Unpacked: Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book

Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper owned hip-hop in 2016. He provided the musical backbone of Kanye’s Life of Pablo, partied with Beyonce at the VMAs, hung out with Obama at the White House, headlined his own festival, and released the groundbreaking mixtape/album Coloring Book. In terms of larger cultural impact, there’s very few rappers this decade who’ve matched Chance’s 2016 run.

To an extent, it seems destined that Chance the Rapper would reach this stature — he’s been buzzed about in underground circles since his 2012 mixtape 10 Day, and he comes from the upper echelons of Chicago’s political elites: his father is currently serving as the chief of staff for Mayor Rahm Emanuel — but his moment in the limelight is a weird by-product of a dark political and cultural moment. The joy and euphoria of his rhymes, and the mindfulness and positivity of his persona, provide an anecdote to 2016’s riots, terrorism, police shootings, and political demagogues. He embodies the way we want to see ourselves, our future and our culture.

For hip-hop fans, particularly those who fashion ourselves purists of a certain variety, he also reflects how we’d like to think of the genre. And part of the joy of listening to Coloring Book is picking apart his influences and how he reflects hip-hop. The smartly euphoric uplift of “No Problems” recalls Kanye during his pop maximalism peak, while the “Blessings” channels the strands of gospel that pops up in everyone from Tupac to Anderson.Paak. Though he reps his hometown of Chicago — and his music contains echoes of everyone from Juke legend DJ Rhashad to classic boom bap icon Common — he’s also has omnivorous tastes, channeling LA underground absurdists Freestyle Fellowship and the sludgy H-Town hip-hop of Mike Jones.

For this playlist, we trace some of those influences and try to unpack Chance’s deceptively dense masterpiece, Coloring Book. You can subscribe to the playlist here. We’ve also curated a playlist of some of our favorite interviews of the rapper. Check it out below. — Sam Chennault