Chance the Rapper
Graphic by Hannah Park / Source Photos (Clockwise; L-R): Paras Griffin/Getty Images, Taylor Hill/Getty Images for The Meadows, Burak Cingi/Redferns
All You Need Is Happy Thoughts: Chance The Rapper & Collaborators Reflect On 'Coloring Book' At 5
There was once a time when Chance the Rapper's career dealt with questions: Where was his life headed? Was God even present in it? Was he becoming the man he was supposed to be? For Chance, his breakout mixtapes 10 Day (2012) and, mainly, Acid Rap (2013) are the summation of those thoughts; still, the answers to those big life questions would come in the months leading to 2016.
An angel named Kensli, his firstborn daughter, entered Chance's life in September 2015, reigniting his relationship with the church and making the manifestations he laced in his rhymes feel so much more obtainable. His lyrics were now full of guarantees, not just goals. On his 2015 single "Angels," he asserted himself as the "blueprint to a real man," and on Kanye West's "Ultralight Beam," he pledged to do a "good-ass job" with his third mixtape, firmly cementing his GRAMMY aspirations on wax. Those promises, driven by his faith, led him to Coloring Book.
On Coloring Book, his third solo mixtape, Chance took a literal leap of faith, introducing elements of gospel music into his art and expanding his artistic reach via A-list collaborations with Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, Jay Electronica, gospel legend Kirk Franklin and others. The approach paid off: Released in May 2016, Coloring Book ushered in Chance's mainstream breakthrough and marked a turning point for the music industry as a whole. The mixtape became the first streaming-exclusive album to chart on the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 8, as well as the first streaming-only album to win a GRAMMY, including GRAMMY wins for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance ("No Problem") at the 59th GRAMMY Awards in 2017; Chance also won the GRAMMY for Best New Artist that same night.
On the road to Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper found God, found his calling as the world's best dad, and found his face all over his Chicago hometown. The groundbreaking mixtape has since led him to the release of Magnificent Coloring World, his new concert film premiering today (Aug. 13) and screening exclusively across AMC movie theaters nationwide. The film chronicles a secret concert Chance filmed in Chicago in 2017 following his historic GRAMMY run.
To celebrate the fifth anniversary of Coloring Book, as well as the release of his coinciding Magnificent Coloring World concert film, GRAMMY.com spoke with Chance the Rapper and some of the collaborators behind the mixtape, including executive producer Peter CottonTale, longtime collaborators Nico Segal and Nate Fox, Kirk Franklin, and others, about the making and ever-evolving legacy of Coloring Book.
The Tide After Surf
Nico Segal, formerly known as Donnie Trumpet, pushed the envelope on Surf, his 2015 album with the Social Experiment, a collaborative group featuring Chance the Rapper, Peter CottonTale, Greg Landfair Jr., and Nate Fox. The album introduced Chance to Chicago Recording Company (CRC), a recording studio in Chicago where he would eventually record and piece together the majority of Coloring Book in early 2016. Where 2013's Acid Rap saw Chance link with the likes of Action Bronson and Childish Gambino, Surf turned it up a notch, introducing him to Busta Rhymes, J. Cole, and the endless possibilities of collaboration.
Nate Fox (Producer/writer): I tend to think about Coloring Book from its very, very beginnings while we were still making Surf. There was a nice crossover, as far as when we were working on Surf and the things we were doing in between. I don't feel like there was any real notable date or thing that happened where we said, "OK, this is the direct start of Coloring Book," because it just kind of flowed really nicely from Surf and all the records that we did in between. And then all of a sudden, we were like, "Are we working on an album?"
Chance the Rapper: Surf was where we started using CRC [studios in Chicago] and doing live recordings of choir and band. For all of my projects, 80% of the projects get completed in the last three weeks; that's how I work. But Coloring Book was based on that live sound, studio recording feel, and with Surf, that was something we figured out toward the end. So there was a time of air mattresses, flying back and forth to different studios to go pick up sessions that we'd left places and trying to piece everything together in this very hectic way. And Coloring Book, from its inception, was like, "I want big choirs, I want the band to be on it, I want to have big features." That was something we never really did on Acid Rap or 10 Day, even though they had big features for me at the time. But it wasn't until Surf that we were like, "I think we can get whoever we want on this: J. Cole, Big Sean, Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes."
