Chance the Rapper’s new mixtape, Coloring Book, came out in the middle of my exam period this year and man, it probably did more to keep my mood up than any other one thing. I’ve been a big fan of Chance for years now. I don’t say that to get hipster cred (okay, I do a little) but more to make it clear that I’ve been there for his different phases.
A lot has been made about how he has shifted to a gospel style on Coloring Book and I know plenty of his old fans have complained about it. But damn, how do you listen to this mixtape and complain? It is so pure and joyful that it would melt a White Walker’s heart. I’m serious, listen to ‘D.R.A.M Sings Special’ and just try to tell me that Jon Snow wouldn’t do more damage armed with a boombox blaring that song than with Longclaw. Or listen to how Chance’s tone changes at 0:30 on ‘Juke Jam’ and you can tell that he’s just started smiling. It’s like when you’re kissing someone and you can feel them smile (yeah, I’m a Chance fanboy, FOH).
I mentioned the gospel theme. Honestly I feel a bit too much may have been made of it but there’s no doubt that this tape “runneth over” with biblical imagery. And that’s cool. I’m no Christian but if church was more like Coloring Book then I’d be walking in that door on Sunday quicker than LeBron James on the fast-break.
My favourite song on the mixtape is ‘Summer Friends’. It’s almost certainly going to be my favourite song of the year. I’m having trouble thinking of any song that has ever transported me to another place and made me felt like I’ve lived there in the same way. It is peak storytelling as rap and it is more evocative to me than entire novels have been. As I said, I was in the middle of exams when this mixtape dropped. I was averaging 14 hours of study a day (that’s actual work, I spent longer in front of the computer) for about 6 weeks. So when I heard Chance reminiscing in the 2nd verse about how hard his parents worked and how he does the same now, it felt very real to me. Here’s the intro to the verse:
“Ooh I used to kill ’em with the long hair,
Momma hair salon doing perms out the armchair
Dad were working late, he treat the crib like it’s a timeshare
I would mow some lawns
Fold my ones like a lawn chair, huh, huh!
Now I’m the same way, over time all the time, every night, hey
Ready my blessing, now I’m ready how I wait
Never let a friendship get in my way”
That last line hits me every time. I’ve let a lot of friendships fall by the wayside for various reasons. I’d like to think that doing so will allow me to accomplish something close to what Chance has achieved but I don’t know.
And that right there is the beauty of this album. One line side-tracked me into reflecting on my failures but there’s so much more packed into this song. The first verse is a really poignant take on the shootings in Chicago (something Chance has tackled before). It shows how deftly Chance can marry the personal with the political. It’s far less bombastic than other musicians (take Kanye’s ‘Jesus Walks’ for example) but it’s just as impactful.
Speaking of Kanye, I feel like listening to Coloring Book the day it released is the closest I’ll get to what it must have been like when The College Dropout first hit the scene. I don’t know if Chance will have the same impact but he’s definitely learned one heck of a lot from Kanye. Thinking about how much Kanye has changed since 2004 makes me wonder what Chance will be doing in 12 years’ time. I hope he changes his style again because he seems too talented, too inventive to stick with one thing for long. He’s definitely built up enough goodwill and artistic capital on this record to be able to do what he wants to do.