Chance The Rapper has undergone some major changes between Coloring Book and his (excellent) last mixtape, Acid Rap. While recording the latter, he was a kid on the south side of Chicago, just out of high school, repping his Save Money crew at every turn. But after Acid Rap became a runaway hit, things really took off. Chance and frequent collaborators Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment saw critical acclaim with Surf, and the young Chicagoan played an active role in the creation of Kanye’s The Life of Pablo. As Chance’s career continues, he seems to garner praise and fans in droves. And with that all being said, as a fan of Chance, I felt that there was a decent amount of pressure on him for this mixtape. He’s been essentially coasting off the success of Acid Rap, and this mixtape was set to prove whether or not all of that attention was/is wholly deserved.
Coloring Book opens with the familiar sound of Nico Segal’s (AKA Donnie Trumpet’s) horns blaring in the background. As someone who is not a fan of Segal’s playing or style, this was disconcerting to me. I’d accepted the fact that I would have to endure a bit of this, as Chance is (for some reason) a huge fan of Segal; unfortunately, “All We Got” essentially showcases what I hate about the Social Experiment. The beat is chaotic, noisy, and dynamically lacking. Chance lays down a perfectly acceptable verse before Kanye enters for some garble-y nonsense, and after this, the song aimlessly wanders against a backdrop of autotune chants and trumpet misfires. It’s one of my least favorites on the whole tape, and gets things off to an awful start.
The production on Coloring Book, as demonstrated by this opening track, is key. Chance is a very interesting figure and musician; his flow is powerful, and in the correct context, he can soar with ease. The reason for this is, quite honestly, his tone. It bugs some, but for many, it’s one of the most appealing parts of his music. He has a very unique, vivacious way of speaking, so it’s crucial that the production compliments this. For me, the one element that can nearly guarantee the success of a beat on this tape is space. Chance can command a room with a sentence. There’s no need to crowd a track or fill it with a million different things, because in the end, it downplays what makes his style so fantastic.
With this in mind, consider Chance’s earth-shattering feature on “Ultra Light Beam.” For many (including myself) it was the high point of TLOP. It’s no coincidence that the beat is hardly more than keyboard swells. Now, compare this to one of Coloring Book’s standout tracks, “Summer Friends.” Chance spits over some heavy sub bass, light finger snaps, and very airy synth leads. With all that extra space, he’s able to do what he does best: use his rhythm and words to fill in every remaining corner of the beat.
Unfortunately, space cannot save every track on here. “Same Drugs” is a Lido production that sounds quite similar to the “That’s Love” interlude of Acid Rap. Chance is basically just singing over some warm acoustic piano chords. Like much of the track list, after a verse and a chorus the song is unable to find a direction, and tapers off into banality. “No Problem” suffers from both this issue and the disorganized production I mentioned; however, this isn’t even its biggest issue. The song’s real achilles heel is its features: 2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne? Really? Who thought that this was a good idea?
Yet again, we are met with an even bigger fault of Coloring Book, and one that is sort of the vocal equivalent of a crowded beat. The feature list on this mixtape is not only confusing but, at times, totally counterintuitive. 2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne are perfect demonstrations of this. No Chance fan I know would ask for these two to be featured on a track of his, because their styles are totally dissimilar; mechanized, auto-tuned, rigid flows versus warm and inviting delivery. Rarely do these surprising features actually contribute to the project. While Justin Bieber’s melodies on “Juke Jam” aren’t actually half bad, the way he sings is so fucking melodramatic and strained that I just want to skip the song altogether. Future and Young Thug each deliver completely unremarkable verses, and T-Pain even shows up to the party! All of this clouds the intent and sound of Coloring Book, while also diluting Chance’s musicality.
Of course, with all these guests, there are bound to be a few that work out. Lil’ Yachty’s “Mixtape” verse is so vocally interesting that it makes me want to go explore his discography, and god damn, Jay Electronica? Wow. On the production side, Kaytranada contributes the bass line-heavy “All Night” which, despite a bland hook, manages to bump. The best tracks on Coloring Book, though, feature minimal outside help. “Blessings” is a heartfelt and infectiously groovy song that seamlessly flows from section to section, remaining intriguing for its duration. “Angels” is Chance at his very best, and he delivers the same dizzying wordsmithery that fans have been clamoring for since they first heard “Cocoa Butter Kisses.”
Despite its good moments, to enjoy Coloring Book, I’ve got to cherry pick. A chorus here, a verse there… it makes for a very disjointed listen. In the end, this may be where the tape fails most: as a whole. The flow is completely lacking, and the track list is held together by little more than Chance’s voice. The tape doesn’t feel like a complete idea, but rather, poorly considered fragments. I’ll be returning to this project rarely, and I’ve officially switched my gaze from Chance to Mick Jenkins as Chicago’s hip hop ambassador.
Written by Preston Fulks