Expectation: Coming three years after his breakthrough mixtape, Acid Rap, this project was among the most anticipated hip hop albums of 2016. Chance saw a boom in popularity in early 2016 thanks to the success of “All My Friends” and “Ultralight Beams” and dropping the long awaited “Chance 3” was the final push Chano needed to break fully into the mainstream.
- All We Got- First of all, starting the project with “And we back” is a brilliant nod to Acid Rap that is sure to make any fan of the project immediately jump to maximum excitement. Chance flexes his more developed singing abilities during his verses and the instrumental is fantastic, but the song has a huge rough patch whenever Kanye sings on the hook. Ye is a fine singer, but the execution was just way, way off.
- No Problem – We may never know why this song wasn’t chosen as a single, but it absolutely should have been. The beat is alive with overlapping vocal samples and rock-steady drums, and both 2 Chainz and Wayne deliver quality verses.
- Summer Friends – While I’m not a huge fan of Francis’s voice on this track, the idea is pretty cool. The songs lyrics seem to be a sort of follow-up on ‘Paranoia’ (from Chance’s previous project), though Chance seems more hopeful here than the despair of the prior song.
- D.R.A.M. Sings Special – Apparently DRAM’s attempt at a children’s song that Chance fell in love with. Pretty nice as an interlude.
- Blessings – The first of several overtly religious songs on the project. Second verse is especially good.
- Same Drugs – I really love this track. A gorgeous instrumental that rises and falls perfectly, and solid wordplay to convey a relatable and moving story about people growing apart.
- Mixtape – I like Yachty, I really like Thugger, and I really really like Chance, but this song feels completely out of place on this project. The nostalgic, honest vibe of the last 4 songs is suddenly thrown aside, and the entire track just feels unwelcome. On its own its a pretty good song, and it could probably work great near the beginning of the project, but its the wrong kind of variety at its assigned spot.
- Angels – I’ve probably listened to this song 500 times since it came over a year ago, but I still like it, so I guess its pretty good.
- Juke Jam – A pretty chill song with some nice vocals from Towkio and Biebs, but forgettable in the context of the album.
- All Night – Featuring a great hook from Know Fortune and silky smooth production from Kaytranada, Chance’s verses almost seem to just fill out the song rather than be an attraction on their own.
- Grown-Ass Kid – If you’re not familiar with the real track 11 of the project, you’re missing out. Probably my favorite track from the entire project, Chance, Mick Jenkins , and Alex Wiley all deliver outstanding verses, the beat is catchy and fun, and the hook is a dumb idea that works entirely too well. Plus, it has by far the best “big fella” skit. I won’t link to the song here, but its out there.
- How Great – The intro is really good, but entirely too long. 30 seconds would be enough, 50 seconds would have been ideal, 1:10 was also a great option, but at 2:45 it just feels like it should have been a separate interlude. However, Chance and Jay Elec absolutely kill their verses, remaining so engaging that I didn’t realize until just now that the song doesn’t even have a hook. Wish their was at least a bar of outro though.
- Smoke Break – Another nice track for the album that just doesn’t stand very well on its own. There aren’t any obvious faults, but there’s nothing here that makes me want to listen to it instead of one of the project’s better tracks. Future’s feature was better than expected though.
- Finish Line – Such a fun song that would have been an outstanding closer had Chance not made an even better one. Chance’s rhymes are on point throughout, Eryn Allen Kane fits perfectly (but when does hse not) and T-Pain sounds great on the gospel-inspired hook.
- Drown – Proving my previous point, Kane’s vocals fit perfectly on the darker melody here. Noname has delivered only quality in 2016, so its no surprise that her verse here is a contender for the best on the entire album. However, the two songs connect well thematically, leading up to a sort of reconciliation through Kirk Franklin’s uplifting outro.
- Blessings – The second with that title, but a perfect closer to the project, featuring perhaps the most star-studded choir in the history of hip hop. If there’s one exciting takeaway from this track, its that Chance has made a lot of connections, so hopefully there are more great Chance features coming to fill the inevitable multi-year wait for his next project.
Overall: To many fans of Acid Rap, this project is a huge disappointment. Chance has matured as a person and focused his artistry, but he’s also lost some of the exuberant energy that propelled Acid Rap to widespread acclaim. However, Coloring Book is also far more cohesive as a project, not only sonically, but lyrically as well, as Chance manages to refrain from contradicting himself for the entire project. Some fans may cling to an idealized, imaginary follow up that exceeds the bounds of remotely reasonable expectation, but I enjoy this project for what it is. It probably isn’t better than Acid Rap, but its still a great project.