Chance the Rapper wants you to know he’s blessed. It’s a theme that pervades his long-awaited third solo album, Coloring Book, which recently became the first streaming-exclusive mixtape to chart on the Billboard top 200.
It’s hard to disagree. In recent months, the unsigned 23-year-old Chicago rapper has been making a serious run at the hip-hop throne. Drake may have the year’s bestselling rap album, but Chance is the people’s champ, rebuffing record labels and releasing music for free.
That DIY ethos has won him the respect of heavyweights like Kanye West, who appears with the Chicago Children’s Choir on the opening track, “All We Got.” Over West’s soulful production, all manic handclap snares and boisterous horns, Chance boasts of his love for his girlfriend and their baby daughter.
Much has been made of the mixtape’s gospel influence—the biblical allusions, the exuberant praise song (“How Great”), and how Chance spits certain lines with the gusto of a Pentecostal preacher. Kirk Franklin even shows up alongside T-Pain. It’s fitting that this rap-gospel mashup would come from Chicago’s South Side, home of Mahalia Jackson and Tommy Dorsey.
The blessed life isn’t free from hardship. On “Blessings,” Chance delivers incisive social commentary: Jesus’ black life ain’t matter/I know, I talked to his daddy. He also details a childhood surrounded by gun violence (“Summer Friends”) and laments fading friendships (“Same Drugs”).
Such is the generous worldview of Coloring Book that it embraces both the beautiful and the broken. The mixtape closes on a hopeful note with the sung refrain, Are you ready for your blessing? Are you ready for your miracle? It’s an invitation to consider that life, in all its changing hues, is nothing less than a gift. Truly, this is music for believers.