After a three-year wait, we have finally been graced with Chance the Rapper’s proper follow-up to 2013’s Acid Rap. Below, SPIN staffers and contributors share their first impressions of Chancelor Bennett’s latest.
Andrew Unterberger: The most amazing part of Coloring Book to me is when Chi’s finest sings, “We don’t do the same drugs anymore” and I actually think to myself, “Oh, Chance used to be into drugs?” Never mind that he spent the near-majority of one of my favorite rap albums ever on the subject: It feels like it’s now been a career’s worth of Chance getting high on his own supply of spiritual fulfillment and self-worth. I still relate more to the Chance who was trying to figure s**t out than this one who seems like he has all the answers, but I certainly can’t begrudge him his personal growth — especially not when a self-assured Chancelor is this masterful on the mic, adapting his flows to sound equally at home sharing a stage with Jay Electronica, Kirk Franklin, Young Thug and Lil Quavo, and even Justin “Chano I’m Drunk” Bieber. We said Chance needed a definitive follow-up to Acid Rap to solidify himself as the MC to beat; all hail the first-ever Greatest Rapper Alive to count The Lion King in his top five influences.
Early Score: 8/10
Iyana Robertson: Contrary to righteous belief, church can be a polarizing place. There’s a pew designated for the pastor. There’s a segment in the service reserved for the deacon and his wife. The choir gets to sit on display for hours at a time. But the sinner — outwardly welcomed but hardly with actual open arms — must sift through pretension to find a comfortable seat. Luckily for these souls, none of this is the case in the house of Chance the Rapper. Kanye West, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Young Thug, and Lil Yachty can all give their testimonies. T-Pain and Kirk Franklin can deliver the praise report. The scripture is a Coloring Book, made vibrant with proclamations of the Creator’s greatness and confessions of our own heathenism. Much like God himself, we had no idea what an “ultralight beam” was until we felt its power. And with it, we have all been saved.
Early Score: 10/10
Melody Lau: In a year where conversations have been dominated by bleached assholes, Becky With the Good Hair and fights at the Cheesecake Factory, is there anything more refreshing than the line, “Man, my daughter couldn’t have a better mother / If she ever find another, he better love her”? And that’s just the first of 14 tracks illustrating the enlightenment of Chance the Rapper. Coloring Book is the beacon of joy some of us didn’t realize we needed in such a dark 2016, an album that humbly lists and makes us count our own blessings. Chance delivers with the help of a stacked choir including Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Future and, well, an actual children’s choir. (As with Drake’s Views though, Jeremih was once again underused on the sparse “Summer Friends” — the world needs more Jeremih.) This is the gospel The Life of Pablo wasn’t, an even better ode to a hometown than Views and, while it’s debatable whether he’s the only one who still cares about mixtapes (or whether an Apple Music exclusive constitutes as one), Chance has undoubtedly put out one of the best projects of the year.
Early Score: 9/10
Brian Josephs: Chance’s optimism has usually leaned toward hard-earned instead of quixotic; the gospel tones don’t exist to flourish, but to exorcise real pain. Coloring Book pushes further into spiritual messaging — a majority of the set trades in some sort of biblical reference — but it never sounds like empty proselytizing. He’s a convincing preacher, playing up the Saturday-night-sinning/Sunday-morning-church dichotomy with “All Night” and “How Great” (hello, Jay Electronica). Coloring Book is also vibrant enough of an album to give hedonistic Future and the righteous Kirk Franklin some time without feeling disjointed. If the positivity is good enough to convincingly wash over Young Thug, who’s perpetually bankrupt of f**ks, it’s good enough for you.
Early Score: 7/10
Dan Weiss: Chance — whom his business card would like you to know is A Rapper — is the most melodic artist in America. He’s Chance the Singer, Chance the Musical Community Organizer, Chance the Outstanding Arranger of Church Choirs and, on this evidence, steel drums, horns, and grainy digital transfers of doo-wop samples. It goes without saying that his spacious, gracious school drama production-cum-summer barbecue makes Kanye’s beautiful, minor Life of Pablo sound like a demo. He delivers the “gospel” album that “Ultralight Beam” and “Sunday Candy” promised without being messy. On one listen, there’s too much Sunday and candy here to properly notice one centerpiece on the level of those two career highs, which may prove to be Coloring Book’s fatal flaw, though “Summer Friends” sure sounds like it’s got it in the bag. Mess is important, but this is a God dream.
Early Score: 10/10
AVERAGE SCORE: 8.8/10