Coloring Outside the Lines

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Coloring Outside the Lines

By Connor Norton

On May 5, Chance the Rapper released his album “Coloring Book” with features from Future, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Jeremih, Young Thug, and Justin Bieber. If you’re familiar with these artists, you might guess that the album probably has a lot of basic rap songs with a catchy chorus but little message. On the contrary, the album contains beautiful choral features, hard beats, soft audio, and powerful lyrics.

Chance’s last release was the mixtape “Acid Rap” in 2013. It’s important to notice he’s never technically released a studio album because he is still an unsigned artist, therefore he doesn’t have a label to sell and distribute his work. However like “Coloring Book,” these collections are commonly seen as albums. Chance refuses to be signed by a label due to personal beliefs that he expresses in this mixtape. You might have heard “Juice” or “Favorite Song,” which were his most popular songs before the release of “Coloring Book.”

Opening the album with a smooth trumpet solo accented by some soft gospel voices but then escalating into a heavy beat, “All We Got” reveals Chance’s love for his family, how much he cares about his girlfriend and daughter, later transitioning into how “perfect” a life he is blessed to live. However, the real message of the song manifests in the chorus, sung by Kanye West: music is the only thing in the world that truly brings him satisfaction. Well, music and God.

Look hard enough and there will be a lyric either directly speaking about Chance’s Christian faith or alluding to it. This is not common in albums as successful as this one, but he brilliantly intertwines religion, family, drugs, and literature. In fact, in “Same Drugs” Chance makes the metaphor that he and his girlfriend “don’t do the same drugs no more,” meaning the things that once helped them connect and enjoy each other don’t work. They’ve changed, and Chance then addresses her as Wendy from “Peter Pan,” drawing parallels between that common story and their reluctance to grow up together because it only gets more complicated.

Chance drops several references to his verse from “Ultralight Beam,” a song on Kanye West’s album from 2015 called “The Life of Pablo.” The entire “Coloring Book” album seems to be a deeper exploration of the style and ideas he spoke of in that verse. The gospel style is something I really liked because it’s easy on the ears if you just want to vibe to some chill rap, but if you’re in the mood to analyze his lyrics you can learn a lot about his views and background.

The album, like much of his earlier work, preaches against record labels and criticizes rappers who think they’re their own bosses. “Mixtape,” “No Problem,” “Angels,” and “Finish line/Drown” all express his distaste for labels and the control exectives desire. Chance even has a line in his final track, “Blessings (feat. Ty Dolla Sign)” where he acknowledges the influence and mentoring effect Kanye has had on him, though he wouldn’t be signed by him.

I loved Francis & The Lights’ opening in “Summer Friends.” It was like a techno harmony that fades into a great retrospective piece by Chance. Jamila Woods also has an awesome solo intro in “Blessings,” that is a really nice emotional song overall. I thoroughly enjoy trumpets, and frequently throughout the album there are trumpet accents and/or solos, this might be due to his friendship with Niko Segal of Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment. Either way, I’ve never met a song with trumpets I didn’t like and that remains true after the album.

There are really no tracks on the album I didn’t enjoy, except “All Night,” which to be honest doesn’t belong on the album. All the tracks allude to his faith, his family, the rap game, or Chicago, except this piece. I guess one could argue it’s about people in Chicago thinking they know him and trying to take advantage of him, but that’s a stretch.  It also doesn’t sound great. It’s really fast paced and loud, and it just doesn’t fit on the album.

That’s not to say the album doesn’t have diversity when it comes to beats, samples, and/or styles, because it does. “All We Got,” “No Problem,” and “Angels” all contain faster and stronger beats. The slower and softer beats, which I prefer in many ways, are “Same Drugs,” “Blessings (feat. Ty Dolla Sign),” and “Juke Jam.” Some of the tracks are just epic: “Smoke Break,” “How Great” (choral intro), and “Finish Line/Drown” all have powerful choruses with great long beats behind them.

The title “Coloring Book” was supposedly inspired by his daughter, Kinsley Bennett, which would make sense considering this is his first mixtape since her birth in September 2015. The album is an inspiring introspective piece in both sound and message. If you’re a fan of rap or gospel (or both, in my case), the harmonies accompanied by intricate lyricism in “Coloring Book” will impress and enthrall you.