When Chance The Rapper self-released his stunning mixtape ‘Acid Rap’ in 2013, it marked a watershed in hip-hop. Presaging Kendrick Lamar’s predilection for all things jazzy on ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ by two years, it made for a gleeful return to rap’s daisy age. It also bought a much-needed DIY edge to a genre so often in thrall to major label whims. ‘Acid Rap’ was carefree and relentlessly soulful, but still dealt with big issues, like the prevalence of murder cases in Chance’s hometown of Chicago. It was sunny music for stoners, a Technicolor meeting of the old school and the new school.
He followed it last year, teaming up with a band of artists known as The Social Experiment for the collaborative neo-soul offering ‘Surf’. Yet ‘Coloring Book’ makes for a proper step back into the spotlight for the talented 23-year-old. A bracingly independent artist, he continues to refuse to align with a record label and has again released the record himself.
Fizzingly fun, this third mixtape sees Chance finessing but certainly not hampering, his freewheeling nature. His deep love of church music remains at the fore, with opening track ‘All We Got’, featuring the Chicago Children’s Choir’ and Kanye West, on whose ‘The Life Of Pablo’ he guested on earlier this year. The gospel vibe shimmers through ‘Summer Friends’, as Chance compassionately deals with Chicago’s gang violence problem, while ‘Blessings’ makes for a very modern hymn (“Ain’t no blood on my money/Ain’t no Twitter in heaven”) and ‘Same Drugs’ is perhaps the prettiest song about ditching hallucinogens that’s ever been laid to tape.
It’s not just the spirituality that’s sky high, but the calibre of guests too. Justin Bieber crops up on ‘Juke Jams’’ refined R&B and 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne bring heat to the bouncing ‘No Problem’, an ode to independence disguised as a summer anthem. Then there’s Young Thug on ‘Mixtape’, which sets out Chance’s commitment to making music on his own terms. Proof that taking a chance has yet again paid off.