Is there such a thing as being too likable? I know, it’s kind of a ridiculous question, and probably one that only a lifelong crank like myself could ask in the context of an album, er… mixtape, like Chance The Rapper’s latest. Because yes, Chance seems like an all-around solid dude with a pretty positive outlook who seems to genuinely be looking out for his friends, even in the face of his budding superstardom. Hell, he’s still releasing mixtapes even though he could’ve easily been signed to any major label and gotten rich in a more traditional trajectory, but has opted more to go the independent root and embrace his self-appointed position as “the people’s champ”. And then he comes out with an unbelievably upbeat album like Coloring Book, and you have to ask, what’s not to like?
Well, because this album has come out during this pocket of time in which it’s become increasingly hard to find things to make us feel positive about the future, I’d say there’s very little not to like here. This album is not only a great summer album, but it’s also a great 2016 summer album, and for that my inner cynic has a very hard time resisting it. Also, I realize I just called this mixtape an album several times because I’m a rock-obsessed white guy with an album-based brain, but I think that just speaks to the all-inclusiveness of this music that I like it as much as I do.
A main component of Coloring Book‘s “everybody’s welcome” aesthetic is its gospel influences, which it very much wears on its sleeves, and yet somehow does it without feeling like it’s trying to advocate any specific religious convictions. I mean, yes, a song like “Blessings” is clearly about God. But I think Coloring Book‘s religious themes are essential to what makes it great, what with dangerous phrases like “Radical Islamists” being thrown around by idiots these days, it’s easy to get sort of beleaguered by the way religion and people’s individual beliefs seem to complicate so many things in our society. But something like Coloring Book reminds us that religion and especially Christianity should be about accepting people and their beliefs in order to further their own spiritual fulfillment.
That said, I feel like I may be making this album seem like more of a culturally important album than one that’s really upbeat and fun to listen to. And I’d say it’s definitely more of the latter, since I feel like critics haven’t quite jumped on this album the way they did with something a bit more “serious” like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly last year. But I think the fact that it’s fun and upbeat in a time when it’s hard to find stuff like that in our culture (I mean other than, like silly dog videos) is what makes it kind of important. I mean, I haven’t been to a Chance The Rapper show — and the fact that he’s just getting bigger and bigger probably makes that prospect increasingly more unlikely — but I have to imagine it’s a very warm and safe place. And that’s what this album is. It’s a place where you see Chance opening up and letting in artists as disparate as Lil Wayne, Justin Beiber, T-Pain, and The Chicago Children’s Choir, all coming together in the name of musical enlightenment.
Favorite Tracks: “No Problem”, “Blessings”, “Finish Line/Drown”