You have kids, you become a father, everything changes, there’s no time left to do what you used to do, and you cling and claw to keep Comfort’s heartbeat pulsing while pretending that real life isn’t staring you right in the eye – this is a disrespectfully abbreviated synopsis of what Chance and Future rap about on “Smoke Break.” Of course it’s poignant, of course it’s profound; Chance has always been honest and really good at conveying these things he’s choosing to be honest about. His lyricism is even more mature in 2016 than it was in 2013, but that isn’t what makes me want to write about Coloring Book. I’m particularly amazed that Chance didn’t stagnate, that a young rapper, whose hearty vibing already gets him more deep love than anybody, fully embraced a bout of growth that took him away from the safety of his established, adored sound.
Our budding little busy-bee, SnapchatInstaBook lives are lacing themselves into the fabric of the music industry, and it makes for a fascinating herky-jerky hip-hop landscape. Our attention spans can’t survive the tedium of a 6-second vine, we can’t go an hour without a timeline scroll, can’t write a piece about Chance the Rapper without an iMessage check every three sentences. (I hate to say “Millennials,” but) Millennials have a differently-wired brain than those of any previous generation. It’s what makes us so distracted, what makes us thirst for any track instantly gratifying enough to warrant the royal title, “Lit.” It’s what makes Future, Fetty Wap, Rae Sremmurd, and Young Thug so commercially successful at the rampant ire of hip-hop’s proudest purists. The anger makes sense – these artists’ utter lack of elaborate work ethic in song-crafting goes completely against everything we’ve been taught growing up. They themselves admit that effortlessness defines their creative process, cranking out 20 songs in a two-hour long studio session each with one, max two, spontaneous takes.
Pharrell’s Beats 1 Radio show OTHERtone recently had a segment addressing the lack of depth in modern hip-hop, in which evidently 75-year-old co-host Scott Vener blasted new age hitmakers for killing rap’s storytelling tradition in favor of something far less worthwhile. But he’s wrong. Even though the emergence of our Futures and Thuggers may be rooted in superficiality, they remain incredibly talented and unique artists whose music captures an exhilarating energy even our most intricate songwriters can’t do without. Elation can coexist gorgeously with more meticulous rap music – Kanye’s proven it, Vince Staples has proven it, Kendrick’s proven it, and Coloring Book is Chance dedicating himself more than anyone else has to prove it.
Since the Friday release, I’ve heard disappointed criticism begrudged at Chance by those I know to be his best fans. These are people who’ve spun 10 Day and Acid Rap more than I ever will, who get freaky to “Sunday Candy” and pray Chance’s next baby finds itself growing inside of them, and a lot of them are bummed with what they’ve waited three years to hear. I empathize, because that feeling sucks a whole lot, but I think they’re wrong to feel that way. I think it’s bad to hope that rap music’s scrappiest young gun will put out another Acid Rap – because we already have one, and it’s just as available to listen to now as it was three years ago. It’s clear that Chance took this time to let life happen, to go full sponge and soak in the last few years of hip-hop music, and what he cooked up is great for the genre. Coloring Book is an all-encompassing, thoughtful tape that promotes new-age trappers into a more prominent supporting role than they’ve ever been allowed on a project as elaborate as this, all while maintaining the wistful wit that makes Chance one of our favorite musicians. It’s heartwarming to think that the majority of the features on a mixtape that took years to make have never spent more than a few weeks on their own work.
It feels like Chance is daring rap’s old guard, and many of his own fans, to hate him: Justin Bieber, 2 Chainz, screwed-by-his-label Wayne, Young Thug, Lil Yachty, and Future have prominent guest spots. Future’s on “Smoke Break” is the best. For the track’s first two-thirds, Chance does a sensational impression of his guest, then melancholic version of Future comes in and raps his ass off with a very characteristic verse, but also one dripping with Chance’s spry sound; it’s like when Maximilian Pegasus brings out the toon version of Blue Eyes White Dragon – very scary and very endearing.
As incredible a mixtape as Acid Rap is, the Chance of that era couldn’t have made “Smoke Break.” Music has to evolve, and the best artists we’ve got are those who set change in motion. Kanye’s been doing it since before his jaw shattered, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Chance is his rightful creative heir (and not just because he’s from Chicago and chops up soul samples). He’ll keep breathing new life into the genre for years and years and years to come, and you’re in for a hell of a time if you’re willing to adapt.
Listen here. Image from here.