Chance The Rapper's 'Coloring Book' Reveals Shades Of Gospel

May 15, 2016
Originally published on May 15, 2016 4:52 pm

Chance the Rapper is determined.

The independent artist from Chicago is a hometown hero. At this point, it's common to see headlines scurry across your Twitter timeline about his efforts to make his city better. One day, he might be supporting initiatives to curb homelessness; on another day, he might be hosting a youth concert to address gun violence.

But now, he's on a new mission: taking gospel music mainstream, with his new mixtape, Coloring Book.

His plan of attack has been at least a few years in the making. On his breakout tape, 2013's Acid Rap, he and his band The Social Experiment played around with sounds of the church — organs and hand claps and layered harmonies reminiscent of a choir. Chance also used Acid Rap to speak directly about his faith and worship, with crystal-clear lyrics like: "I am a new man, I am sanctified. I am holy, I have been baptized."

More recently, on Kanye West's The Life of Pablo, he had a scene-stealing verse on the powerfully spiritual opening track, "Ultralight Beam." Kirk Franklin, one of the most recognizable names in gospel, was also featured. But alongside Kanye, he took a backseat to Chance on the track.

With Coloring Book, Chance is taking it a step further. But he's doing it in a way that feels like a test run — like he's easing his listeners into the idea of gospel hip-hop.

He calls on the top rappers in the game, like Atlanta's Young Thug and Future, to assist on songs that wouldn't be quite welcome in a church. It's a way to access a crowd that might not have darkened the doors of one in a while.

And he brings unlikely collaborators together — like edgy R&B gun-for-hire Jeremih and the hermetic New York band Francis and the Lights — as another way to bridge the gap between audiences.

Chance is walking the tightrope between secular and religious, with his devoted followers, who are legion on the Internet, looking up at him. Coloring Book isn't a complete gospel album. But with its myriad influences and creative directions, it's certainly praiseworthy.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And we'd like to finish up today with some music. Chicago-born Chancelor Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper, has just released a new mix tape. It's called "Coloring Book." NPR's Kiana Fitzgerald has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL WE GOT")

CHANCE THE RAPPER: (Singing) And we back, and we back, and we back, and we back.

KIANA FITZGERALD, BYLINE: Chance the Rapper is determined.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL WE GOT")

CHANCE THE RAPPER: (Singing) And we back, and we back.

FITZGERALD: He's an independent artist from Chicago and a hometown hero. At this point, it's common to see a headline scurry across your Twitter timeline about his efforts to make his city better. One day, he might be supporting initiatives to curb homelessness. On another day, he might be hosting a youth concert to address gun violence. But now he's onto a new mission - taking gospel music mainstream with his new mixtape, "Coloring Book."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INTERLUDE (THAT'S LOVE)")

CHANCE THE RAPPER: (Rapping) What's better than tripping is falling in love. What's better than Letterman, Leno, Fallon and all the above, what's better than popping bottles trying to ball in the club is the first caveman pops with his son, ball and a club.

FITZGERALD: His plan of attack has been at least a few years in the making. On his breakout tape, 2013's "Acid Rap," he and his band, The Social Experiment, played around with sounds from the church - organs and handclaps and layered harmonies that were reminiscent of a choir. More recently, on Kanye West's "The Life Of Pablo," he had a scene-stealing verse on the powerfully spiritual opening track "Ultralight Beam."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ULTRALIGHT BEAM")

CHANCE THE RAPPER: (Singing) This is my part, nobody else speak. This is my part, nobody else speak. This little light of mine, glory be to God, yeah. I'm going to make sure that they go where they can't go. If they don't want to ride, I'm going to still give them raincoats.

FITZGERALD: Also featured was one of the most recognizable names in gospel, Kirk Franklin, who took a backseat to Chance alongside Kanye. With "Coloring Book," Chance is taking it a step further, but he's doing it in a way that feels like a test run, like he's easing his listeners into the idea of gospel hip-hop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMOKE BREAK")

CHANCE THE RAPPER: (Rapping) I don't have time to finesse. I put some ice on your neck, but I ain't holding you back. I spend my time on the road.

FITZGERALD: He calls on the top rappers in the game, like Atlanta's Young Thug and Future, to assist on songs that don't sound like they would be quite welcome in a church in order to access a crowd that might not have darkened the doors of one in a while.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMER FRIENDS")

CHANCE THE RAPPER: (Singing) Summer friends don't stay. Summer friends don't stay. Hey, stay around.

FITZGERALD: He brings unlikely collaborators together, like edgy R&B gun-for-hire Jeremih and the hermetic New York band Francis and the Lights, as another way to bridge the gap between audiences.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMER FRIENDS")

CHANCE THE RAPPER: (Singing) When I was so young, before I could remember, I would always treat my gang like family members.

FITZGERALD: Chance is walking the tightrope between secular and religious with his devoted followers, who are legion on the Internet, looking up at him. "Coloring Book" isn't a complete gospel album. But with its myriad influences and creative directions, it's certainly praiseworthy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLESSINGS")

CHANCE THE RAPPER: (Singing) Are you ready for your blessing? Are you ready...

MARTIN: ...Kiana Fitzgerald writes for NPR Music. Chance the Rapper's new mix tape is called "Coloring Book." It's available on Apple Music for the next two weeks, and after that on other streaming platforms.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLESSINGS")

CHANCE THE RAPPER: (Singing) Are you ready for your...

MARTIN: ...For Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Follow us on Twitter @npratc, or follow me @NPRMichel. We are back next week. Until then, thank you for listening, and we hope you have a great night.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLESSINGS")

CHANCE THE RAPPER: (Singing) For your miracle? Are you ready for your blessing? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.