Album Look Back #8: Chance the Rapper’s ‘Coloring Book’

I think it’s high time I give Chance the Rapper his flowers, after completely tearing apart The Big Day (2019) and not bringing Chance up again after that LOL. I started listening to Chance in 2013, shortly after Acid Rap (2013) came out – it was May 3rd, 2013, to be exact. Someone I follow on Tumblr posted “Pusha Man,” and I took a chance on it (I have trust issues when it comes to music lol). I loved it immediately, listened to the entire project afterwards, and I couldn’t WAIT for Chance to give us another project. And his next solo project came in the form of Coloring Book in 2016.

Now, I’m not gonna lie. The first time I heard Coloring Book, I was NOT here for it. I expected to get the same thing Chance gave us with Acid Rap – something drug-induced, quirky, and slightly all over the place. But Coloring Book was something completely different. Chance was more grounded; he talked about God and his family a lot, and I didn’t get nearly as many “IGH, IGH, IGH!” moments, as I hoped. And for some reason, I just could not get with Coloring Book after the first listen, and I was SURE I was experiencing another project that was afflicted with Lasers syndrome. To be sure, I decided to re-listen to Coloring Book not long after I went through my first listen. And let me tell you…I was IN LOVE with it the second time. From beginning to end, Coloring Book is an amazingly well-rounded project. It’s full of nostalgia and yearning for moments past, while also being grounded in Chance’s present life.

The project starts off with the triumphant, Kanye-assisted “All We Got.” While I might not have been feeling the entire album after the first time,I was definitely here for “All We Got” when I heard it the first time. Chance just does WONDERS with intros. We get a little morsel of sounds from Acid Rap, while Chance introduces us – for the first time musically – to the important folks in his life: his family and God. It’s the perfect way to get us into the feeling of the project and the stories Chance is offering us on it. The next song, “No Problem.” sees Chance, Lil Wayne, and 2 Chainz making it clear that nothing and no one will stop them from achieving their goals, even if that means that they have to catch a couple bodies. The production is godly, the HaHa Davis’s intro is iconic, and Wayne gives us one of the BEST verses he’s laid in a minute. I also have to give it to 2 Chainz; the beginning of his verse is the best part of the song to me. “You old Petey Pablo, take your shirt off/ Wave ’round your head like a helicopter / I ain’t put enough weed in the blunt / All you do is smoke tobacco” – how could you not love that???

“Summer Friends,” “D.R.A.M. Sings Special,” “Blessings,” and “Same Drugs” brings us into the nostalgic part of the project.” On “Summer Friends,” Chance talks about his childhood growing up in Chicago and the weight of his childhood friends existing both as the ones he caught lightning bugs and ice cream trucks with and the ones that he lost to gun and drug violence way too soon. Francis and the Lights’s production and vocals round out the sentimentality of the track; the descriptions of Chance’s childhood are so vivid that we’re brought right back into those memories with him. Same with “Same Drugs.”

“Mixtape” feels a little out of place, but it’s such a good song! And “Angels”?????? I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this on thursday email before, but if we could Tyler the Creator and Kanye West out of the equation, Saba is my favorite rapper. Like, that’s it. Tyler and Kanye have a leg up because of the emotional and nostalgic connection that I have to them and their music, so it’s kind of impossible for any other artist to reach the level that they’re at. But if they were out of the equation, I can easily say that Saba is my favorite. He’s so versatile and fluid in the types of music and songs he can be on, his wordplay is phenomenal, and he really adds somethin’ ~special~ to every song he’s on. He was soo good on the chorus, but I WISH he had a verse on this song. Also their little dance break at the end of the music video for “Angels” is so W H O L E S O M E ! ! ! !

“Juke Jam, “All Night.” and “How Great” are amazing. I don’t listen to them often, but it’s a good time whenever I do. Now, “Smoke Break?” “Smoke Break” is my S O N G. I think after “Angels” it’s my favorite song from the project. And it’s funny because that was the song I didn’t like the most when I listened to the project the first time. The autotune on Chance’s voice was really just too much for me. But I worked as a camp counselor the summer Coloring Book came out, and we used to do a thing called “Morning Meeting” every morning before the day started. We’d meet outside in a little grassy area behind the main building we were using, and the Program Coordinator would give announcements, pins would be given out to the campers who had attended the camp the longest, and we’d sing “Happy Birthday” to anyone who was having a birthday soon or that day. I distinctly remember one morning, I sat on the retaining wall that bordered the grassy area – that was my spot of choice every morning; I needed the kids to be able to find me lol – and I listened to “Smoke Break” on repeat for 20 minutes. I don’t know why, but it was really HITTING that day. Since then, “Smoke Break” is just one of the most glorious pieces of music I’ve ever heard from Chance. I also can’t help but laugh when Future says “She been like this from the door / Told me her mom was a ho.” It’s not WHAT he’s saying but HOW he’s saying it. Go listen to that part of the song right now, and I promise you will at least chuckle!

The project ends with “Finish Line / Drown” and “Blessings (reprise),” which are both such beautiful tracks. I love love LOVE me some Kirk Franklin, and I was so happy that he and Chance were able to collab on something. The choir moments on the song really take me back to when my mom and I used to go to church every Sunday. I never was a big Jesus person, but I’ve always been a huge fan of gospel music, especially from Kirk Franklin. So “Finish Line / Drown” hit a special place in my heart. So did “Blessings (reprise).” Chance’s spoken word verse is fantastic, and I love the way the instrumental comes in during the chorus. Also the outro is just gorgeous! And HaHa Davis finishing out the album with the “you ready, Big Fella?” is golden. I’m watching Dead Presidents (1995) right now – normally I would play the album while I’m writing for a refresher – but I can hear ever moment of both of those songs in my head perfectly. They’re written right on the old memory box!

I reference Tyler the Creator’s interview with Funk Flex often, and I’m gonna do it again 🙂 it hadn’t happened at the time I initially listened to Coloring Book; it wouldn’t happen for another 3 years actually. But there’s a moment during that interview where Tyler offers that artists shouldn’t be regressive. Fans might try to push folks into making another this or another that because this and that were classics, but the best art comes out of an artist embracing the now.

And I think that’s such an important thing for all of us, especially non-artists, to remember. It’s easy for fans to want their faves to make their fave album again, and there’s nothing wrong with loving an album so much that you would love to relive the first moment you heard it. But we also have to remember that our favorite artists, singers, and rappers are people first. And things happen in their lives just like they do in ours. They get married; they have kids; they buy their first houses; they lose members of their families. And the stuff they make is going to be influenced by their current lives. And we have to let it be. I mean, we really don’t have a choice lol. So I’ve been trying to be more understanding of that, and keeping that in mind really has made the listening experience so much better. And I think removing the expectation that Coloring Book was going to be just like Acid Rap made the album better for me. Once I knew it was something different, I could actually enjoy it for what it was: a perfect project.

Featured Image Credit: https://genius.com/album_cover_arts/11466, edited by me 🙂


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