“He said let’s do a good ass job with Chance 3 / I hear you gotta sell it to snatch a Grammy / Let’s make it so free and the bars so hard / That there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet,” raps Chance The Rapper on the opening track of Kanye West’s latest album, “The Life of Pablo.”
Over the weekend, Chance The Rapper released “Coloring Book,” the mixtape he was referencing on Kanye’s album, and fans have not been disappointed. In fact, many fans have taken to heart that promise to make “bars so hard that there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet,” by actually tweeting every single line from the entire mixtape.
“Coloring Book” is Chance’s third mixtape but is unique in that it is equally as much of a gospel album as it is rap. We’re not just talking a gospel choir in the background or an organ here or there like we’ve heard other trendy artists use lately. We are talking full on inclusion of hymns, worship, and an explicit Christian message.
Kanye West and Chance are pals. They’ve helped work on each other’s albums — Chance helped write five of the songs on Kanye’s “Life of Pablo,” and Kanye called “Coloring Book” a masterpiece this weekend.
All that to say, they could not be more different in the ways Christianity has influenced their music. Andrew Quinn, a senior contributor at The Federalist, recently wrote about why Christians should listen to Kanye and all the ways his work gestures to the Gospel. Quinn gives evidence spanning from across all of Kanye’s career to back up the claim, but then “Coloring Book” dropped and made Kanye look like a Christmas and Easter Christian compared with Chance.
Sure, Kanye also included some gospel overtones sprinkled throughout “Life of Pablo.” Then Chance blew him out of the water with tracks like “How Great” where the first three minutes of the six-minute song is dedicated to a gospel choir singing Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God.” Or like the track “Blessings,” in which he raps lyrics that are not just biblical allusions but scripture quotations.
Quinn’s argument for Kanye’s ability to enlighten audiences about Jesus hinges on all the sin and turmoil in Kanye’s life and his ability to find grace and make enlightening music in spite of it:
If we fail to approach West in a spirit of charity and listen carefully to his tremendous music, it will be our loss. That’s because, however objectively disappointing many of Yeezy’s personal choices may be, Christ’s teaching reminds us that grace can and does flow through all manner of human imperfections. His word shows that beautiful monuments to faith and love can indeed be built from the crooked timber of our fallen humanity.
Christians should listen to Kanye West. To be sure, many of his offerings are vulgar or downright heretical. But some tracks gesture explicitly towards faith and yearn for the triumph of the eternal. Other songs, more like solemn soliloquies, stand up and witness to our fallen state, testifying to classic themes of Christian desolation, such as loneliness, solipsism, and damaging those we love most.
It’s all true, but it’s also true about any other work of art or artist who employs biblical allusions. Or the same could be said about many celebrities who have lived lives of public bad decisions and used those experiences to shape their careers. The reason “Coloring Book” is distinctly different it because it holds up as explicitly Christian music apart from the artist.
Christians have always dealt with bad contemporary Christian music. They have learned to appreciate the bones thrown at them from popular artists like Kanye or Sufjan Stevens, as if appreciating Christian music that is not obviously Christian is a treat in itself. Or they have chosen to enjoy the overtly labeled Christian artists like Lecrae, for lack of better options. But Chance is the first to create rap that speaks to both secular and Christian audiences alike. No hidden messages or digging for meaning in lyrics, but a style and sound that could fit right into a church service, and yet an uplifting beat that non-believers can equally enjoy.
Judged by Their Fruits
“Coloring Book” delivers a stronger Christian message than “Life of Pablo” or Kanye’s older tracks in both style and content. Many of the songs that Quinn cites as showing Kanye’s faith are heavily focused on his inner conflict and struggle. From “Jesus Walks” to “Runaway,” Kanye’s lyrics tell stories of his own inner demons or lament his egotism and negativity. All real struggles within any Christian’s walk of faith to be sure.
However, Chance’s lyrics are a stark contrast with Kanye’s sin and struggle in that he delivers a much more positive and coming-of-age story. “Coloring Book” explores themes of loving and being loved, faith, praise, and heaven. Last September, at the age of 23, Chance became a father and announced his daughter’s birth via a surprisingly tasteful Instagram.
I got to take my child home. Thank God, her mother, our families, the medical staff at Women’s Prentice and an amazing organization called The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicago. I love this time in my life, and I’ve learned to love better because of it. I wanted make a grandiose and poetic statement with her weight and size and DOB to show how much this means to me, but I think it’d be more appropriate and fatherly of me to just say thanks to those who helped us during this pregnancy, and ask for a little privacy in this time for me and my new family to get settled. 👪
A photo posted by Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) on
Throughout the mixtape, we learn about when Chance found out his ex-girlfriend was pregnant, their reconciliation, and their decision raise their daughter together. A glimpse of that story here from the track “Finish Line”:
Me and my girl plan to stay to the end/
Hope there never come a day where we be better as friends/
We in a marathon we could build a marriage on/
Arguments as parents digging deeper than a baritone
Before the “Life of Pablo” dropped, Kanye was quoted as saying it would be “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing on it.” It was actually more of a rap album (about himself of course), with gospel overtones. Thankfully, Chance pulled through with the gospel album we were promised, complete with an actual Gospel message and Chicago Children’s Choir to boot.
In some ways, the debut of “Coloring Book” is as exciting as it is a relief to Christians everywhere. They can finally say their favorite Christian artist is a rapper from Chicago, and anyone who listens to his latest mixtape won’t need to read a think piece or dig through the lyrics to hear the good news.