Last week on the Colbert Show, Chance the Rapper debuted a new song in which he rapped over melancholy chords played by Daniel Caesar on the guitar. He begins his title less ballad by saying “I get sad when I look at the stars / They so pretty, you can’t tell ’em apart / You think they close but really we far / And really, they ain’t even that much closer to God”. Later in the verse, he opens up about his daughter, saying “I’m a rich excuse for a father / You just can’t tour a toddler / She turnin’ 2, she don’t need diapers, she just need her papa”.
Over the course of the past year, Chance the Rapper has established himself as one of the best rappers performing today. However, his success reaches far beyond his ability to simply craft intelligent lyrics over captivating beats. Chance the Rapper is one of the singular most magnetic and charismatic performers, relying on a host of skills that arguably not many rappers possess.
As was evident in his performance on the Colbert show, he demonstrated his ability to explore rarely discussed aspects of life for famous individuals, as well as present brutally honest reflections of his own circumstances. With nothing but the bare essentials of his own voice, Caesars strumming thumbs and the hums of his background performers, he admitted that sometimes he feels far from God, he fears that he’s failing as a father, and he’s scared for the black community, as well as the world.
Capturing the malaise of our generation, his first verse reaches a climax when he says “You go so far you hit a point when you can’t Uber back”.
“The day is on its way, it couldn’t wait no more,” he preaches in the chorus.
Chance’s ability to bring an astonishing level of depth to his music is not a new phenomenon; it’s this rare ingredient that made his music so popular when he was only known for his mix tape “Ten Day”, in which he unabashedly examined his frustrations with school and being a teenager. Ironically, he recoreded this mixtape in Ten Days while on suspension from school. On Prom Night, he raps about skipping out on the most importance dance of the year and ditching his date, just so that he could have a chance to perform. On Nostalgia, he preaches about the orange Rugrat’s cassette tapes we all grew up with, and other moments that defined his youth.
His album, Coloring Book, is filled to the brim with the same ingredients that made Ten Day and his most recent song on Colbert, smash hits.
Coloring Book is a kaleidoscopic view of memories from youth, the challenges of change, and the fortifications of faith. In “All We Got”, Chance joins forces with the Chicago Children’s Choir in what is the thesis of his unflinching hour-long sermon. The most memorable track for me was Smoke Break. On this love song, Chance recounts the perils of how fame has altered his relationship with his girlfriend, almost pleading with father time for a break so that he might enjoy a smoke session with his girlfriend.
The one thing that sets Chance the Rapper apart from any other contemporary rapper is that he doesn’t rely on the typical tricks that have made the equation of a rap song a predictable one. He doesn’t talk about guns he doesn’t own, or the bills he’s bringing with him to the club. I can’t even remember a line in which Chance brags about a car he might own (I’m not saying he never has). Rather, each song is a tour de force of the emotional depth of himself artist.
Though this is a skill I expect Chance to continue to hone and develop on his next albums, I don’t think this is something he stumbled upon, and then realized it worked. Every single tape has had smatterings of this unique ability.
Consider the best songs on Acid Rap.
In Cocoa Butter Kisses, Chance the Rapper begins by painting listeners a picture of his high schools days, rapping “…Cigaretts on cigarettes, my mama thinks I stink / I’ve got burn holes in my hoodies, all my homies think it’s dank / I miss my cocoa butter kisses”.
The rest of the song recounts the pain he experienced as he exited the days of his youth, and the habits he struggled to abandon. We learn that at points, he had to put Visine inside of his eyes so that his grandmother would even give him a hug. In the same verse, he reminisces on childhood characters from TV show we all knew and loved.
On Chain Smoker, he fathoms his mortality and the paths he could have taken “I’ve seen the light, I lost my lighter/ bic flick, kick the habit and the bucket.”
It’s perhaps the last song on Acid Rap that is the most emotional. On “Everything’s Good”, he inserts pieces of a phone conversation with his father, in which he thanks his dad for all of his support. “I could never be more proud of anything in my life, you know, than I am of you and what you’ve done. Chance, you have done remarkable …” his father says.
In rap music specifically, it is extremely rare to see such emotional rawness. For years, we’ve seen that brashness was the most important characteristic to possess as a rapper, however, it seems that Chance has flipped the standard on its side, and his emotions have come pouring out as a result.
Chance is a rapper who will undoubtedly surpass his contemporaries for this reason. Other rappers who have constantly caught the attention of our ears in the modern era are Drake, Future, XXXTentacion, etc. The thing they all have in common is that their style is a construction of a perceived reality in which they harp on the pain they experience as a result of their various character flaws and situations. However, Chance always turns the darker aspects of his reality into something that serves as a lesson in faith.
This, in my opinion, is what makes Chance the Rapper’s music so special. In the next year, I’m confident that he’ll release an album that reaches critical acclaim again, adding to his already impressive collection of 3 Grammys.