Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Chance the Rapper

  • Acid Rap [free download, 2013] A-
  • Coloring Book [self-released, 2016] A
  • The Big Day [self-released, 2019] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Acid Rap [free download, 2013]
His flow a cartoon whine, his wordplay wittily associative, his affect educated ghetto, and his main life experiences rising in the rap game, zonking on cannabis and lysergic, and surviving a battle zone, he projects an anxiety that has recognizable cognates among alt-rock waste-os with a lot less to be afraid of. Amusing though he and his yelp can be, I like him best when anxiety is a mood rather than a subject, particularly on the quasi-political track hidden behind "Pusha Man"--"Paranoia," an anti-summer song, because summer's when people gets shot. I also welcome the two-and-a-half minute "interlude" that praises, yup, "falling in love"--and the one that proves "Clean Up Woman" is his favorite song. A-

Coloring Book [self-released, 2016]
An atheist till death takes me home to nowhere, I nonetheless welcome the gospel emphasis here--larger than Kanye's, larger than goddamn Lecrae's--for how it warms Chance's tone of voice and sense of family. The irrepressible cheer of his vocals has always lit up his music. But reaccess Acid Rap and notice how whiny his timbre gets sometimes--charming, always, but immature. Here the death of hisgrandma (who told him he was "kosher" why, exactly?) and the birth of his daughter (joint custody not wedlock; too bad) make a man out of him vocally--that adolescent thing is a memory. And the many church singers who pile on mellow melodicism and cultural affirmation broaden his vocal muscle and instill pitch control. His cheer remains irrepressible, and essential. But it's gained weight, even beauty. A

The Big Day [self-released, 2019]
Since the rhyming may seem slack when you follow every word, why bother? As I've determined via the old-fashioned ploy of sticking my (burned) CD in my (overpriced) changer, the opener's choral "we-back" intro and self-sufficient lyric lighten up the room every time they come round, and that mood never dulls. Not one of the crowd of cameos is tossed off. Ben Gibbard reclaims his eternal boyhood, En Vogue relive their lost girlhood, CocoRosie put in their five seconds, two party-pooping, wisdom-dispensing male elders blend sagacity and pomposity with a comic flair dispersed by Randy Newman's disconsolate solace, and Nicki Minaj bids her rap career farewell with the theme outro "It's possible, it's possible/It's possible to me." And the strongest rhymes redound to Chance solo: "Found a Good One" and his half of the Minaj-topped finale. Both celebrate his wedding day with a cred the cameos only flesh out, a cred that will endure as art even if the marriage itself fails--this is showbiz, after all. Best wishes to the happy couple and all their progeny. A