I’ve got zero problems with ‘Coloring Book,’ big fella

I’ll be honest: I’ve listened to Coloring Book the least of any of the albums we’ve covered here so far. I never gave the album the time it was due when it came out last year, partly because a lot of music came out last year and it was kind of an off year for me and rap. The biggest thing was that I was a little hesitant about what Chance’s next project might bring.

The problem was that Acid Rap already sort of seemed like the perfect Chance album to me. It’s so good that I knew I would be disappointed if Chano just dropped an Acid Rap II, but I would also be disappointed if he’d released something that was too far off from its vibes.

I listened to Surf exactly once, and I liked it, but I’ve returned to none of it other than “Sunday Candy,” and even though that song is a classic, I wasn’t sure I wanted a Chance mixtape that took that song as its jumping off point.

I also have a pretty difficult time unreservedly loving anything that scans as too “Christian” in a positive, non-conflicted way. I could get on board with Kanye’s love-hate redemption thing on The Life of Pablo, but a full-on gospel rap record flush in the glow of new fatherhood didn’t sound like something I would be able to get into.

So I sort of avoided this album for awhile.

And when I did eventually listen to it I really had a hard time coming to terms with some of the choices on it, even though it was one of the most universally loved albums of last year, and a big, joyful, very accessible piece of work on top of that. The problem wasn’t that they were poor choices, the problem was that they were cutting edge choices, and I had a hard time letting go of the old Chance.

A really good case study is “No Problem”. I was initially weirded out by its production. The hook line is slathered in auto-tune, and it kind of made me queasy at first, and the pitch-shifted, chopped-up gospel chorus that forms the meat of the beat seemed kind of nonsensical to me, too. But with repeat listens, “No Problem” has become my go -to track on the album.

(My favorite part of the entire album might be Ha Ha Davis, the voice that says “You don’t want zero problems, big fella” at the start of “No Problem”.)

Another example is the joyously sub-verbal stuff that pops up on the first two tracks, first when Kanye says “This is the” and then follows it up with what sounds to me like a bunch of weird grunts (which Genius transcribes as “bom bom bom / bom bom bom / bom bom bom). And there’s Chance’s laughter in the hook on “No Problem”. Both are little touches that annoyed me at first and prevented me from getting into the album, but now I recognize both as touches that add to the sense of joyous abandon that characterizes much of the album. I came around to them. It could be musical Stockholme syndrome, or it could be me genuinely coming to understand what Chance and co. were going for.

Either way, I came around to those early tracks, and I got through the album and got to a point where I could appreciate the new Chance on his own terms.

The album ends strong for me with “Finish Line/Drown”and “Blessings”. One or both of them has some nice live drums, and when they showed up that’s kind of when I knew I would be able to get on the album’s level. Live instrumentation is not essential to good rap music (sometimes it even gets in the way), but when you’re friends with as many monster players as Chance is via The Social Experiment, it seems a little criminal not to make use of that on your record. (Yes, there’s a lot of brass all over the album, but if you’re really that into layered trumpet harmonies then you’re a bigger nerd than I am.)

One thing that’s nice about Chance is that he doesn’t do one type of track. He’s got a good vocabulary of different kinds of rap archetypes, and that means that he can do these genre-exercise type songs where he mixes it up with other MCs who are associated with widely different sounds in the hip-hop universe, and he can pull it off. Sometimes those songs are standouts, and sometimes they’re just welcome diverse padding in his tracklists (like “Fuck You Tahm Bout” on #10Day). “No Problem” actually kind of feels like a softer sequel to “Fuck You Tahm Bout”: it’s chorus is tough talk delivered with a shit-eating grin. “Mixtape” tries on mumbly Atlanta trap. “All Night”is modest little club banger (with more Ha Ha Davis). They all contribute to the album’s free-wheeling mood, without making it feel disjointed

Verdict: I guess I would say that this album is Pocket, because it’s defined by groove even though there aren’t a lot of hard-hitting beats, organic or otherwise. To be honest it doesn’t fit easily into Spencer’s rating/good song classification system (which I have adopted for all of my reviews here, with the addition of Wack, for things that are simply bad). You could also say that Chance’s rapping Shreds, in a way.

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