The Breakdown: Coloring Book, by Chance the Rapper

Micah: I have been waiting for this album for a long time. Acid Rap came out three years ago, and Surf felt more like a Social Experiment album featuring Chance than the other way around. I’ve been missing that positive, bouncy, gospel-tinged raps from the fiercely independent Chance the Rapper. Since he got on the map, Chance has reinvested his momentum back into the musicians that helped him create his music, the city he lived in, and his sonic foundation.

Henry: So clearly I’m a Chance stan, to the point that I couldn’t even wait for this review to write a little piece ruminating on the underlying religiosity of Coloring Book, specifically on how it succeeds in being sincere and nuanced instead of proselytizing and corny. But that piece was really just general musings and didn’t actually dig into the tape at all. And one of the reasons that the overtly spiritual parts of this tape work is that they are contextualized with a lot of other interesting and personal stuff, and set to some really good music to boot. Point being, there’s a lot to talk about here. Let’s get to it.


1. All We Got (featuring Kanye West & Chicago Children’s Choir)

Produced by The Social Experiment

Henry: Love Donnie ringing this one in with the horn, and I could listen to Chance say “and we back,” for probably a whole album and love it. Honestly though the Kanye’s autotune drop is a bit jarring. Just let the kids sing.

Micah: Loving the throwback to Good Ass Intro from Acid Rap, but I have mixed feelings about the Kanye twist added here. I’m not completely sure that the Black Skinhead-esque aggressive brass works with the band, and the autotune is too much. That being said, there is a lot about this song that I enjoy. Although there are a lot of similarities between the intro to this album and Good Ass Intro, the difference between the two is consistent with the rest of the album.

Acid Rap was made by a kid fresh out of high school, with no spotlight and only the faintest dreams of working with Kanye, let alone sharing writing credits. After becoming a father, gaining national spotlight and touring endlessly, Chance has learned a lot. He’s learned what kind of songs he wants to play over and over while on the road. He’s shifted his priorities towards creating a family and building a successful business with a conscious. His new music is more calculated and precise, sometimes at the loss of the spontaneity and the carefree personality found on Acid Rap

 

2. No Problem (featuring Lil’ Wayne & 2 Chainz)

Produced by BrassTracks

Henry: Definitely the summer banger, middle fingers raised to every major label, laughing all the way through. He’s not always my favorite, but I love 2 Chainz on this track. He brings that throwback dirty south flow, which is a nice sonic contrast to Chance’s verse. The Weezy feature is ok, I don’t dislike it, but it’s pretty similar to Chance’s own (better) sing-song flow, so it brings less to the song than the artist formerly known as Tity Boi.

Micah: I wouldn’t have guessed that one of my favorite songs from Chance’s followup to Acid Rap would feature Lil’ Wayne and 2 Chainz, but it’s true. The first time I listened to this album at the gym, I cut a minute off my fastest treadmill mile and this song had a lot to do with it. The hook is incredibly catchy, I’ve been singing it under my breath for three days straight while working on this review. I love the rolling bassline and the vocal sampling. This song really came together well sonically.

Unfortunately, it’s held back by the featured rappers who completely ignore what the song is about–fighting the music industry to reclaim creative and financial control  for artists. How amazing would it have been if Weezy used this song as a platform to talk about his issues with Birdman and Cash Money Records? Wouldn’t you want to hear Wayne sing the hook directly to Birdman and then drop Carter 6? These guest verses are a missed opportunity if you ask me, but that is not going to stop me from enjoying the hell out of this song.

 

3. Summer Friends (featuring Jeremih & Francis and The Lights)

Produced by Sam Maunsell

Henry: I still haven’t quite come around to the autotune. I know, it’s the style now, and it does work well on this intro, I just think the unmanipulated human voice tends to be more powerful and evocative. That being said, Chance is getting at some real stuff here. It’s kind of a spiritual sequel to “Paranoia,” this time a little happier, but still bittersweet. It’s another meditation on summertime, thinking about what seasons mean and how that meaning changes as we get older and grow apart, which is what this album is all about.

Micah: I really like the way this song brings down the energy after the first two tracks. The ethereal vocals in the beginning remind me of Bon Iver and I can’t get enough of Chance’s flow. The Jeremih outro is gorgeous especially in the second half when he adds harmony. This is the perfect song to listen to at sunset. Love it.

 

4. D.R.A.M. Sings Special

Produced by The Social Experiment

Henry: This is what I mean about voices without autotune being more powerful and evocative. Great feel good interlude, and I love the organ line at the end of this track.

Micah: This is the warm and fuzzy vibe I love about D.R.A.M. When I listen to this song, I feel like a little baby being rocked to sleep by soothing crooning. I’m curious how Chance would approach this song vocally, but I’m sure this is better. These kind of songs are difficult to do right, without going too over the top with sugary sweetness, but nothing feels disingenuous here. Great stuff.

