Not since “I’ll Fly Away” on Kanye West’s 2004 debut has a mainstream rap release embraced the uplifting effect of gospel music as completely as Chance the Rapper has on Coloring Book. For his third solo release, Chance has made a mixtape of seemingly boundless joy and enthusiasm that somehow justifies his hype and suggests that he’s reached a new place altogether.

That feeling of heavenly triumph starts with the album’s production, much of which is credited to The Social Experiment. Chance performs over a backdrop that falls somewhere between Surf’s jazzy leanings and the chipmunk soul that Just Blaze, Kanye West and Young Guru used to propel Roc-a-Fella in the early ’00s. Tracks like “Blessings,” “Angels” and “Finish Line” feature the tactile, religious approaches of the former imbued with the head-knocking pomposity of the latter. The clearest example of these two impulses is the lead single “No Problem,” a swagged-out rebellion that manages to be polite, provocative and aggressive over a minimally-affected gospel choir sample. Equal credit goes to Basstracks on the production and Chance’s bouncy, stabbing flow.

Chance sounds free here, compelled by a higher power and seemingly thrilled with his life. He’s excited about his forthcoming child, as on “Blessings (“Like my ex-girl getting pregnant/ And her becoming my everything”) and “All We Got” (“My daughter couldn’t have a better mother/ If she ever find another he better love her”). And he’s optimistic about his future endeavors: “Blessings keep falling in my lap.” Lyrically he’s as creative as ever, layering religious references and music into every verse without turning the album into straightforward Christian rap. But most of all, he’s happy to be making music on his own terms, and releasing it himself.

Being an independent artist is an obvious point of pride for Chance, who goes to great lengths to tear down the oppressive concept of label affiliation. Sometimes that’s all he seems to think about. He makes it clear on “Blessings” that, “I don’t make songs for free/ I make ‘em for freedom/ Don’t believe in kings/ But believe in the kingdom.” He wonders aloud if he’s the only person who “still cares about mixtapes” on “Mixtape” and says he doesn’t “believe in signing” on “How Great,” and so on.

Yet this mixtape comes with a mixed message. The aggressively anti-establishment viewpoint of Coloring Book is available exclusively on Apple Music – though perhaps only for the first two weeks of its release, if an unsourced line in a Wikipedia article can be trusted.

For an artist that so boldly asserts his independence, the album features a lot of high profile guest spots from signed artists, including Kanye West, 2 Chainz, Lil’ Wayne, Future, Young Thug, T-Pain, Jay Electronica and Justin Bieber, just to name a few. The talent assembled isn’t as impressive as the manner in which it is employed. On each guest track, Chance makes subtle changes to his raps to better match his contemporaries. On “No Problem,” he closes his verse with Weezy-like delivery, hitting the same accents and punctuation points that West does moments later. He impersonates a Young Thug croak on “Mixtape,” matching the delivery if not Thugger’s manic voice-cracking wails. Chance drops his register and stuffs his bars with breathless internal rhymes on “How Great,” essentially mimicking Jay Electronica until Mr. Shiny Suit Theory jumps on the track and picks up the song mid-bar, right where Chance leaves it. This versatility not only shows off Chance’s skills as a rapper, but it integrates the disparate voices on the album, leading all participants toward a common goal.

One can’t help but draw a parallel to West when thinking about this tape. Earlier this year on The Life of Pablo, West gave listeners an idea of what to expect from Chance in 2016. Anchoring the album’s opening track, “Ultralight Beam,” he was a lightning rod, harnessing all of the song’s biblical power and releasing it back into the world with a crackling energy. Chance created a vibe that was thrilling, inclusive, mystical and untouchable. Coloring Book extends that feeling beyond a verse, sustaining it for its entire run. Once an indie-rap darling with obvious talents and interesting quirks, Chance has grown into something new and mighty. Now he’s on a mission from God.

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