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Chance The Rapper is and he isn’t.  Meaning, that at times the independent artist apparently can rap with the best of them, but he also has a soul to him that has been dipped in gospel choirs and made brash with rhythm and blues. The 23-year-old born, Chancellor Bennett, burst onto the music scene from the Southside of Chicago in 2013. He reached epic heights for any musician, not alone one who has no record label contract, when he won three Grammy awards recently for his mixtape Coloring Book. The collection of songs, released on line as a streaming only option, is a poignant and quite listenable record of significant merit. You’ll also find yourself dancing to it.

The album, if you can call it that since it really is not available as a physical product at all, is one part rap, one part gospel and one part scatter jazz.  It’s also at times a meditation on life not just of an youth raised in one of America’s more challenging urban areas, but also a stirring lament on longing and belief in a higher power.  These are songs that speak to the routine teenage angst of love gone missing, a search for acceptance amongst peers and the temptations of youthful exuberance. It’s also a deep spiritual exploration that reveals itself amongst gospel choirs and jazzy horns.  It could be called Gospel rap, however, it’s neither while being both and therein lies it’s greatness.

The mixtape opens with “All We Got” a glorious salute to music itself. As Chance receives support from his mentor Kanye West, they both sing “Music is all we got” and yet it seems to be enough. Chance begins his journey with recognition that his faith, which strongly resides in his music, is equivocal to faith in God.  From there, Chance trapezes thru the neighborhoods of despair and yet finds friendship, love, compassion and kind spirits even when they are breaking his heart. All glory is realized in the transcendent “Blessings.”  A two part song that heals with the line “When the praises go up, the blessings come down.”

We return to the streets with the hardscrabble centerpiece of the recording- “Same Drugs.” One of the most unique approaches to the age old phenomenon of love grown apart.  Chance’s poignancy is evident when he sings to a girl who he previously shared intimate moments but now their distance is evident as they don’t do the “same drugs no more.” And yet this song is not really about drugs at all. It’s nostalgic in its bent, (which is saying something for an artist in his early twenties) yet it’s an allegory for the distances that nature creates between two souls.  Complete with Peter Pan imagery, it’s a song that deeply explores the similar feeling you may have experienced upon returning home from college to find yourself so distant from those that never left.  Neither party was wrong, space had just drifted in-between. It’s quite simply a magnificent song on an album full of them.

For those of you with a hesitation to sample anything with the word rap in it, I encourage you to approach this record with an open mind and give it a listen.  You will find jazzy beats, rocking horns and beautiful choral interludes as well as a deep, affecting insight into the humanity of inner city youth.  Besides, it’s legally free.  For those of you who appreciate the genre, well I assume you already know what I am talking about.