 

5. Blessings

Produced by The Social Experiment

Henry: Again, love Donnie Trumpet on this one. The horns are like beams of light across the simplicity of the rest of the production behind Chance, who wields his verses like a pair of flaming swords:

Chisel me into stone prayer, whistle me into song air,

dying laughing with Krillin, saying something ‘bout blonde hair.

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.

The poetics here are razor sharp, using Dragonball Z’s Super-Saiyan transformation (which changes Goku’s hair from black to blonde) in reference to laughable depictions of Jesus as a blonde surfer guy, then likening the messiah’s crucifixion to the senseless killings spurring the black lives matter movement? These are the kinds of metaphorical associations that can go so horribly, offensively wrong, but Chance makes them work. Lyrically, this might be his tightest song to date. And that ad-lib as he watches the walls of Jericho fall? Good god.

Micah: I love the message of this song. “They want four minute songs / You need a four hour praise dance performed every morn,” which is exactly what this album turned out as. This song could have easily fit into the Surf with music from The Social Experiment and the heavy gospel influence. I’m definitely feeling the positivity on this song and will be keeping it in rotation.

 

6. Same Drugs

Produced by Lido & The Social Experiment

Henry: This track is another testament to the layers of nuance that Chance is getting at with his writing. It’s not about advocating or condemning drug use, just using it as an entrance to a meditation on getting older and changing, growing apart and looking back on what you used to be and who you used to be with.

Micah: There is a lot to unpack here, and I’m sure this song will take more time than others to click for me. I really like the way Chance sings on this piano ballad, but I feel like there’s a layer to this song lyrically that I don’t fully understand yet. I’m going to continue enjoying this song and see how it grows on me.

 

7. Mixtape (featuring Young Thug & Lil’ Yachty)

Produced by CBMIX & Stix

Henry: I get that this is the turn-up jam, and I do actually like the way it’s placed on the mixtape in that it’s a demonstration of Chance’s really broad appeal, but it still sticks out like a sore thumb. Complaining about how comparatively thoughtless this track seems makes me feel like an old person, and maybe that’s the point.

Micah: I really wanted this song to be great. Thugger’s discography is very hit or miss for me, and I was sure Chance would be able to bring the best out of him, but this song falls short. The beat is nothing special and the melodies in the verses are mediocre. The collaboration sounds forced and the production doesn’t fit on the tape.

 

8. Angels (featuring Saba)

Produced by Lido & The Social Experiment

Henry: This one has been out for a while, but it’s still refreshing to hear after the murky drill banger that is “Mixtape.”

Micah: I’ve been playing this song since it was released. The beat is fantastic and Saba’s hook is unbelievably catchy. Even though I’m not sure what “woo woo this woo wap da bam” means, I like the way it sounds. In the song, Chance talks about his growth spurts, wifing his baby momma and going from a Xanax addiction to becoming “the blueprint to a real man”. The line “This what it sound like when God split an atom with me / I even had Steve giving out apples for free” is especially dope to me. Overall the song is incredibly danceable and catchy while championing growing up and bettering yourself. Love this one.

 

9. Juke Jam (featuring Justin Bieber & Towkio)

Produced by Rascal

Henry: Having Bieber on this track is sorta growing on me. Chance would sound better singing the lines, but the fact that this song is about adolescent relationships actually makes his inclusion make a whole lot more sense thematically. Still, not my favorite.

Micah: This is a low point on the album for me. The moody slow jam is a little too much to me with the over-the-top singing from the Biebs and the lackluster production. This is clearly a track intended to provide crossover between Chance’s and Bieber’s fanbase. While I might like this song a little more than their first collaboration, neither really work for me.

 

10. All Night (featuring Knox Fortune)

Produced by Kaytranada

Henry: Kaytranada knows how to lay down a groove, and this is another track that could easily slip into cliche, but doesn’t, as Chance gives us a hilarious commentary on party scenes and the social dynamics surrounding his fame. “Long discussion, oh, you my cousin? No you wasn’t, you just wanna ride.”

Micah: I mess with this song. The catchy chorus and the infectious instrumental from Kaytranada will keep this in rotation all summer. I love when Chance wails “Is you or is you ain’t got gas money”, which I guess makes up for the “fart on the seat” line. I wish this song was longer, but I’ll just put it on repeat to make up for it.

 

11. How Great (featuring Jay Electronica & My Cousin Nicole)

Produced by The Social Experiment

Henry: Probably my favorite track here. Jay Elec is one of the two features on this album that can lyrically (and spiritually) match Chance, and Chano featuring his cousin Nicole underscores the importance of family, which again, is a central theme of Coloring Book.

Micah: This song presents an interesting dichotomy between the two major influences on this tape, gospel and Chance’s brand of melodic hip hop. Split almost exactly in half, this song is half gospel choir interpreting Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” and half vocabulary contest with overly complicated wordplay over one of the best beats on the album. While the first half can drag while I’m waiting to hear Jay’s verse, I think it’s important that this song have two equal parts, showing that spirituality and rap music can work side-by-side and forcing the listener to eat their vegetables before dessert.

