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Local Artists Get Plenty of Love on Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book”

The superstar rapper lifts up an eclectic group of Chicago artists on his highly anticipated mixtape.

Chance the Rapper, center, and Social Experiment members, from left, Nico Segal, Nate Fox, Peter Cottontale, Greg Landfair   Photo: Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune

It’s been a big four years for Chance the Rapper since he dropped his debut mixtape, “10 Day.” The Chicago superstar has headlined Pitchfork Music Festival, co-wrote with Kanye West on West’s mixed-bag seventh studio album, “The Life of Pablo,” been named Chicagoan of the Year, and introduced the world to an eclectic mix of singers, instrumentalists, and thinkers born and bred in this city. Today, he drops ”Coloring Book,” which does not disappoint.

Rather than abandon the place that shaped his sound, Chance has doubled down on his local roots. He still actively promotes Social Experiment, a collective of self-described bohemian musicians including Chance and Donnie Trumpet (Nico Segal); that collaboration bore a well-received album last year. And his aversion to signing onto a major label means that Chance’s vision remains Chance’s vision: eclectic, left of center, hopeful, exceedingly bright and Chicago-focused. Below are just some of the many strong connections to the city in the mixtape.

1. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment: Speaking of Donnie Trumpet, the skilled performer appears first on “All We Got,” the album’s opener. This comes as no surprise—the two are long-time collaborators. Trumpet continues to appear throughout the record, adding a level of depth and charisma that goes beyond the church.

2. Chicago Children’s Choir: This local choir touts itself as a multicultural and multiracial organization, a smart match for Chance’s loving and open music that is more likely to bring listeners together than divide them. The choir serves as a hopeful anchor on the mixtape’s first track, “All We Got.”

3. Jeremih: The R&B superstar who released the severely underrated “Late Nights” late last year makes an appearance on the vocoder-heavy “Summer Friends.” It’s a brief appearance, enough to emphasize the need for more Jeremih, not less.

4. Jamila Woods: Although poet and singer Woods has only released a handful of tracks, her guest appearances on last year’s “Sunday Candy” by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment and this year’s “White Privilege II” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis solidified her outsize skills. Woods’s voice easily stands out, and on “Blessings,” her soft and welcoming vocals pierce the quiet, reflective track.

5. Saba: A frequent collaborator with Chance (he first appeared on Chance’s “Acid Rap” mixtape and guested on Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s “SmthnThtIWant”), Saba returns on “Coloring Book” highlight “Angels.” The track first premiered in fall of 2015 and the Austin native’s bouncy flow remains one of the most upbeat and infectious moments on the mixtape.

6. Towkio: “.Wav Theory,” Towkio’s debut mixtape, was a lively, dance floor-ready shift from the heavier influx of releases from Chicago’s most popular rappers. On “Coloring Book,” he takes a sharp turn from the club beats on “Juke Jam,” a slow-burning track featuring Justin Bieber that sounds like the languorous moments of a summer afternoon. 

7. Knox Fortune: The greenest artist on the mixtape, Knox Fortune appears at its liveliest moment. “All Night,” produced by Kaytranada, is a departure from the heavier orchestrations on the mixtape—endlessly fun with bright horns and a disco-y beat. Fortune released his debut single, “Seaglass,” earlier this spring.

8. Eryn Allen Kane: Kane made a big splash this past year, with an appearance in Spike Lee’s controversial “Chi-raq” and the release of her first two EPs, “Aviary: Act I” and “Aviary: Act II.” Kane appears on, “Finish Line/Drown,” the second-to-last track on the mixtape. Although her appearance is brief, her vocal coos are as sweet as ever.

9. Kanye West: Adding Kanye West to “Coloring Book” was a smart (if obvious) decision for Chance. Still, Chance connects the pieces between himself and Ye more explicitly here: The two are the biggest rap acts to emerge from the city within the last 15 years, and yet they’ve chosen diametrically different directions, for the distribution of their music and maybe even their careers. West worked his way up from producer to performer and signed with Roc-A-Fella records. In contrast, Chance remains an unsigned major label artist.

And while Kanye often leans into the trends of his time or predicts what will come next (like the return of vocoders and 808s), Chance’s maintains a singular artistic vision that rarely fits into the sounds of the radio or the underground. Where else will one hear gospel choirs paired with Donnie Trumpet? Most importantly, Chance ties his own legacy with that of West’s, bringing the album full circle. On the reprise of “Blessings,” Chance raps, “Kanye’s best prodigy, he ain’t signed me but he proud of me,” solidifying their bond and more importantly, showing that the next generation of Chicago talent is here.

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