Going to Church with Chance the Rapper

Full disclosure, I’m a late comer to all that is hip-hop. I thought Macklemore’s The Heist was pretty stellar, but that’s about as far as I ever got. I stay pretty close to my Americana sensibilities most of the time. But over the last year or so, I’ve found that Americana and rock haven’t had a lot to offer me. They seem, in many ways, out of touch with a world that seems to be spinning out of control. 

I first started to “get” rap when I saw Kendrick’s Grammy performance last year. It hit right on a lot of the ideas I had been exploring (privilege, systemic racism, you know, easy stuff). I went and dug into his record (about a year after everyone else), and I found a voice that I had been missing in my music. A voice of a prophet, you might say. 

Fast-forward to this 2016, and two of my favorite albums have been rap albums (16 year old me would be so confused). A Tribe Called Quest’s “We Got It From Here…" is full of a righteous anger and protest, a fierce anthem of resistance. But the record that moved my soul, was Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book. 

Again, I’m usually a little late to the game on new music, so I first listened to this record in November, way after the rest of the world. I was stunned. First off, the production is fantastic! The blend of urban beats, gospel arrangements, and intricate strings more than satisfied the musician in me. But there was something else. There was an unfettered joy. Chance tackles some real stuff, some heavy stuff. Coloring Book, like the best works of art, touches on the deepest sorrows and the greatest joys. There are only a handful of artists who have done that well. 

I wrote a while back about Springsteen and the art of joy in music. In my mind, Chance and Bruce are similar in that way. I got the same feeling from watching Chance last night, as I did when I saw Springsteen last year. That “taken to church” feeling, where you can just shed your skin, your walls, your insecurities and just be immersed in the music. Some might call that escapism, but I don’t think so. There’s no ignoring the pain, the heartache, the struggle. It’s real. It’s acknowledged. But so is the joy. And somehow, by holding both joy and sorrow together, they both become more beautiful. It’s the song after the alter call. It’s the laughter at the funeral when someone shares that one story. It’s the night sky of a Van Gogh. It’s hearing Born To Run after The River. It’s hearing a gospel choir sing How Great is Our God after the social critique of self-medication in Same Drugs.