I Love You, I Love You, You Lookin’ Holy Like Mama: On Chance and Choosing Faith
On May 18th, Chance sent a series of tweets about his fellow south side Chicagoan, childhood inspiration and real-time collaborator, Kanye West. “It’s crazy cause I feel like I met Kanye the first time I heard We Don’t Care. Like he’s been there for me since 2004,” he reflects, referencing the now classic cut off of The College Dropout, the MC’s debut album. At only 23 years old, Chance is the perfect example of a child of the Kanye era, a witness to the whirlwind transcendence of a star who refused silence, publicly stumbled without shame and, still, continues to emerge triumphant and unscathed. The story of The College Dropout is almost mythical now in its retellings, a tale of living legends. Who would’ve thought that the Louis Vuitton-clad, soul-sampling producer from Chicago could be responsible for such monumental innovation in his genre? That a Black man whose first single was a firm proclamation of vulnerability, of religion and weary legs could be Kanye, now? Jesus walks and so does Kanye, a survivor of his conditions, his indiscretions and trials. For kids like a young Chancelor Bennett, only eleven years old at the time, Kanye was the blueprint of creative potential and possibility, of the fruits of an unbending faith in self and the Lord, abandoning a walk for a stomp of praise and recognition. He’s now become Kanye’s best prodigy, not in service of his idol-turned-friend, but a peer living in his wave the same way Kanye once did. “Oh yeah, I got the perfect song for the kids to sing,” Kanye starts on “We Don’t Care”, before reporting on a childhood that wasn’t really childhood in what can be presumed to be his Chicago. “We never had nothing handed, took nothing for granted. Took nothing from no man; man, I’m my own man!” Twelve years later, Chance is a formidable student of his bravado, wrapping himself in the cloth, mic in hand. Coloring Book is Chance’s declaration of independence: he’s his own man, his own boss, answering to no one but his whims and His beckoning, all the way to the finish line.
Faith is difficult even for its most loyal subscribers. It can heal the broken, recharge the weary, extend a hand of compassion to the lonely. Faith, then, can act as a tool of neutral potential and power, molded by the readings of its believers and disbelievers alike. In his still-young career, Chance has actively worked towards bridging the gap between religious text and practice, reimagining a religiosity that exists in its original form, untarnished by heretics, rigid dogmas or tangential fables. In Coloring Book, Chance speaks truth to the brevity of Black love, the fervency of Black faith and the mashup of his realms coming together to form a full, completely transparent auditory masterpiece. His sermon is free. His co-conspirators are free, uninhibited by the formality of a traditional church or mosque or other space of Black organized religion. He pays homage to the women who’ve birthed him, his labor, his pride and joy. Chance found love. Chance found his stride. Chance is back home, and by her grace and His grace, allows us to listen to a snapshot of his first love’s soundscape, Chicago’s south side. The mixtape — which packs the artistry and smartness of an album — is booming with features: Jamila Woods, Noname Gypsy, Kanye West, the Chicago Children’s Choir, Jeremih, Young Thug and Lil Yachty, cousin Nicole, D.R.A.M.’s deep-toned lullaby of a song, temporarily quelling the vibrancy of the rest of its track list. It sounds like a teenager’s dream, a newborn infant’s first laugh, the hugs and hot food that comfort us on our way home from yet another burial. With Coloring Book, Chance is documenting the sounds of Black faith, Black loss, Black love and, ultimately, Black life as he’s experienced it to be.
The specifics of Jesus’s stature varies; geographical contexts, denomination to denomination, religion to religion. Some say he was white. Others say he was Middle Eastern. Some say he had never lived, a name created out of a deep, communal void. In some worlds, his loose tendrils are locs or a prize of tight curls and kinks, reminiscent of sheep’s wool. His skin a deep shade of blackness, clear and without contestation. “Jesus Black life ain’t matter/I know, I talked to his daddy,” says Chance on the first of the paired title “Blessings”, a track more about patience and perseverance rather than pure, childlike jubilation that’s become Chance’s most defining sound. “Good God,” he breathily interjects between Jamila Woods’ promise of spiritual/material reciprocation, insisting on a gravity that repurposes the weight on Black shoulders. In a casual conversation with God, Chance claims to pick up where Jesus left off, nurturing the family formed in his lifetime, a site and proof of worship existing both inside the church and outside of it. His voice is weary, perhaps feeling the rejection of his Jesus, his Savior by those outside his constituency. He then regains strength, promising to wield a sword, a crest, to maintain the lasting impact of the dearly (or divinely) departed. He would not be double crossed, again: this is his turn, nobody else speak. In the first “Blessings”, Chance reminds us that faith is a choice, a constant struggle of love that doesn’t always click, or reward the believer instantly, if even at all. Faith demanded repetition. Devotion. Conviction that insists what’s coming for you will never miss you. He talks battling addiction, fallen humans who transform into angels, loving Chicago so much that parting with his Sox-stamped fitted even for a night was impossible. The legacy of music in Black communities, secular or otherwise. Resistance in every sense; labels to his condition as a young Black man in America. Coloring Book is all he’s got. Four-hour praise dances over four-minute confessionals. Chance refuses abandonment, a fading to black before his time. So help you, God.
If love is the foundation of Coloring Book and the driving force of Chance’s career thus far, then his girlfriend and daughter are the pillars. This was first introduced in Surf, a prior project by The Social Experiment created by a collective featuring Chance alongside Donnie Trumpet (or Nico Seagal), Peter Cottontale, and Nate Fox, all friends of a shared locality and migration. Surf was comprised of soft, airy instrumentals, Chance’s voice cutting in and out, only offering lines of love, birth, fullness, matters of the heart deeper than any romantic union. Now, his voice is louder. His path is cemented, clearer and more precise than ever. His belief is bolded, naming its roots in the girls and women shrouded in his affection. That manifests itself through his lyrics, but also in his collaborations: Noname Gypsy, Jamila Woods, — both working with Chance for the second time — his cousin Nicole, who joined the studio session for “How Great” after singing a beautiful rendition of it at Grandma Jan’s funeral. Chance credits his successes to the ones and the One who continually inspire him, pick him up and nurse him back to health when he’s fallen, challenge him on a beat, taking his vision to another level entirely. “I love you, I love you/You lookin’ holy like Mama,” Noname recites as the organs swell in the second half of “Drown”. To Chance, soil and all it holds carry the simultaneous strength, grace as softness as Mama’s hands. He says this in his second take on“Blessings”, drawing the album to a soft close. The reverence of mothers, of Black women who become mothers is the water that leads to love in Him, the reigning patriarch over the Earth and all that inhabits it.
Generational differences can lead to different allegiances; where a faithful Black mama may pay her tithes or charity, teach weekend religious classes, smack the nape of a child’s neck who refuses to stay still during service, Chance works in numbers. He enlists Future and Lil Yachty, Saba and Towkio, Kirk Franklin and Jay Electronica. Both are congregations. Both accept people of all walks, with their own vices and stories, joining the rest of the masses as frequently or infrequently as they choose. For Chance, it’s about the feeling of worship more than stuffy pews or lines and lines of seated bodies on carpets, awaiting prayer. He is the embodiment of brotherhood, a living and breathing hymn. “And we back,” are the first words of “Finish Line/Drown”, running a lap in his full circle moment from Acid Rap’s “Good Ass Intro”. This time, he relies on a prayer. He leaves his distractions, cleansed and anew. Before, he was intent on creating ripples, gaining the license to bring about his dreams. Now, he’s doing backstrokes in the holy water, from Chicago to the world. Everything else is white noise.