Chance the Rapper‘s self-released third full-length mixtape Coloring Book is one of the most vivid and outstanding hip-hop album of the year so far. Coloring Book tackles large-scale notions of life, death and violence by manifesting as a symbolic prayer for a better future. With help from a number of big-name collaborators, Chance the Rapper delivers his project with the utmost clarity: proclaiming freedom and hopefulness tinted with a soulful influence.

‘Coloring Book’ by Chance the Rapper Album Review

Compared to Chance the Rapper’s chaotic 2013 release Acid Rap, the Chicago MC seems to have acquired a newfound coherence both thematically and sonically, a clarity that is undoubtedly inspired by the gospel influences that make up a large part of Coloring Book. Most tracks from the mixtape, in fact, contain gospel choir vocals, reframing the record’s themes in a spiritualized context.

Chance the Rapper’s last major appearance this year was on fellow Chicago rapper Kanye West‘s “Ultralight Beams” from The Life of Pablo. Here West returns the favor by lending his vocals on the hook and outro of opener “All We Got.” West and Chance are joined by The Chicago Children’s Choir, whose vocals throw us into the gospel context of the mixtape right off the bat. “Music is all we got,” Chance proclaims. The comparison between the two rappers is easily on everyone’s mind with a track like “All We Got,” but Chance’s authority on Coloring Book is subtle and seamless. There is a certain humility about Chance the Rapper that perhaps distinguishes him from West in a major way without taking away from the quality of his artistry in any way.

The more soulful/gospel tracks have a pronounced social message. Coloring Book is largely a symbolic prayer for the rapper’s hometown of Chicago as well as a larger appeal to be kinder, less aggressive to one another, more compassionate. “How Great,” featuring Jay Electronica and Chance’s cousin Nicole, is perhaps the most pronounced example of this with its extensive gospel intro and sermon-like verses. The song’s pronounced vibrant synths are a testament to the eclectic direction in which Chance has steered his creative output. “Summer Friends,” featuring Jeremiah and Francis & The Lights, is another example of how the varied sampling and collaborative work that Chance is confidently exploring with this mixtape can yield surprisingly good results.

“Blessings,” on the other hand, unfolds slowly over easy-going R&B beats, which is another distinct characteristic of Coloring Book. Featuring vocals by Jamila Woods on the chorus, the track has Chance taking a humble and vulnerable position. The second part of “Blessings,” which is also the mixtape’s closer is similarly unobtrusive in its progression from one-man heartfelt rap to an impeccably synchronized harmony of diverse vocals and sounds.

Apart from the markedly more soulful turn on Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper has also upped his game when it comes to his classic R&B sound. On more personal tracks like “Angels,” featuring Saba, and “Juke Jam,” featuring Justin Bieber and Towkio, the artist takes diverging routes to create his signature R&B style. The former track is more upbeat, with surprising tropical notes in the background, whereas the latter is more toned-down and verse-driven. In both cases, however, Chance’s vocals and exquisite lyrics are what stands out the most – he is unpretentious yet confident, ambitious and able to follow through

There seems to be an apparent thematic and sonic disparity between most tracks on the mixtape – they all sound extremely diverse. And yet there is Chance makes each track his own with his underlying signature and extreme flexibility in working with a wide range of collaborators. Coloring Book is one of those hip-hop albums that strike with their wholeheartedness and authenticity. Chance the Rapper clearly ups his rap game and he does so flawlessly and unobtrusively.

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