Nico Segal (Producer/writer): There was some music I can remember that had been made in the Surf era and just didn't fit or just didn't get finished and then ended up being a part of Coloring Book. The main one I can think of is "Drown," which was a beat that I made initially with Noname, and it was made, I'm pretty sure, before Surf. You can kind of tell by even the title "Drown." Chance ended up working on it and really wanted to include it in the story. You never really know how you're going to end up using it. And sometimes, it's really clear, and sometimes it just takes more time. It's actually a really freeing thought, because sometimes in music, it can be really intimidating to be like, "OK, I'm working on this song, or these collections of songs. This is the album, this is it, this is all I can do. This is all it'll ever be."
Chance: A lot of my confidence in being able to get big artists came from working with Nico on Surf and saying that I wanted to get somebody on the song or him saying it. On Coloring Book, I was like, "Oh, there's no way that I'm not going to have Jay Electronica." I just had this new confidence at that time to reach out to people and keep hitting them back over and over again and fly out to some city.
Segal: I think Chance was just naturally also better at what he does by the time we made Coloring Book. I think that's true for all of us—we were all just better musicians and better producers. Not that Surf was like the exercise to get to Coloring Book. But I think with every project, you learn a ton about yourself and about making music in general, and I think it was just a natural progression.
'Let's Do A Good-Ass Job With Chance 3'
During the Coloring Book sessions, and while the rest of the world had no idea what Chance and his team were cooking up, the rapper made a promise on one of the most public platforms imaginable: a Kanye West album. On "Ultralight Beam," the opening track to West's 2016 album, The Life of Pablo, Chance raps, "I made 'Sunday Candy' / I'm never going to hell / I met Kanye West, I'm never going to fail / He said, 'Let's do a good-ass job with Chance 3 / I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the GRAMMY." Kanye, initially, wasn't too into Chance making such declarations, but Chano had a feeling about this one.
Chance: Having this confidence was a new thing. Acid Rap and 10 Day were a lot about me trying to figure out who I was. Acid Rap deals a lot [with] questions. And I had all these questions for if God is really gonna be there for me, if I'm gonna make it, if I am the type of person I say I am. And then Coloring Book is just a lot of answers. I'm making this decision to be in my kid's life. Beyond being in my kid's life, I'm gonna be a father, I'm gonna be committed to a philosophy of life through what Christ teaches us, and I'm gonna stand on this idea that I can speak things into existence. I rapped on Kanye's s*** right before it came out that I was working on these three GRAMMYs, and I was like, "If I keep rapping like that, and just saying s***'s gonna happen, that's just gonna happen." And it started happening.
Peter CottonTale (Executive producer): In our camp, sometimes we say, "Everything's made up." We create everything. [Chance has] always been claiming his existence or his manifestations in music … And not just through his rap music, but through his daily life, his actions. It just started to explode and flood out on Coloring Book.
Chance: Kanye didn't want me to say that [line] on that song. And I had to go back and forth with him about keeping my line on there. That whole experience of working on [Pablo] was very transformative for a lot of people around me, because I was 40% of the way done with Coloring Book. I was listening to a lot of gospel [then]. So, when I came to the camp, any time I got the aux cord, I was playing Fred Hammond or talking about something I read in the bible. It was a different vibe than what Kanye had hit me up for because I was coming off the heels of Acid Rap. So, I had this different vibe and energy, and it was very well received. Kanye was like, "I wanna have more gospel [moments] on this album," and people eventually started calling it a gospel album. Just being in a position to rap [with] the person who probably is the reason I became a rapper—to be able to produce and write and to be featured on the intro, the first real rap verse you hear on the album, was crazy to me. I was, at that time, speaking it into existence like, "Kanye gonna hit us up soon. You gonna be working with 'Ye soon." And when that happened, I had to keep doing that. I had to keep being like, "I'm gonna just say what's gonna happen."
Chance's Vision And The 17 Air Mattresses That Brought It To Life
The transition from Surf into Coloring Book was seamless, according to Chance's collaborators. Tracks like "Angels" and "Same Drugs" came together pretty early on into Coloring Book. But in the beginning months of 2016, once his vision began to solidify and he knew how distinctly he wanted to talk about faith, thanks to some inspiration from Kirk Franklin records and the world around him, Chance's team made CRC their new temporary home. Chance's daughter Kensli even got an air mattress for the process.
CottonTale: I feel like Coloring Book readjusted all of our sleep schedules permanently. Chance had a lot of family things that he was growing and maturing through. We might have been getting off tour or getting ready for a tour, or something of that sort. But man, it was a lot of figuring out, a lot of traveling. A lot of different studios and inspiration here and there, and then fighting through no inspiration here and there.
Chance: I think I had such a concrete idea of what I wanted to do with Coloring Book that I don't normally have from the jump of a project; I knew the colors of it. I knew the choir aspect. I knew how unapologetically I wanted to talk about this understanding that I had from the jump, from when I first made "Angels." I remember talking about being this blueprint to a real man.
