What do musical artists Chance the Rapper and James Blake have in common? Much more than what would be expected aside from their joint release track “Life Round Here” a remix of sorts of one of Blake’s songs off his second LP, Retrograde. Kanye West for example has shown his deep love for both artists and the sounds they bring. Both also debuted their musical careers in 2011 with Chance’s first single “Windows” and Blake’s self titled full-length EP. Lastly Chance and Blake would release their third mixtape and LP respectively within a week of each other. Chance’s Coloring Book is a culmination of all the work he has put into his music without a label’s backing. James Blake’s The Colour in Anything on the other hand is the result of pushing himself outside of his own comfort zone working with more collaborators and taking a new optimistic perspective. These two projects however much may sound different both share the same trait of maturing within the two artists and a real sense of growth is present when comparing their first and most recent releases.
Written by Akira Suyemoto
Chance the Rapper finishes his trilogy of mixtapes with the highly anticipated release of Chance 3 otherwise known as Coloring Book. Since his entrance into the hip hop scene with his first mixtape, 10 Day, in 2012 Chance has grown tremendously not only as a musician, but as a person. While his first tape was created by his hunger to prove he could make it as a musician after a 10-day suspension from school Chance writes and produces Coloring Book as a mixtape dedicated to his daughter and where his faith has taken him.
The most obvious style that could be said about Coloring Book is its gospel and soul infused beats. Chance isn’t shy at all about being a Christian man which at first glance could avert listeners, but similar to Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” puts even the least religious of us into a spiritual mood. In the opening track, “All We Got”, Chance is accompanied by the Chicago Children’s Choir and Kanye west to establish his grand opening with faith inspired verses. Chance continues this trend in songs like “Blessings” and “How Great” which has a 2-minute intro of pure Christian choir.
Coloring Book doesn’t drop mind-blowing verses similar to his last release, Acid Rap, but instead refines Chance’s musical perspective. His singing is cleaner and more frequent and the overall production incorporates larger ensembles of instruments. Chance also includes larger features than ever before with top-tier artists such as Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Justin Bieber. On the production side artists like Lido and Kaytranada make appearances to bolster just how big of a project Coloring Book really is.
There is no doubt about Chance anymore with no record label holding his hand to make something like Coloring Book. He grabs our attention with banging songs like “Mixtape” and “Angels” yet is intimate in moments with “Summer Friends” and “Same Drugs” displaying diversity few artists right now can achieve so well. Chance sure has grown in his sound and content, but don’t fret because all of those qualities we fell in love with during 10 Day and Acid Rap are still there with a more mature quality. Coloring Book like all of his previous releases will be completely free on all platforms after a 2-week exclusivity period with Apple Music.
THE COLOUR IN ANYTHING
In 2011 James Blake debuted his first complete work and self titled album making a name for himself quickly and abruptly unlike his music itself. Many would describe him with the dark and somber elements of dubstep, but replacing the aggressive connotation attached to dubstep with a more quiet intimacy. Two years after his initial release James Blake would release his second LP Overgrown a much more R&B driven album. Listeners enjoyed the change of pace, but felt the album was a decline from what made him so popular to begin with.
After three years in the making Blake quieted skeptics with his third release, The Colour in Anything. Blake puts together the elements of his fantastic piano ballads and UK driven beats into a 76 minute work of pure art. The album starts off with “Radio Silence”, Blake’s echoing ooh’s intertwined with a thick texture of synths and rolling drums telling his listeners to be ready for the journey they are about to experience. As the album continues Blake doesn’t shy away from his minimalist openers that evolve into chaotic and complex harmonies creating a real contrast in each song. Any lulls that occurs during this album are only brief with challenging harmonies in tracks like “F.O.R.E.V.E.R.” and “Meet You in the Maze”, or tracks like “I Need a Forest Fire (ft. Bon Iver)” and “Two Men Down” that explore new upbeat territories for Blake.
Just as his instrumentals are minimal his lyrics capture our ears in the same way. Instead of writing stories with thought provoking metaphors he puts forth ideas and phrases that strike the listeners’ hearts. Phrases like “It’s sad you’re no longer here” and “could you tell me about the early days” repeated and driven into our souls. The album’s title track The Colour in Anything fuses melancholic lyrics with a bright piano melody directing the listener with the positive message: sometimes the best solution to a broken relationship is to move on.
Blake approaches his music in a way that’s clearly changed from his own early days. This could be from the songwriting collaboration with the elusive Frank Ocean, or his move to Los Angeles with his even more elusive girlfriend. Either way The Colour in Anything starts like a standard James Blake album of sad emotions only to climax with an epiphany of optimism. Listening to this album in its entirety is truly a journey that will wear you down, but leaves a sense of accomplishment encouraged and soothed by Blake’s vocals the whole way down.