Chance the Rapper seemed like an odd candidate to deliver a rare-in-a generation rap record (much less record period). I don’t say that because I hated him: out of the rappers that white hipster kids have fawned over, he was one of the most bearable. The problem with him that he was a follower: content to either imitate hipster rappers I have a harder time stomaching( Donald Glover) or be the loveable member of rap crews that are problematic as hell. I honored his activism in Chicago and could recognize the sparkling moments he had in Acid Rap. However, the problematic rapper with moments is one of the most generic figures in pop culture (so much so that I suspect another one is releasing mixtape by time I finish writing this sentence).
The beginning of All We Got doesn’t initially fare that better: the lack of form of Kanye produced track initially repels and when Chance mentions his baby mama my first instinct was he was going to take the listener into some milquetoast Chief Keef territory until he says.
“my daughter could have a
Better baby mother
If she ever find another
He better love her”
Which begins Coloring Book’s tale for me as the most shocking and surprisingly great album I’ve heard in 29 years of listening to hip hop and R&B. In it, Chance tells an often compelling story of navigating stardom and searching for god in loving to his baby mother, and emerges as one of the most esoteric musical figures I have ever heard.
Like so many of the big records of the black lives matter era, Book doesn’t subscribe to a genre as much as draw from library of knowledge of black music to make songs that only classify as being fucking good. How else can one explain the noise free jazz affirmative gospel of All We Got? Or the ethereal street corner 60’s soul gospel of Blessings? Or the smooth love man hip hop jams that Drake would sell his soul to make in juke joint and Smoke Break? Or the Beatles influenced tragic dope breakup song in same drugs?
The thing that holds it together, however, is Chance’s very complex and very moving spirituality. Like a AAA pitcher developing a hall of fame caliber cutter, his newfound gift for understatement makes his Christian humanism all the more compelling. More than that, it makes his sense of searching for god-in running errands for his baby momma, rubbing her back, snuggling at the club, giving her good weed, and paying for day care-authentically moving. Run the subtext of most modern gospel songs through your head and your going to get a motley compendium of boats about what people have, how great they are and how great you are not. The high points of coloring book show a selfless, pluralism and basic decency missing in the gospel for as long as I have been listening to albums.
Nothing in the album floored me more than Finish Line, his origin story from sideman to star. In the song, he turns his contradictions on to 11, and they complement each other seamlessly. An aspirational song, its muddiness and funkiness steer clear it clear of clichéd cords. An aspirational message of him getting healthy, it is infused with a deep pain and genuine sensitivity, blues that makes his happiness uncertain, but his effort to find it seam brave. Add a sped up down home soul beat and some of the best written bars vie heard in a long time and you have the best song vie heard all year and in a good while.
The high points are so high they make the low points glaring. I understand why Chance put all night on the album-he wanted to tell his girlfriend he isn’t messing with any other women-but but he sounds like an asshole in the way he says it. And there are too many god damn guests on it, almost none of them in his league (future almost ruins Smoke Break). And it’s a god damn shame his label failed to release the version of same drugs he made with Regina Specktor, she would have provided a complex counterpoint to an already complex song.
All of this are things he will have to deal as he navigates his star, because good lord he is one now. Coloring Book was a top 10 pop hit and dominated the imagination of critics and fans all throughout the spring and summer. Chance joins Beyoncé, D’angelo, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Syd The Kid, and Kamasi Washington in the rank of people who are making the best music of the black lives matter era, bolt, fresh, very new, very controversial, and often very brave. Who knows how he will navigate superstardom, but if he falls by the wayside, let it be known that-with Coloring Book-he was as good as any pop star of his time period.