When it comes to the verses, I love Chance’s cadence and the Harry Potter references, but lines like “With the faith of a pumpkin-seed-sized mustard seed” seems forced. Jay Electronica, the greatest rapper that never was, delivers some of his fastests cadences to date, and it is undoubtedly the best rapping on the album. But for some reason I have trouble believing him when he says “This is the year that I come for the crown.”

 

12. Smoke Break (featuring Future)

Produced by GARREN

Henry: Yet another great example of how Chance is able to take the basic rap trope of the weed smoking song and turn it into a meditation on growing up and being responsible and stuff. This isn’t my favorite track, Future doesn’t do a whole lot for me here, but thematically it works.

Micah: This is a cool song. Not one of my favorites on the album, but it think it fits in. I think Future adds a lot to the song, and I think Chance’s flow and melody is influenced a lot by Future’s presence. Definitely a good song, but not a highlight on the album. Maybe it will grow on me. There were a lot of songs on Acid Rap that I didn’t learn how to enjoy until months after listening. Maybe that will happen again here.

 

13. Finish Line/Drown (featuring T-Pain, Kirk Franklin, Eryn Allen Kane, Noname)

Produced by The Social Experiment

Micah: This two part finale is the longest track on the album and I love it. It’s got the gospel choir, the “we back, and we back, and we back…”, and even another Harry Potter reference. The transition from Finish Line to Drown is way too abrupt to warrant putting them together in my opinion and I wish the flow from one to the other was smoother or the two tracks separated more. Former gypsy, Noname gives one of the best verses on the tape, continuing her hot streak with featured verses and her recent single “Freedom Interlude”. She sounds great with The Social Experiment and I would love to hear a whole project with her and Donnie Trumpet in front of the band.

Henry: Finish Line feels like a throwback to the days of Surf, and even before that. Chance sounds younger here than he has on most of the rest of the album, and instrumentally it has a classic feel that you just can’t get without the live band. I agree that the transition between the two songs is a bit abrupt, but Noname makes me forget all about that. I said earlier that Jay Elec was one of the two features who can hold their own with Chance. She’s the other one. Her voice is a soft as her lyrics are pointed. Definitely looking forward to hearing more of her in the future.

 

14. Blessings (Reprise)

Produced by Cam O’bi & The Social Experiment

Micah: This feels like the encore to the album, after the big finale with the previous tracks. I like this rendition of Blessings more than the first. Chance rapping over harmonized vocals works really well and he delivers some of his strongest bars. The album credits show that Ty Dolla $ign, BJ the Chicago Kid, Anderson .Paak and Raury contributed to the writing and singing in the background, and after learning that I’ve started to make them out as they pop in and out of the mix. This is a fantastic benediction to a very strong follow up to Acid Rap. Chance has something special going for him and I hope he keeps his momentum and maintains his humility.

Henry: I wouldn’t worry. I think Chance knows the path, and he’s not afraid to walk it. As I said before, I’m a big Chance Stan, but how can you not be? This is as close to universally likeable music as you can get. The way this song builds is downright chilling, and when that bass drops? I mean come on. If you don’t smile and maybe even cry when you hear this, I truly pity you.

You ready big fella?


AND WE BACK, AN INTRO TO CHANCE THE RAPPER

  1. Acid Rap – Acid Rap
  2. The Worst Guys (featuring Chance the Rapper) – Childish Gambino
  3. Slip Slide (featuring Busta Rhymes, B.O.B., Janelle Monae, BJ the Chicago Kid & Ady Suleman) – Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
  4. Coca Butter Kisses (featuring Vic Mensa & Twista)
  5. Good Ass Intro (featuring JP Floyd, Will Miller & BJ the Chicago Kid) – Acid Rap
  6. Ultralight Beam (featuring Chance the Rapper & Kirk Franklin) – Kanye West
  7. Life ‘Round Here (featuring Chance the Rapper) – James Blake
  8. Juice – Acid Rap
  9. Wendy N Becky (featuring Chance the Rapper) – Joey Bada$$
  10. Baby Blue (featuring Chance the Rapper) – Action Bronson
  11. Everybody’s Something (featuring Saba & BJ the Chicago Kid) – Acid Rap
  12. Paranoia – Acid Rap
  13. Favorite Song (featuring Childish Gambino) – Acid Rap
  14. Somewhere in Paradise (featuring Jeremih & R. Kelly) – Somewhere in Paradise (Single)
  15. All My Friends (featuring Chance the Rapper) – Snakehips
  16. Lost (featuring Noname) – Acid Rap
  17. Familiar (featuring King Louie & Quavo)
  18. You Song (featuring Chance the Rapper) – Lil’ Wayne
  19. Gentleman (featuring Chance the Rapper, Just A Band & Bajah
  20. Sunday Candy (featuring Jamila Woods) – Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
  21. Church (featuring Chance the Rapper & Buddy) – BJ the Chicago Kid
  22. Israel (Sparring) (featuring Noname) – Israel (Sparring) (Single)
  23. Beddy Bye

Henry Whittier-Ferguson & Micah Roehlkepartain