Acid Rap is the best or second-best album (yeah) of 2013. This is merely in the top ten of 2016. Put in a different, simpler way, in case you’re trying to recall what came out in 2013 and what came out in 2016: this was a bit of a disappointment any way you slice it. Hearing Chance go “RAWK RAWK RAWK RAWK / For my real fans” on “Angels” is both funny and heartbreaking. Heartbreaking, because there has been a noticeable switch between then and now. Exhibit A: the bevy of features that made “Good Ass Intro” the casual masterpiece that it was gets swapped out for Kanye West on “All We Got”, which on paper could work but “All We Got” hits a wall as soon as the first chorus hits. And new posse cut “No Problem” switches out Vic Mensa (who, at that point, sounded like Chance both in voice, flow and subject matter) and Twista (whose speed made sense as a grand finale) for – eugh – 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne. And while 2 Chainz’ “I ain’t put enough weed in the blunt / All you do is smoke tobacco” is funny, as soon as he goes “Run shit like diarrhea,” I just can’t bring myself to hear Lil Wayne’s concerning verse (“I just popped five Percocets and only caught a buzz”). As good as BrassTracks’ beat is (and it is good, the thing sounds like massive) and as catchy as the choruses are (“RUH RUH”), it’s just not good enough. And the second “Blessings”, while a good enough closer (with everyone coming back to the stage to sing the outro, including people not involved in the rest like Anderson .Paak and BJ the Chicago Kid), doesn’t stack up to Acid Rap’s reprise, which had a unique flow in the proper song and for the outro, brought back every single motif in Acid Rap into – another – casual masterpiece. In other words, everything on this album sounds bigger, but not necessarily better. And the problems don’t end there: Justin Bieber does a breathy maybe/baby rhyme on “Juke Jam”; “How Great” crashes right into Kaytranada’s maddeningly amazing video game beat of “All Night” with a gospel choir that seems to go on for forever. But this is still great for the same reason Kanye West’s latest is great: consistency is garbage; greatness is a rarity, and anyone should trade the former for the latter. Very little approaches stuff like Chance switching his flow into a growl on “All We Got,” “Man, my daughter couldn’t have a better mother / If she ever find another, he better love her”, or Saba loving his city so much that it makes him feel like Alexand(er) the Great (ain’t he just darling) on the choruses of “Angels” over the marimbas (?) supplied by the Social Experiment and Lido. And speaking of the Social Experiment, the little piano flourishes and the piercing trumpet on “Blessings” rivals Jamilia Woods’ super-lovely choruses or Chance the Rapper’s deliberate flow (“I’m at war with my wrongs, I’m writing four different songs / I never forged it or forfeited, I’m a force to be reconciled / They want four minute songs / You need a four hour praise dance performed every morn…”), a gorgeousness that continues into “Same Drugs.”
Reading other criticisms about Coloring Book, I found a lot of people upset by how overjoyed it all sounds. A bit odd, but also a understandable: Acid Rap was a bit more three-dimensional in that regard. There was the paranoia of the second half of “Pusha Man” and the heartbreak in Noname Gypsy’s verse on “Lost” that are mostly absent here. Which brings me to my favourite song on Coloring Book, one that I see getting tossed around as second-drawer: “Smoke Break.” For some people, hearing Chance sound like Future (or hearing Chance sound like Young Thug on “Mixtape,” another highlight) was a deal-breaker. For me, I heard some of the most inspired verses on the album from Chance, and for Future, his most inspired verse in 2016. I can sit here quoting lines all day: “She don’t got time for a whole / Little bit of time that we have / We used to purchase a half”; “I just put milk in the bowl / She don’t be cooking at all / She just put weed in the bowl”; “She wake up at crack of dawn / She don’t be cracking a smile”; “We stuck together like oowops / We smoke to Fetty, sing ZooWop / Traphouse 3, Guwop.” Each line delivered so fast as if to steamroll past the heartbreaking subject matter of two people growing apart with age (“I shoulda knew when I grew up / It would be no time at all”) and with responsibilities (“You know she carry her own / You know she carry a child”). And the beat! The beat is so fucking good, a revolving door of different elements, each of which would make for a great beat on its own: the swirl of the keyboard leading to the drums leading to the bass melody of the first chorus (coming back for Future’s verse) to the staccato keyboard bouncing playfully through Chance’s second verse to horns underpinning the second choruses. That’s all boringly technical to describe, but the result is fucking magnificent, and I look forward to producer GARREN’s next (or past?) work. We all deserve a smoke break sometimes; even the non-smokers can do with an escape.