From the title alone, the project stays true to its name as Chance pulls from a myriad of different genres. There is gospel, trap, pop/dance, with a slow jam and smoker’s joint inserted in. Just like any coloring book, the album has very vibrant undertones, colorful production, and is very happy. With a coloring book, it’s not about staying inside the lines or how one colors, but about creativity. Chance the Rapper definitely flexes his creative juices on this project to paint vivid narratives and give thanks to God for the many blessings in his life. The mixtape begins with “All We Got” featuring Kanye West. The duo managed to link back up to create a song filled with loud production and auto tuned vocals from West. The production screams happiness and Chance’s verses showcase his present state, a father in a relationship and healthy mindset. Yet, within the happiness in his life, music stills holds a place in his heart with the chorus stating “Music is all we got”. This wasn’t one of my favorite songs from the project, but it’s definitely a likeable track. The next track is “No Problem” featuring Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz with an introduction to Instagram comedian and sensation, Ha Ha Davis. The song’s content focuses on label problems and Chance threatens that two “dreadhead n*ggas” will be waiting in the label’s lobby if these problems persist. Tracks 1 and 2 flow perfectly into each other as it addresses a artist’s love of making music versus the music labels that stifle their creativity. I’ll give Chance points for syncing the two songs together, but “No Problems” was also a song I could do without and 2 Chainz and Wayne’s features did nothing for the song.
The next song is “Summer Friends” featuring Jeremih and Francis and the lights, a song that is reminiscent to Chance’s childhood days in Chicago. He displays his more introspective and storytelling side which I can definitely appreciate. He discusses losing friends, or what he calls summer friends, to gangs and violence. Intentional or not, referring to them as summer friends emphasizes how temporary they are. He was friends with them for a season (no pun intended) or they eventually loss touch as they got older and moved down different avenues. Faint sounds of gun shots can be heard on the track, as well as, a short interlude which consists of a prayer for protection. These small details add to the story and emphasize the seriousness of growing up in Chicago. Jeremih lends his vocals on the outro and sings lyrics that seem to stem from the gang member perspective, while Francis and the lights act as Chance’s voice.
“D.R.A.M. Sings Special” is the next song on the project and is simple and straight to the point. Though she is not listed, Elle Varner sings along with D.R.A.M. to sing a few lines about being special. With a church theme permeating throughout the album, this song reminds me of “Jesus Loves Me” and could possibly serve as God’s reply to his fellow worshippers. It has haunting vocals reminiscent of the church and production similar to gospel music. However, with the new addition to Chance’s life, this song could also be a dedication to his daughter. The song has a lullaby feel to it, one that could put any baby to sleep if need be. Whatever the case may be, it leads right into the next track, which is “Blessings” featuring Jamila Woods. This is one of the many praise breaks that Chance enlists on the album. I call it a gospel and hip hop infusion, where Chance simply thanks God for the many blessings in his life and speaks on his new role as a provider and protector. The title of the next song can be a little misleading and is an odd contrast with “Blessings”. However, the song embodies a deeper meaning than the chorus or title suggest.
“Same Drugs” is one of two songs without a feature and is a metaphor for the progression and change in times. He discusses a girl named Wendy, which I believe, is the personification of Chicago, the windy city. His verses mostly consist of questions such as “When did you change?” and “Where did you go?” Chicago has become a city notable for its violence and murder. Obviously, Chance notes the change he sees, especially in comparison with the old and new generation. The chorus states that “we don’t do the same drugs no more”, which is a metaphor for the progression of Chicago over time. While this newer generation is obsessed with violence, social media, and materialism, the older generation was a different time and place. In the outro of the song, three lines stick out to me, which are, “Don’t you color out/ Don’t you bleed on out/ Stay in the line”. This is one of the only lines that references back to the mixtape’s title, but speaks so many volumes to Chance’s outlook on his city. He doesn’t want Chicago to lose its essence, he wants the violence to stop, hence “bleeding out”, and staying in the line would mean staying on the straight and narrow. I wouldn’t dub this song as one of my favorites, but I definitely appreciate the creativity and depth Chance gives this song.
Track 7 is “Mixtape” featuring Yung Thug and Lil Yachty, nothing more than a typical mainstream party song. His features for this song fit in perfectly with its content and production. However, I don’t like it and he could have definitely left this one off. Party and trap songs are good for the right occasion, but with where I believe Chance is going with this mixtape, the song just doesn’t fit. Moving along, he follows “Mixtape” with “Angels” featuring Chicago rapper, Saba. This song has a Caribbean feel to it with an upbeat tempo. Despite the negative images about Chicago, the song seems to function as an attempt to show the good of the city. In the video, images of Chance flying and youth dancing on the train are shown throughout the video. I believe he hopes to show that there are some redemptive qualities about his city and that it produces some good people, like him. “Juke Jam” featuring Justin Bieber and Towkio is a slow jam and another narrative song. This is one of my favorite songs off of the project. The production and guitar playing gives the song a sultry feel, while Justin Bieber’s and Towkio’s influence add that extra touch that doesn’t make this a typical rap song. The setting takes place at the skating rink, but moves from Chance being a child to becoming a teenager. As a child, they were skating, but as teenagers, they’ve outgrown those practices and frequent the place to dance. Though the dancing is innocent, the grinding and hip rolling hints at acts only “grown folks” would be privy too. “All Night” featuring Fortune Knox reintroduces the audience to Ha Ha Davis, who makes note that the protagonist can’t handle his liquor. The song has a dance/pop feel to it and though it mostly addresses fake friends, the hook is a bit confusing. Fortune Knox sings about drinking all night, which puts the setting of the song at a party or club. He could possibly be an angry drunk, upset that now that he’s made it big people are acting like they’re his friends. This song’s purpose doesn’t quite make sense with the rest of the album progresses, but it could possibly be a fun, throw in track like “Mixtape” and “Juke Jam”.
