Is Chance the only one who still cares about mixtapes? With three under his belt since 2012 and no sign of caving in to a label deal anytime soon, the 23 year old Chicago rapper is standing for a golden era in rap when mixtapes were a big deal and allowed artists the freedom to expand creatively and do it on their own terms. And for a kid who never attached himself to a label, he’s found himself in extremely impressive company. Its like his style and enthusiasm as well as his refusal to claim one camp or another allow him to bridge genres and make friends in wildly different schools of hip-hop. From alternative to trap to pop-rap, Chance seems to have friends everywhere and he brings these influences together into an ambitious, broad, and fresh mixtape.
He’s clearly evolved his style since 2013’s Acid Rap. There are more instances of dap-worthy, auto-tuned bangers and heavy dose of gospel sound that clearly nods to Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo. It’s more complex and nuanced than the boom-bap and nasal delivery of earlier mixtapes and the departure comes with it’s share of risks. His lively persona shines through and is consistent with the way he’s always presented himself. On every track he finds himself on he always sounds like he’s just super stoked to be there. But now he’s more confident in himself; confident enough to take risks and let other parts of the tracks speak just as loud as his verses. The standout tracks like “Angels”, “All We Got”, and “No Problem” have deep and multifaceted production and find Chance delivering verses that simultaneously sound like exactly what you expect him to sound like with an added maturity. As much as fans love his trademark ad-lib and frantic, high-pitched tone, those elements that set him apart and endeared fans to his weirdness are sparse here and it makes everything fit together better. He still manages to bring his uniqueness through a different gauntlet of creative rhythms and writing, but he cut the gimmicks this time.
Tracks like “How Great” and “Blessings” incorporate heavy gospel influences that feel really well conceived and sincere in the hands of Chance. He brings a personality to these tracks that is so engaging and real that the listener is likely to start raising their hands and shouting affirmatives mid-song. These moments are just a piece of the personality of the record. Chance brings high energy and a personal twist that stems from the rapper’s real life. He’s growing up, he has a child, he’s starting to explore religion, evolving relationships, and growing success. The mood is infectious and makes the worse songs on the album still feel fun or at least bearable. “Juke Jam” for example, drags and feels composed more to suit Justin Bieber than to suit Chance. “Mixtape” is similarly produced to match the features’ style and that tendency in the production decisions pulls away from the otherwise confident vibe of the tape. This is his mixtape but sometimes it still sounds more like he’s being featured on other people’s tracks than the other way around. It’s obvious that he’s mostly just excited to be featuring some of the biggest artists in the world on his work, but all the features leave less room for his own voice to shine.
The evolution and experimentation are respectable though, even if it’s not always successful. The huge new sound sometimes feels too over dramatic like on “Smoke Break”. But other times, like “How Great”, the massive scope of the sound absolutely makes the track. Really, the moments when he simplifies the presentation of big ideas are so much more effective than the moments when he tries to elevate insignificant topics. The reprise of “Blessings”, which isn’t so much a reprise as it is a second song with the same title, is the most real and stripped down view of Chance we get on Coloring Book and it blows pretty much every other verse on the tape out of the water. It’s gospel, it’s soulful, and it is just so simple. This mixtape shows a lot of evolution and a lot of new influences coming together and its biggest flaw is perhaps that there’s too much. Chance himself gets buried at times and for a rapper with so much charisma and personality it’s surprising that he’s not more of a focal point. It’s good to hear more music from him and for all it’s flaws, Coloring Book, is refreshing in its maturity. He’s got a ton of support and a lot of influences so it’s safe to say he’ll find a way to keep stepping it up with or without a major label.