'Coloring Book' is honest and unapologetic



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Chance the Rapper performs in the group 'The Social Expirement' at the Austin Music Hall on March 20, 2015 in Austin, Texas. (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye/TNS) MCT Campus / Chicago Tribune Buy Photos

Grade: A-

A year ago around this time, I was in Japan and “Surf” dropped. 

It had been nearly two years since we’d had a release from Chance the Rapper, and his fans, myself included, were ready. 

“Surf," a collaborative project released by Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, wasn’t strictly a Chance the Rapper release though. And it was apparent. 

Everything about “Surf” was different. Different than what we were used to from him as an artist, different from what we were hearing in popular music at the time and different from what I understood to be law about production and genre.

And I loved it. I wrote one of the most fan-girly reviews I’d ever written and have stanned for the record ever since.

Last week, Chance released the highly anticipated “Coloring Book," his third solo project and first official Chance the Rapper follow-up to 2013’s “Acid Rap." This, much in the same vein, is a game-changer, a project that asks as many questions as it answers.

The mixtape opens with "All We Got," a horn-filled bop featuring Kanye West and Chicago Children’s Choir. It sets the pace for a personal record, one that delves into some of the most intimate details in Chance’s life: religion, family, the future. 

He does in this song what he often does: gives listeners glimpses into his life in a way that is equal parts carefully crafted and strikingly self-aware.

Chance then jumps to "No Problem," featuring Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, a song playfully (OK, maybe not so playfully) addressing the labels that have been pursuing Chance. 

Through all of this, Chance has never taken himself too seriously. If not made apparent by his ad libs and ability to poke fun at himself in his lyrics, his transparency is something novel.

What is perhaps most impressive about “Coloring Book” is it’s unapologetic contradictions. Chance will run a song with Future directly after "How Great," a track featuring a contemporary Christian song performed in the gospel tradition. A song titled "Angels" followed by a song about juking. 

There is no way to delineate between the secular and the spiritual on this mixtape. They aren’t separate things. Instead, they compliment each other and address the complexity of the man as an artist, and perhaps more importantly, as a human being.

And from where I stand, it seems like Chance is in a good place.

Midway through the tape, "Juke Jam" reminds me that for all intents and purposes, Chance and I grew up together. 

We’re of the same generation. 

He makes references throughout this record I actually understand. He pays homage to the same artists that I had on my mp3 player in middle school, to the Chris Brown song that had me feeling like I really knew something about being grown. This alone drives “Coloring Book” into a special place in my heart.

In all of his success, it’s easy to forget that he’s still a 23-year-old guy. If his was the world that many of us live in, he would have just been wrapping up his undergrad career and jumping into the workforce. 

But instead, Chance is just beginning to educate the rest of the industry in the most graceful and compelling fashion possible. 

He is blazing new trails, both musically and socially, and reshaping the working definition of independence.

Leah Johnson

leadjohn@indiana.edu | @byleahjohnson

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