From here on out, the rest of the album is mostly made up of gospel tracks. “How Great” featuring Jay Electronica and My cousin Nicole is another gospel and hip hop mash up. It’s also where I believe Chance shines lyrically accompanied by a standout verse from Jay, making it my second favorite on the mixtape. While the choir opens up singing boisterously about how great God is, Chance and Electronica offer really dope verses filled with shaming the devil, biblical references, and great wordplay. One of my favorite lines from Chance was “Don’t believe in signing /I seen dollar signs /Color white collar crime” and for Electronica it would have to be “A fire in Cali will swallow an alley for every African village burned.” With the choir and church organ in the background, I can vividly see both mean as preachers at pulpit on a Sunday morning. The song’s ability to do this highlights just how great the song is. In an odd transition, Chance goes from gospel to recreational fun in “Smoke Break” featuring Future. The production has a weird, spacey feel to it, but it’s a pretty likeable song. Chance basically expresses how hectic is being parents. He simply wants them to take a smoke break and spend some quality time together because they “deserve it”. Though I wasn’t really impressed by Future’s verse, he works well on the song and this seems like a sound up his alley.
“Finish line” is two songs in one with the first half starting off as another gospel song featuring T-Pain and Eryn Allen. The song is an up tempo anthem about never giving up and making it to the end. Chance’s first verse is reflective, especially as he goes into his past addiction to Xanax. Even with the label problems and the work cut out with his relationship, Chance knows he can push through. Part 2 of the song is called “Drown”, which could be a reference to trouble up ahead or troubled waters. Noname Gypsy, another Chicago emcee, comes in and offers a really great verse. Gypsy is known for her poetic flow and she really shines through on the song by riding the slow tempo of the song. Kirk Franklin and his choir end the song with the same message as part 1: do not let your problems drown you. In essence, all one has to do is pray and rely on God and he’ll see you through. Chance caps off the album with “Blessings (Reprise)” featuring Ty Dollar $ign, making it my final favorite from mixtape. The song serves as the Preacher’s final words once the sermon has been preached. Chance’s verse is another example of how lyrical of a rapper he is. More than anything, the encouraging repetition of “Are you ready for your blessings? /Are you ready for your miracle?”, sung by a choir of artists like, BJ the Chicago Kid and Anderson Paak, gives so much hope as to what God has in store for us all. Ha Ha Davis has the last line on the mixtape stating “You ready big fella?” before the mixtape is over. I believe it is the perfect way to end the album as it opens the door for a renewal and cleansing to the listeners.
Final verdict: In hindsight, Coloring Book is a mixtape that at first listen sounds everywhere, but makes a lot of sense. This mixtape shows how far Chance has come not only as an artist, but as a man. From song to song, he can constantly be heard rapping about the happiness in his life now, due to starting his own family and a stronger relationship with God. As a Chicago native, Chance knows what it’s like to come from a dark place and go on to achieve greatness. I’m positive it can’t be easy to watch your own city under siege by constant murder and violence, while you’re on top of the world. Coloring Book stands to put some color back into his city and to those who haven’t quite chosen which side they want to be on. Ha Ha Davis addressing someone only known as “big fella”, who puts me in the mindset of a young, rambunctious teenager. It seems Chance wants to steer this young, black men on the right path. His gospel songs discuss where he was and where he’s going and how he got there with a strong bond with God. Those songs simply serve as symbol of hope that all is not lost for those still living in the city and that change is on the horizon.
As for the songs that don’t quite fit under that category, it’s really Chance just being Chance. I don’t think he wants to be too preachy on this mixtape. Those songs showcase that he can still be introspective, a story teller, and fun even if he has changed a little bit. Chance’s creativity was pretty good on this project and I appreciate how he involved so many Chicago artists. Overall, I would give Coloring Book 3 out of 5 spins. The mixtape is good, but not great. I think there were just some songs and features that Chance could have done without. I’m also a little disappointed that Chance didn’t input the song “Grown Ass Kid” featuring Mick Jenkins and Alex Wiley on the album. The song’s production is classic Chance and it fits right in with the story arc of mentoring a wild youth. I think this song could have substituted “Mixtape” and drove his message home more. Congratulations to Chance on his new addition and the mixtape. Coloring Book can be found on Apple Music, Spotify, and other streaming services.