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Chance The Rapper's "Coloring Book": First Thoughts

Danielle Cheesman

 // May 13, 2016

Adrien Vargas // REVOLT

As I'm typing this, I'm on my second listen of Coloring Book and, when paused, I can hear its tracks being played elsewhere in the office from unseen speakers, and through the headphones of my nearby co-worker.

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This is the Chance Trance, and this album is guerrilla gospel. I mean that its credo, its testimonies that play out as lyrics, its underlying anthemic and inspirational qualities, are gonna get you, one way or another, even if you don't want (or expect) it. They're smartly spliced with secular radio-readies to solidify the album's place in your playlist as a Saturday night-to-Sunday morning soundtrack but, either day and way, it's hard not to feel good after hearing it and, knowing the unapologetically joyful Chano, that feels calculated.

Here are five standout tracks, and their standout lyrics.

"All We Got"

The horns, the ones that populated much of Surf, the ones you can imagine being played on a street corner under a street lamp, return here. As does Chance's trademark declaration, "And we back, and we back, and we back…" (repeat for emphasis, as necessary). You can always hear that he's spitting that announcement through a smile and that, as studies show (or something), becomes contagious. Plus, it's a reminder that this album, like the others (and his overall trajectory, really), has never been a one-man show. The track listing, which boasts bigwigs like Lil' Wayne and Justin Bieber in the same breath as fellow Chicago indie essentials Jamila Woods and Noname, gives nod to this too. So he repays the favor; just as Chano appeared on the opening track of Kanye West's "The Life of Pablo," 'Ye is invited to do the same. Chance raps, "This ain't no intro; this the entrée"—because 'Ye's ego would never settle for being an appetizer—over the aforementioned trumpet and vocalizing from the Chicago Children's Choir. And while Chance's flow speeds up and races alongside rattling percussion towards a finish line, 'Ye (assisted by Auto-Tune) declares, first indecipherably, but then deliberately: “Music is all we got.” So you start to believe you're about to listen to the antidote.

Colorful rhyme: "I was baptized like real early/ I might give Satan a swirlie."

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"Summer Friends"

First things first: No, that's not Bon Iver; those are the vocals of Francis & The Lights, layered and pulled through a vocoder. And over that falsetto and some skittish digitized pings, Chano recalls the headline- and history-making violence that always seems to plague his hometown of Chicago over the summer, giving shout-out specifically to 79th Street, where he grew up on the South Side. He manages to sound hopeful while detailing real life and loss, but Jeremih takes us out with uplift.

Colorful rhyme: "Bunch of tank-top, nappy-headed, bike-stealing Chatham boys/ None of my niggas ain't had no dad/ None of my niggas ain't have no choice."

"Same Drugs"

Playing out like a farewell to vicious vices, this is a far cry from Acid Rap, the first installment in this mixtape trilogy. Backed only by piano, strings, and choral "oohs," Chance doesn't rap, only sings, and mostly whispers, "We don’t do the same drugs no more." It's musical minimalism at its best, and even his #basic beatboxing in the beginning is endearing.

Colorful rhyme: "When did you change?/ Wendy, you've aged/ I thought you'd never grow up/ Window closed, Wendy got old."

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"Mixtape"

If, by now, you’ve grown tired of the album’s Sunday-bred spiritualism, take solace in this trippy and trappy beat's ominous downtempo swirls. And if it sounds like a rainstorm is serving as the segue into it, that's probably intentional because Chance and his two Atlanta recruits, Young Thug and Lil Yachty, are mourning the art of the unregulated and nonmanufactured mixtape. Chano, still unsigned and indebted to no one, mumbles and grunts in solidarity.

Colorful rhyme: "I ain't felt like this since the third Drought, third Carter drop/ Told my momma third grade I'd be in the third Barbershop/ And you know momma got real worried when she heard College Drop'/ But now I call the shots."

"Smoke Break"

Say it was inspired by a love for weed and his woman, the synths on this engulf you in the same way it sounds like Chance, a new dad, so badly wants to do to his girl in an effort to comfort her—well, that, and pack a bowl. For a tinkling harp and orchestral horns to be in the foreground, this still sounds like it has genuine soul. Yes, even with a Future feature.

Colorful rhyme: "She used to laugh at my jokes/ You pat my back when I choke/ Wish we were stuck in our ways/ We way too young to get old."

Honorable Mention: The two-minute Kaytranada-produced funky ditty for drunks, "All Night."

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