 / 10
Chance The Rapper opens his highly anticipated third mixtape, “Coloring Book,” gleefully repeating the phrase “And we back” alongside crescending beat claps and evolving harmonies. This is the first of many instances on the tape where we find ourselves contentedly questioning where, in God’s name, has Chance been? And, more importantly, can we go, too?
The answer to the former, if Chance were to provide it, would likely start and end on South Side Chicago’s 79th Street — a street that he emphatically reps and a city where, as this latest project affirms, he has ascended from another no-name-rapper to the prodigal son.
Somewhere within that timeline, though, Chance rose further above the Chicago streets and all other earthly terrain to create “Coloring Book,” a project, where his devout spirituality is not just on full display, but unabashedly contagious. “Coloring Book” is not so much a collection of songs but a spiritual excursion — one which begins by way of the sonically dynamic and Kanye West-featuring “All We Got,” reaches its uplifting peak with the trumpeting pre-released single, “Angels,” descends into the spiritual hymn of “How Great,” and culminates with the lyrically potent closing track, “Blessings.”
There are moments within this metaphysical sanctity, though, where Chance levels. “Same Drugs” is a stripped down, self-reflective lullaby that finds him taken aback by the inevitable changes that coincide with aging and fatherhood. “Juke Jam” takes this self-reflection to “the rink” on Chicago’s 87th Street where he first learned to dance. “Smoke Break” is an ambitious Future-assisted slow jam, on which weed paraphernalia, motherhood and cereal bowls become one and the same.
“Coloring Book” is a tape equal parts self-aggrandizing and self-effacing. One which, as America endures widespread turbulence and hip-hop, by no coincidence, continues to welcome spiritualism and enlightenment into its mainstream vernacular, formally puts Chance at the forefront of the evolution.
It has been pointed out that Chance’s first two mixtapes (“10 Day” and “Acid Rap”) feature his face looking up and then front-and-center, while “Coloring Book” features him staring down — an obvious portrayal of both his artistic and personal growth. Chance has undoubtedly reached new heights and, to answer the latter question posed at the top of the page, it is a journey which we are indeed taken along.
Through “Coloring Book,” Chance guides us both through his and toward our own personalized salvation. One where halos worn as hats are the latest fashion, where our happiest moments prevail as our only memories and where heaven’s gates are no longer impalpable.