Music

Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book

On his third solo mixtape, Chicago’s Chance the Rapper preaches the gospel of community.


Chance the Rapper

Coloring Book

Label: Self-released
US Release Date: 2016-05-12
UK Release Date: 2016-05-12
Amazon
iTunes

Much has been made of Chance the Rapper’s label-free rise to the upper echelons of contemporary hip-hop. Having long since left the underground within which he continues to operate, Chance has popped up on a host of high profile releases -- chiefly among these being his scene stealing verse on Kanye West’s Life of Pablo -- and largely found himself part of the mainstream. So much so that he even found himself the musical guest on this past year’s Saturday Night Live, playing to a national audience and making history by becoming the first unsigned artist to perform on the show. Given this level of exposure, it’s clear Chance is poised for great things, most of which will hinge on how he handles his career moving forward.

On his breakthrough 2013 mixtape, Acid Rap, he sounded insular and constantly on edge, the jittery product of the South Side of Chicago’s often unforgiving streets. As a clearly thoughtful and sensitive teenager, his words carried a narrow focus that found him largely documenting his day-to-day and the ins and outs of being a young black male in a city with a soaring death toll. Fast forward several years and numerous critical plaudits and Chance now sounds far more quietly controlled, shifting his focus to that of a more universal approach. Much like Kendrick Lamar, arguably his only peer at this point in the game, Chance’s work has gone from the intrapersonal to the interpersonal, using his platform to push for a better world in which we can all live together as one.

And given the marketing campaign and push for community within the city of Chicago behind his latest release, Coloring Book, it’s clear that Chance is not simply paying lip service to an idealistic impossibility. Instead, he’s looking to bring into the world around him the basic sentiments behind his music and persona. On “D.R.A.M. Sings Special", something of a soulful lullaby of reassurance intones: “You are very special / You’re special too / Everyone is special / This I know is true when I look at you.”

It’s this type of positivity and optimism that has informed Chance’s work from the start, but with his latest solo release he has taken this basic idea to the next level. “I don’t make songs for free / I make songs for freedom,” he assures listeners on “Blessings", the first of many explicitly religious tracks on Coloring Book. Where Lamar tends to remain secular, Chance takes us to church, sometimes literally with gospel-informed arrangements and scripture quoting verses.

But rather than sounding like an impossible plea for universal understanding and togetherness, Coloring Book’s theology is based in the personal satisfaction that comes from being at peace with the world in which we live, being able to see through all the bullshit for the pockets of good scattered about and knowing that loving one another can make a literal world of difference. To do so, Chance pushes for a return to childhood optimism. It’s an approach more associated with a hippie mentality, but Chance manages to appropriate that camp’s less cloying aspects to create a modern doctrine of personal and communal harmony that he seems intent on bringing to his beloved city and beyond.

Throughout, there’s a certain levity and airiness to Coloring Book that plays as Chance having transcended the secular and emotional trappings that informed Acid Rap, something only hinted at with last year’s Donny Trumpet & the Social Experiment release Surf. Here he has largely abandoned his vocal ticks and twitches in favor of a smoother, more laidback and quietly confident approach that finds him in complete control of not only his here and now, but with a clear vision for his future. This change -- arguably for the better -- is brought to the fore on “Same Drugs". Chronicling a list of changes, the majority associated with the maturation process, Chance works to come to terms with his new world. “A shadow of what I once was,” he sings with a sigh, moving forward and beyond to become that to which he aspires.

And while there is a newfound level of maturity and sensitivity to be found on Coloring Book, it seems to come at the expense of Acid Rap’s immediacy. Where that release often played as something of a mainstream, pop-influenced release designed for mass appeal, Coloring Book forgoes swinging for the fences in favor of a more nuanced approach that requires multiple listens for the overall significance of the album to sink in. Throughout, tempos expand and contract, giving the music an elastic quality that belies the methodical nature of each track’s construction and execution.

As with Lamar’s recent releases, Chance places focus on collaboration to create a musical community that proves and extension of his own. By enlisting friends and high-profile guests including T-Pain, Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Kanye West, Kirk Franklin, and Future to name but a few, Chance helps point the way to a brave new world within the music industry in which the music returns to being for, by and about the people, thus strengthening the overall sense of community. Whether or not this approach will succeed remains to be seen. But in the meantime Coloring Book is another exceptional release from a vital artist only now coming into his own. In that, the future for Chance the Rapper is wide open to seemingly unlimited potential. Let’s hope he continues to capitalize on it, bringing positivity to the masses.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Nowhere else in the merging of modern cinema and film criticism can you find such a strangely symbiotic relationship.

Both Roger Ebert and Werner Herzog are such idiosyncratically iconoclastic giants in their respective fields that it's very likely the world will never see an adequate replacement for each. While Herzog continues to follow his own singular artistic vision, the world has since lost the wit and wisdom of Ebert, arguably the last of the truly great film critics and custodians of the sacred medium. Between the two it becomes clear that there was an unremarked upon but nonetheless present mutual respect and admiration. Though here it tends to come off far more one-sided, save the opening transcript of a workshop held at the Facets Multimedia Center in Chicago in 1979 hosted by Ebert and featured Herzog and a handful of later interviews, there still comes through in their dialogue a meeting of like-minded, thoughtful individuals with a great love for the cinema and exploring the extremes of human creativity.

Keep reading... Show less

If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

Related Articles Around the Web
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image