Church Without The Sermon | Coloring Book Review

Coloring Book, released on May 13, 2016 by Chance the Rapper, is the Chicago native’s third, highly anticipated follow up to his previous work Acid Rap, which propelled Chance into a wave of hype that allowed him to work with artists like Kanye West. Where Acid Rap planted it roots in albums like West’s Late Registration and dabbled in its soul-based sound, Coloring Book goes for a gospel-based sound, with loud, bombastic live instrumentation around it.

Story | Joshua Chan

Much of the subject matter on Coloring Book deals with Chance’s success after the 3-year-old Acid Rap. Since then, Chance has become a father and has been featured on music with gospel sounding tracks such as West’s “Ultralight Beam”, so this mixtape is an expansion of what we have heard over the past couple of years. Where Acid Rap was mostly about fooling around in south side Chicago, the lyrics on Coloring Book relish in his success and praising God for them.

As different as they may sound on the surface, both mixtapes share a great summertime feel that’s perfect for a barbecue on a sunny day. It screams “Chicago!” in the same way that Common’s Be, and almost seems like a love letter to his hometown.

Those who liked Acid Rap for its more hyped, traditional pop-rap songs like “Favorite Song,” may find this album very off-putting, especially on first listen. The mixtape starts off with “All We Got”, which sets expectations from the get-go. The loud, booming occurrence of the horns signals the radical changes in Chance’s life, especially the presence of religion. Some of the features on the album, such as with the Chicago Children’s Choir on “All We Got”, and Kirk Franklin, who recites the prayer on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam”, returns on “Finish Line/Drown”.

While the majority of “Coloring Book” adheres mostly to its gospel-centric sound, there are occasional breaks that are more akin to “Acid Rap”, such as “Juke Jam”, which features Justin Bieber and Towkio. “Juke Jam” trades heavy saxophone for a smooth-as-butter, spacious arrangement of guitar and piano instrumental that serves for a platform of warm nostalgia and heartfelt innocence that was present on songs like “Lost” on Acid Rap.

The majority of the features on Coloring Book may not sound like they belong on a gospel-sounding album, but they’re used well here. Features like Jeremih on “Summer Friends” and Lil Wayne on “No Problem” serve as a break between the gospel instrumentals and keep the album fresh in the process. However, the features never deviate too far from the gospel-based sound evident in Chance’s verses, and they fit well within the songs, complementing its fun-loving, joyful nature with some appropriately cheesy lines.

“Sacrificin’ everything/I feel like Jesus Carter,” Lil Wayne raps on “No Problem”.

However, the mixtape takes more creative risks than Acid Rap, which makes it feel different.

One such example is on “How Great”, Chance sets the tone for a victory anthem to the praise song, “How Great is Our God”, which really emphasizes the gospel aspect of the mixtape. There are also two songs called “Blessings”, which sound very different from each other and dabble in different subject matter. The first instance of Blessings goes into some of his struggles, while the second version is a celebration of his blessings. But they both come together to create something refreshing in a world where trap music is so prevalent.

While the loud, bombastic instrumentation focus is definitely nice, Coloring Book doesn’t always benefit from it. The mixing is inconsistent, as vocals occasionally dip in and out of prominence, as instrumentals seem to overpower the vocals greatly. This especially isn’t helped by how inherently loud real instruments like piano and organ can be. On the song “Smoke Break”, Future’s guest verse especially suffers, given the laid back, normally quiet tone of his voice.

The mixing problems don’t hold it back from being perfect for summertime, though. Listening to this mixtape feels like going to church without having to go to Sunday school, and I mean that in a good way. All of the live instruments and choir-like vocals come together with its cheerful lyrics to make even the most ardent atheist feel joyful, and it’s definitely one of my favorite projects this year. It’s also worth noting that Coloring Book is only Apple Music exclusive for two weeks, and will move onto other streaming services then.

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