Saba (Featured artist on "Angels"): Honestly, both of those projects [Acid Rap and Coloring Book] were crazy, and it always feels like extra attention. I'm sure his answer might be different, but for me, my job is to go in the studio and do the best that I can; that's what I feel like I did in both instances. You never know if songs are gonna be released or not, so a lot of times, it's not even worth it to think about extra attention and stuff like that because that's something that could just distract you from the job. I was just happy to be on both, honestly. At the time, those were two of the biggest things that I had done.
Fox: ["Same Drugs"] was such an important song, I'm sure to Chance but to all of us [as well]. It was so beautiful and it was a great example of what we see in Chance as a songwriter every time he touches the pen to the pad, because it's just such an undeniably perfectly written song. From his standpoint, it was very, very important to us that everything about the song and in the song's production matched and was at least equal. I knew we couldn't beat him on this one. But I knew we could at least do everything we could to try to equal what he was giving us.
Segal: He does have that level of intention, in all his words, and he does bring that to the music in general. He understands the full package better than … [most] artists. It's pressure, I guess, to make something on that level with somebody who really cares about the whole package.
Fox: We've never really had deeper conversations or specific conversations about Chance's vision, because he always does a great job of giving you the metaphor or the image that you need to get the job done. And it can be personal to you.
Chance: [Coloring Book] was a lot about my relationship with God, Chicago, choirs, and all this type of stuff. But the structure of it and the immediacy of it getting finished came because I became a father for the first time. I was 22. I was very, you know, just figuring s*** out still. After I had [Kensli], it made me get a lot more consistency and structure in my life, which was different from how I've been before that s***. I'm still not perfect.
Kirk Franklin (Writer, producer and featured artist on "Finish Line/Drown"): Honestly, I am always humbled when someone tells me I inspired them to create greatness. I am just thankful that God allows me to borrow something from Him every now and then that blesses someone. I know it is not my own lyrics or melody that was the inspiration, but God's. Anytime I can point someone back to the Father, I'll take it.
Chance: It's crazy think to think about [how] my kid was sleeping on air mattresses at the studio. And we were really working hard on that at a time when she was an infant.
Fox: Around that time, we were working on an album for Grace Webber. And as soon as Nico recorded the horns on "All We Got," I was just so gassed ... We hadn't really made much of it yet. As soon as we sent it to Chance, he heard the horns and called us like, "The f*** is this?" And then when he was like, "I'm gonna send this to Kanye…" And then Kanye sent us back this curve, bro. He sent us back the craziest MPC take. I don't know if he listened to a click or if he did it in headphones or if it was just really loud in the studio, it was madness. But we ended up comping a great couple sections, piecing it together.
Chance: [Coloring Book producer] Francis [and the Lights] has this thing where he uses this plug-in, and basically he finessed it where he can choose the harmonies that he sings on top … One of my favorite places that it's used is on Kanye's vocal [on "All We Got"]. And that's how he started working with Francis so closely. I brought him to a session for "All We Got" and had him freestyle sing, while Francis [played] the chords over his vocals; that's what ends up becoming the "music is all we got" [in the song]. I just remember Kanye being so enamored with the sound and with what he could do with his different vocal inflections and what Francis would add as his other vocal harmonies. Just being in a session with somebody I looked up to so much ... It was just crazy.
CottonTale: Sometimes Chance would reach out to a feature or sometimes we'd be in a certain place and they pull up to us at the studio and we all catch a vibe. Sometimes we'd end up making some beats or chop it up in the studio with Francis, or Kanye just sends a verse. Any artist, any feature, I feel like they just came for it. It was almost like—I don't want to say the rap Olympics, but it was fun to watch people approach Chance's music, the music we were making, in different ways. Here are all different ideas from these different artists. Some that made it on the tape, some that didn't. That process was enlightening, to say the least.
Josephine Lee (President/artistic director of the Chicago Children's Choir, which featured on Coloring Book): It was exciting for all of us—kids and adults alike—to see this artist from Chicago with an extraordinary gift thriving. Our singers could relate to Chance, and they knew they would be part of a history-making experience through this project. We were so honored to embark on this work, and wanted to share our artistry in any way we could.
Chance: "Finish Line/Drown" just went through so many different iterations. That song literally had like 20,000 sessions. Eventually, T-Pain got on the song and made the chorus [with] Kirk Franklin [and] Noname. I think I recorded the verse for that [song] the day before it came out. A lot of stuff that's not industry standard when it comes to how you adjust an album to submit it to a streaming service, a lot of those rules didn't apply at the time for me. Just because we were doing it without a label and I was the person doing it, and I didn't have a deadline or anything.
