The Church Of Chance: 'Coloring Book' + The Beauty Of Defiant Joy
“Hey / What a wonderful kind of a day / Where we can learn to work and play / Get along with each other!” – Chance The Rapper
Accompanied by his backing band, The Social Experiment, Chicago’s own Chance The Rapper turned “Believe In Yourself” from the ’80s flick, Arthur, into a manifesto for millennials. Covering the theme song multiple times throughout his 2014 tour—most memorably his homecoming Lollapalooza performance—it is still one of the most beautiful moments of his career. Chance surrounded by the energy of the crowd, bathed in purple lights as drums, guitars, horns and keys slowly build a structure around the rapper’s croons.
“Everyday. Wonderful. Everyday. Wonderful.”
It’s a mantra that grows stronger in its repetition, fully unleashed when Chano flexes his arms and the band submerges itself deeper into its groove. The bright lights pierce the onyx Chicago sky signifying that it is time for those in attendance to celebrate and rejoice. Born Chancelor Bennett, the homie from the 79th has lived through some shit and yet, he’s still a man of seemingly limitless happiness.
Through suffering, survival and triumphs, it has been fitting that Chance’s most recent release, Coloring Book, is proving day by day to be a true testament to those elements both sonically and thematically. How, you ask? Simply look at the cover art: a 23-year-old whose head is raised high above the clouds, smiling down at his daughter and sharing as much joy as he possibly can with the rest of the world. Lil’ Chano from the 79th has always been good at this — at making us smile through the pain; at quote simply making us feel better.
The reason why we loved his last effort, Acid Rap, so much was because of the near-flawless way in how the rapper addressed death, existential woes and poignant nostalgia with undertones of innocence and playfulness.
“Cause everybody dies in the summer / Wanna say your goodbyes, tell them while it’s spring / I heard everybody’s dying in the summer / So, pray to God for a little more spring.”
Chance sung that on his hidden track “Paranoia”–which served as a statement about the ongoing pandemic violence occurring in his native Chicago. Presented in the form of a nursery rhyme, Chance’s lyrics embody the reality of these Chi-town children losing their innocence too young and too soon. Add to the mix those Chance-isms: the animated vocal acrobatics often complimented by his infamous “Agh!” ad-lib. He sounds like an animated cartoon character brought to life. Hollers, laughs, roars, screams, whines and yelps all used to capture the charismatic kid living within the insanity of day-to-day living in Chicago.
Chance has made me cry, laugh and smile throughout play-throughs of Acid Rap because of this very skill. The very first time that I heard him go “Agh!” all that came to mind was Nickelodeon; their iconic splat insignia; the title cards from Rugrats and almost every other ’90s cartoon show from the channel. Sure, Chano directly references Tommy Pickles and Chucky, as well as The Fairly OddParents‘ Timmy Turner) on “Cocoa Butter Kisses.” But even before reaching the third track on Acid Rap, I was already taken aback to my days as a child, reminiscing about eating Fruity Pebbles early in the morning and almost spitting them out whenever Brainy was backhanded by Helga.
Then the heavens parted and Surf came down to earth. The Social Experiment collaborative effort which features Eryn Allen Kane, Noname Gypsy and Jamila Woods, Surf further cemented Chance as an artist of positivity and inclusion. “Miracle”; “Wanna Be Cool”; “Just Wait”; “Sunday Candy” — alongside the airy, sunny sounds provided by the band, they also shared lessons to live by in the form of being grateful, being one’s self, being patient and the all important one… be happy! Chance has been building up a foundation leading to Coloring Book from providing a sanctuary to help to inciting a change that he wants to be in the world.
Totally interconnected, Chance’s music flows into community services such as his “Open Mike” series, his “Warmest Winter 2016” and, more recently, the Magnificent Coloring World. For those who were caught up in other things, the latter was a carnivalesque event in Chicago that brought people together for a day of artistic expression and celebration. It was arguably the closest culmination to this sanctuary the rapper, Chance, envisions. It’s the beginning of something that is much larger than Chano himself, something that speaks to one simple desire that has been declared in Coloring Book‘s last track “Blessings,” where he says, “Make you remember how to smile good.”
Coloring Book is Chance’s celebration to embrace his fortunes and his family. By him simply having fun and sharing that fun with others it has endeared Chano to the whole world, but it is also a bold statement: to strive for happiness as much as humanly possible.
As an artist, this is what makes Chance so interesting, so polarizing. His investment in wanting the world to be better is so dynamic. Idealistic? Overzealous? Well, to some, sure. But this is a 23-year-old black man who has seen and endured so much in a city he loves wholeheartedly and hasn’t given up on… even when everybody else has. To be even that — idealistic and overzealous — is a damn privilege that most black people never get. Chance not only has that, he seizes it from a world that has not portioned out calm, peace, security, or contentment anything close to equally. Why wouldn’t he bask in his happiness to its fullest? Think of your best reason and then prepare to find a thousand dread heads in your lobby. This is not passive happiness; this is weaponized joy. – Elijah Watson