Why is the mastering so spotty on a fair amount of the songs, especially at the start ?
Why was ‘Grown Ass Kid’ not on the mixtape?
Why are there so many poor features?
Why is there so much gospel and so little rapping that caught my ears?
Why is Chance’s singing not on point?
Why did he release this mixtape behind an Apple-backed paywall?
These questions and more make me think that Coloring Book is not the album of the year, nor is it the hip-hop album of the year – I tried to give it some more time like I did with Views, which eventually did grow on me (‘U With Me?’, ‘Feel No Ways’, ‘Still There’ – very solid), but alas I haven’t bought a ticket for the hype train. If anything, this release has made me appreciate Acid Rap to a much greater extent. After ‘Ultralight Beam’ from The Life of Pablo, everyone was going crazy; most people agreed that it was one of, if not the, best verse on the album, and it got everyone excited for Chance’s next effort.
Let’s talk about the mix. The album starts off with ‘All We Got’, and if you love Kanye so much so that you’ll drown out the entire song leaving only slightly tolerable auto-tuned singing from the man himself, it doesn’t really set a good first impression. Chance sounds really good when he gets going in his first verse, and the flow is definitely reminiscent of his flow on ‘ULB’, but then Kanye comes in for the hook and the choir and trumpets are completely blocked from the mix; Chance returns afterwards and sounds quieter as a result. Similar things occur on the following track, with 2 Chainz appearing to be much louder than both Lil Wayne and Chance. Chance clashes with Francis & The Lights on ‘Summer Friends’ and the right-panned cellos towards the end sound a bit odd (granted that latter point is me being picky), the noise-based crescendo on ‘Blessings’ is interesting but is not quite pulled off, Chance’s verses change in volume on ‘All Night’, his hook on ‘Smoke Break’ is drowned out by the instrumental, and the list goes on and on. Of course these are only some of the tracks, and other tracks like ‘How Great’ and ‘Angels’ are mixed perfectly well, but it doesn’t make up for it. The fact that this is a mixtape is not an excuse.
How about the features? I’ve already talked about Kanye’s contribution, but that wasn’t the only questionable addition to the album, of which there are many (perhaps too many?). ‘Mixtape’, featuring verses from Young Thug and Lil Yachty, instrumentally sounds like it belongs on a Thugger mixtape, and sees Chance try and emulate the trap-style flow that the other two bring. Stylistically I understand the features, all three of them being rappers who have utilised the mixtape to great effect, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of mixtape at all, especially since it follows ‘Same Drugs’ (a song which has no listed features), a touching ballad using drug usage as metaphor explaining his fading relationship with a girl, whilst also displaying Chance’s singing chops which appear patchy in tracks like ‘Blessings’ and ‘All Night’. Justin Beiber felt like a shameless commercial throw-in, bringing a nice voice, sure, but it feeling like an antithesis to Chance’s ethos. Again, there are strong features on here as well however – Saba provides a fantastic chorus on ‘Angels’ whilst being backed by steel pans (truly a summer banger which I will be rinsing), and Future provides a nice contrast to Chance’s style on ‘Smoke Break’. Perhaps best of all is Jay Electronica, starting his verse with the Lion King references, paired with interesting flow which picks up pace towards the end definitely makes ‘How Great’ a highlight on the album.
I haven’t touched too much on the positives of this album, as there are plenty of reviews out there which have raved about them, and yes there are a fair few good moments on the record. ‘Same Drugs’ is an extra shot of emotional Chance after ‘Blessings’ as mentioned above, as well as the steel pans on ‘Angels’ which I’ve also already mentioned, paired with some cracking lines from Chance as well like “This what it sounds like when God splits an atom with me” (and his flow brings undeniable energy and comedy to boot). ‘My cousin Nicole‘s chants of “How great is God” is a really uplifting intro on the track, keeping things fresh enough to stop their part from getting stale, and the hook on ‘No Problem’ is very catchy indeed.
Those tracks will definitely stay in my listening rotation for sure, but I still can’t help but say I am slightly disappointed with this album. It’s not the hip-hop album of the year, and it probably won’t go down as a classic either. Yes, it’s nice to hear from Chano after such a long time, and perhaps I’m too slow to keep up with his stylistic changes, but this was an underwhelming experience to say the least. I still remember my first listen, sat in the lounge of my university accommodation with my good friend Rob, just pointing out so much that was below par with the mixtape. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad album – its far from it in fact – but it’s not a great album in my eyes. Maybe the bar was set too high with Acid Rap? Who knows.
This article was written by Mo Hafeez