Franklin: Man, it was such an honor to work with my little bro [Chance] on such an impactful song. Working with Chance isn't like work at all. We are both such creative individuals that there is a natural synergy there. I normally start with the lyrics and melodic line of the words to make sure that the lyrics can stand alone. However, Chance creates sonically, and seeing the sonics speak just as if they were their own lyrical story was amazing. Once the record was cut, I don't think any of us knew how far that song would go.
Lee: Peter CottonTale called to invite Chicago Children's Choir to take part in the recording. For "All We Got," "How Great" and "Finish Line," we had the music arranged, brought in the orchestra, and recorded the tracks with our singers. When we recorded "How Great," we were all living in this euphoric moment and feeling the power of our voices united for a great purpose. We knew this would be a showcase of the best of what Chicago youth has to offer. Chance was so joyful, and that energy is contagious.
Chance: For "Smoke Break," I got Future's verse literally at midnight right after I uploaded [Coloring Book], so I had to re-upload the album. A lot of last-minute things that came together fell into place, and it always makes me feel really good when I hear someone say the mixtape is perfect. Because it was something that was made with many imperfections and last-minute touches.
Fox: We had some really great talks as a group early on, and we had some moments of realization and really just recognizing how extremely blessed we were to find each other. We all come from different places and have a lot of different upbringings and different family histories. The fact that we were all able, as a group, to come together and recognize those things made us realize that anytime we were working on things together, there was a bigger purpose. It was always important to focus on that, so we never really paid attention to the other things or really had any expectations, either. I guess the expectation was always just to appease God. Ultimately, are we doing it right, you know? Man, if those things felt good, if those things felt right, then I think we were already proud before we put it out.
Release, Reception And Realizations
Coloring Book saw a big release week, and, as the crew recalls, Chance's face was nearly unavoidable thanks to a poster campaign marketing the mixtape. But those posters only showed a fraction of the impact that Coloring Book would ultimately leave. With its legacy still unfolding today, beyond its historic GRAMMY wins, Coloring Book now continues its momentous journey and ongoing evolution via the newly released, massive concert film, Magnificent Coloring World.
Chance: [When I think of the final tape], I think a lot about the cover art of the project. The cover art was done by this dude, Brandon Breaux. He was an accomplished Chicago painter when I met him as a kid, and he did my first couple of joints. I specifically think of the cover [when I first think of the tape] because he took one of the first pictures of me and my daughter Kensli. But I just think a lot about taking that picture with her and the pride on my face when I was looking at a person who's gonna exist after me and who's gonna have their own ideas and walk around with a very similar face, but a whole different set of experiences. He painted the picture and he would talk about the look on my face and the motivation on my face in the painting that he made. So I always just loved that picture.
Segal: In Chicago on release week, [we were] just completely flooded with his face and this beautiful image; it was a really special moment in the city. Chance was kind of this rising star, but I guess Coloring Book was kind of like, "No, no, he is risen." It was really like, "This dude is a big deal," big superstar-moment just seeing him everywhere and the wave of Coloring Book taking over the city.
Knox: I knew [Coloring Book] was going to be very special from some of the very first sessions I was in. I remember hearing "No Problem" for the first time and hearing Lil Wayne's and 2 Chainz's features and just losing my mind. I didn't think it was going to be as big as it was; I just knew people were going to really like it. But I never anticipated a nomination from any award ceremony. I didn't believe that an independent artist in 2016 was even in consideration for legit accolades, but Chance was the one that showed us you could do it.
Chance: I do remember being sad in the first couple of nights because I was receiving some negative tweets around it. There were a lot of people saying, "Oh my god, it's a f****** gospel album." That was the main conversation around it, like, "This dude tricked us and made a gospel project." That wasn't really my intention. I never wanted to make a gospel album. I like all my projects to talk about some realistic stuff, whatever I'm going through at the moment. Within 24 or 48 hours—I don't remember what it was or if it started receiving positive press, or if I started going outside and seeing actual people tell me how they felt about the project, but I remember at a certain point, just getting past that and feeling loved and well-received. A lot of people wrote about how it brought them back to church on Sunday when they were kids, or brought them closer to Jesus or their faith. And I just remember feeling like, "Damn."
CottonTale: The songs that I did were very, very Christian-based. They had a very gospel or inspirational foundation. I find it kind of scary to be in that space sometimes. But I feel like it was something I didn't expect. But it was something that I was hoping would open doors for people to express themselves, faith-wise, in the hip-hop arena. Kanye said it best: "If I talk about God, my record won't get played." When we won the GRAMMY, it made me feel like those tracks didn't go unheard. There were still people out there like us that listen and believe in God. It was a big eyeopener.
