When I listened to The Life of Pablo earlier this year, I was hoping for a hybrid of gospel and hip-hop, something that Kanye West himself had promised. Outside of the opening track “Ultralight Beam” I felt like I did not really get that. I still think that song is great and one of the reasons I like it so much is because of the guest verse of Chance the Rapper. His verse was an excellent display of his confidence, ability to write great lyrics, and energy which is why it was such a standout on that record. I have considered myself a fan of his previous work, and once I saw all of the guests that would be appearing on here, I got excited to see how this mixtape would be.
It is hard not to appreciate this mixtape just on the merit of its ambition. Chance set out to make gospel-infused hip-hop record, two genres that gel together well when handled correctly, and I would say he does this with great success. There is also influences of jazz that were prominent on Chance’s last project Surf, which is clear from the start on “All We Got.”
The mixtape opens boldly with Chance’s boisterous verse and only gets better as he is joined by an auto-tuned Kanye. I honestly wish Kanye had been used a little more but Chance does so well on his own that it does not even matter.
If there was anything I was worried about for Coloring Book it was the religious themes I had heard were on it. This is not saying I am anti-religion or anything, I am not, but usually religion can get heavy handed and years of listening to stuff from Tenth Avenue North and Hillsong United in my Catholic high school I was not looking for anything like that. Luckily, these themes are handled in a way that is subtle enough to not turn off non-religious listeners.
On the song “Blessings” we see Chance thanking God for the happiness he has given him, simply saying that using his music to praise something positive has resulted in positive results in his own life. The same goes for the second song titled “Blessings” that closes the mixtape. At the end Chance announces all he made was for God which is a sweet sentiment and ends this personal track well.
While the intro to “How Great” could be seen as a little excessive, the choir of vocals sound great on the track and they accompany Chance’s and Jay Electronica’s verses well. “Finish Line/Drown” works well also carrying these themes of being carried and saved by God. T-Pain does well on the hook and brings back nostalgia of the rapper’s earlier work.
While these religious songs are all good, the brightest moments on here are probably the ones where Chance reflects on his past, growing up in Chicago, and just growing apart from everything. Songs like “Summer Friends” where Chance speaks of his youth and the violence that would take place over the summers. The song is clearly comes from personal experiences and seems to be begging for changes to be happening.
Another highlight, “Same Drugs,” which Chance has admitted is not about drugs, but instead in about the different interests he and a girl back home have now that he is famous and moving onto bigger things. While not quite as good “Juke Jam” also has Chance looking back at a relationship from his youth. Justin Bieber does very little for me on here, feeling more like a tool to give this mixtape more star power, and the lyrics do not do enough to make me think much deeper about what Chance is singing about.
Chance uses this mixtape as an opportunity to publically make statements either about or directly to the music industry. The infectious “Angels,” we hear how Chance is making Chicago do “front flips” and how he is constantly being kept safe by his angels. This song also contains some of the mixtape’s best lyrics like “this what it sounds like when God split an atom with me/I even had Steve giving apples for free” obviously referring to this mixtape’s exclusive Apple Music release.
“No Problems,” which is one of the most mainstream-friendly tracks here, shows how Chance has no interest in studio interference with any of his music. 2 Chainz delivers a surprising solid verse, even if I do not know how I feel about his “run shit like diarrhea” line. Lil Wayne addresses the issue of records as well, which makes sense given his own issues with his record label, and definitely adds his standard amount of personality to the track. The song “Mixtape” has not grown on me too much since my first listen, but I appreciate the idea of keeping mixtapes relevant in the mainstream. Chance is just not at his best here and neither Lil Yacht or Young Thug do anything for me.
Future is also featured on here, again seemingly for his name, on “Smoke Break” which is probably my least favorite on here. It focuses on how Chance and his girlfriend have no more time to relax and get high now that they have a child. It is not offensively bad or anything it just standout as sounding worse than most of the tracks here. Also Future continues not to impress me.
I recommend this, despite the few weaker songs, and think it is one of the better hip-hop projects of the year. I love what Chance has been doing and I hope he continues to keep it up with this kind of material. He is only 23 and has done so much, I cannot wait to see what he will do next. This is everything I wanted from The Life of Pablo and I am happy I got to have it, and for free.
Best Tracks: All We Got, No Problem, Summer Friends, Blessings, Same Drugs, Angels, Finish Line/Drown, Blessings (Reprise)
Worst Track: Smoke Break