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Chance the Rapper's 'Coloring Book': EW Review

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Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

We gave it an A-

Chance the Rapper bursts out of the gate on “No Problem,” the early highlight from his third mixtape Coloring Book. Featuring impeccable verses from 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne, the euphoric track cranks the brain’s dopamine centers to 11 and showcases everything audiences love about the 23-year-old Chicago MC: his boundless enthusiasm, College Dropout-inspired soul samples, and a flow more pliable than any of his competition.

Ambitious and full of heart, Coloring Book largely makes good on the promise of Chance’s 2013 breakthrough Acid Rap and his gleaming guest verses on tracks like Kanye West’s Life of Pablo standout “Ultralight Beam.” Here, he recruits guests big and small — from his idol West to local affiliate Noname — for an hour of gospel-tinged hip-hop that embraces Chicago culture and his recent entry into fatherhood.

Coloring Book‘s peaks are as dizzying as standing in the glass boxes at the top of the Willis Tower. “Angels” weaves steel drums, flashy trumpets, and rippling synths with Chance’s grinning assertion that he’s got his city “doing front flips.” The cut also has a dark undercurrent: “It’s too many young angels on the southside,” he rhymes. “Got us scared to let our grandmommas outside.” Chance’s concern for Chicago’s plague of violence permeates his music— he’s a dad now, fueling calls to “clean up the streets, so my daughter can have somewhere to play” — and makes Coloring Book weightier than tracks like the Kaytranada-produced jam “All Night” suggest. On “Summer Friends” he revisits a theme from Acid Rap‘s “Paranoia,” reminiscing about a childhood where he “had to come in at dark cause the big shawtys act hard.”

Chance co-wrote multiple songs on West’s self-proclaimed gospel record Pablo, further emphasizing the similarities between the two trailblazing Chicago rappers with a mutual love of soul. But where sinful lyrics about bleached assholes and Taylor Swift muddled Pablo‘s allegedly positive message, Chance delivers true redemption. “How Great” fuses a soulful choir, electronic elements, and a bonkers Lion King-referencing guest verse from elusive rapper Jay Electronica for a sublime benediction; for “Finish Line / Drown,” Chance enlists “Ultralight Beam” cohort Kirk Franklin to provide a motivational sermon.

Coloring Book stumbles periodically, with Justin Bieber contributing a listless guest spot on “Juke Jam” and West pouring the Auto-Tune too thick on “All We Got.” It also suffers from poor sequencing: “Blessings” and “Same Drugs” kill the mixtape’s early momentum with a double-shot of syrupy sentimentality. And even a zany Young Thug verse can’t save the lethargic “Mixtape.”

But like most 23-year-olds, Chance is still learning. Though it doesn’t eclipse the LSD-inspired brilliance of Acid Rap, Coloring Book affirms Chance’s place as one of hip-hop’s most promising — and most uplifting — young stars. As he notes during his intricate verse on the mixtape’s closing reprise of “Blessings,” his music will “make you remember how to smile good.”