Segal: I often talk about how music is history, cataloguing people's thoughts and the times. Coloring Book was a huge pivotal moment in the music industry where streaming projects and mixtapes got a little bit more clout and a little bit more recognition. The formatting of a traditional album got reworked in everyone's eyes in this very legitimate way via the GRAMMY and via this award or this kind of recognition. I thought it was a really powerful moment in music history, and I was really proud to be part of it.
Chance: It was important to me because I went through this whole thing with Acid Rap where at the time ... streaming services weren't validated by the industry. And SoundCloud and YouTube were kind of considered a nuisance at the time. I was approached a bunch of different times by a bunch of different people that were telling me all I had to do was get an ISRC code, basically like a barcode, on it and sell one copy. And if I sold that one copy, then I'd be eligible. I don't know if it was being young and rebellious, or whatever it was, I was like, "F*** that. I shouldn't have to change for you, you should have to change for me." And I kept that attitude. And also, I obviously didn't want to sign a deal, and I wanted to continue to be able to give people access to my music without having it be a whole thing where they have to pay money or do some sort of buying. And I feel like Coloring Book helped really usher in the new wave of DSPs being considered a real distribution platform or space where music that wasn't 100% bought and owned was eligible for a GRAMMY. I'm happy for added access to music.
Segal: I think that the concept was just new for the whole world. It wasn't just the GRAMMYs, it was everyone that was coming to terms with this streaming world and music just being released in a different way. It was something that really lived on the internet and you really had to be in the know. It changed everything. And now everyone is streaming their albums and doing big deals for streams. Obviously, now the GRAMMYs and other big platforms are recognizing music in this way and from this kind of place. So, I don't think we even had the framework or even the capacity to think of what was possible with this kind of thing, because the whole world was just not really ready for that kind of thing to happen. It takes people like Chance to make that stuff happen.
Segal: We're talking about a project that literally changed the rules. Chance is always doing that. The legacy is ever-changing and ever-growing, and Chance is gonna keep coming up with new rules to break and new ways of pioneering change in the music industry. Coloring Book was probably the biggest step.
Chance: We shot [Magnificent Coloring World] four years ago, and it was an extremely strenuous project. It was a lot, a lot of work. It really speaks to all the things that I learned in the last year making virtual concerts and learning about film. But it really speaks to my resolve and my perseverance, to be able to see it and bring it to life and work out the whole [partnership] with AMC. I'm so, so proud of what we were able to do four years ago, for the project to be in the state that it was [in] even before the edits. It speaks to how polished my team was at the time, and still is to this day, to be able to make stuff like that. There [are] a lot of things to be proud of.
CottonTale: It definitely was a hurdle to figure out how to get it out cinematically, and it worked. It's still enjoyable five years later in different forms. I'm at the screening hearing people sing along. It's such a big inspiration to see some of your work ... Imagine painting something five years ago, and then you put it on the wall and someone's like, "Yeah, that's good. We should make a frame around that."
Chance: When I think about [Coloring Book], I think about my whole life. I think about the fact that I was raised by a dad who was super present, and is still extremely involved in all aspects of my life: family, business, otherwise. I think about the fact that I was raised in a church. And even though I left, Jesus brought me back. I think about the fact that I didn't fold, like I didn't have to change who I was to be in a position to get an accolade like winning a GRAMMY. Coloring Book was the best example of God and teamwork. I say that in the film, too. It's just all these different people, literally hundreds of people, all putting so much time and effort into making it as close to perfect as possible. We all won that night.
CottonTale: I think [Coloring Book's] legacy is still unfolding, but it's changed a lot of lives, and it still proceeds to change a lot of lives. More and more, I hear that it inspired people to produce or inspired people to do certain things. I'm blessed that anything I've ever made or been part of has helped somebody.
Chance: I'm the sum of all my experiences. I wouldn't have been married if it wasn't for my daughter. I wouldn't have found God if it wasn't for my daughter. I wouldn't have won three GRAMMYs if it wasn't for my daughter. The coolest part about seeing [Magnificent Coloring World] was all these people: film critics, artists, publications, fans. They showed me a lot of love, and I could tell people were genuinely proud of the actual film. But none of them measured up to what I saw with my daughter. She was so engaged and so inquisitive about what was happening in the movie. [In the film], there's this whole part where we're talking about the studio and putting together the s***. And my daughter looked up to me and was like, "Wow, you did all this before I was born?" I was like, "No, I did all of this because you were born."