In a recent video released by Fuller seminary, Eugene Peterson and Bono—the lead singer of rock band U2—sat down and had a conversation about the Psalms. In that conversation, Bono expressed his frustration about Christian artists and their tendency to shy away from any sort of pain, anger, or hardship, which is something the psalmist was unafraid to do. He asserts that ignoring these things is dishonest, and he urges Christian artists to come to God from the place they are rather than where they think they should be.
Bono, meet Chance the Rapper.
Chance, a 23-year-old rapper from Chicago, has built a reputation for pairing a playful adolescent voice with mature observations on growing up in Chicago as an African American. His third release, Coloring Book, continues the strengths of his past work while bringing an increased spiritual focus.
These 14 songs are an exercise in being grateful in blessing, honest in pain, and faithful in hardship. Chance’s lyrics are sometimes jubilant and other times confessional—but always rooted in his faith in the redemption of all things. “I speak to God in public,” he says on one track, and that seems like an apt summation of the album, as he is unafraid to be vulnerable in his brokenness while looking toward God for deliverance.
It is important to note that Coloring Book, though touching on themes that will speak to many, is an album written for the African-American community in Chicago. “I’ve got my city doing front-flips,” Chance says of his influence in his community at one point on the album. Considering the institutional racism and political exploitation that has plagued the city, it’s a wonder anything has the power to awaken a positive spirit. One only has to read about the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and the subsequent cover-up during an election year to see how important it is to have a figure like Chance the Rapper creating his art in a climate of political and institutional indifference.
Coloring Book is honest in its approach—recognizing injustice for what it is while providing a unifying call to worship and rejoice in a good God. The album includes a gospel choir, horns, and a sample of Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God,” but also reflection on pain and calls for deliverance in the face of institutional racism.
Some listeners may find language that offends them, but at its core Coloring Book is a gospel album for an oppressed people. As a white man from West Michigan, this album was not written for me. But it provides me with a glimpse into some experiences and suffering that I will never know and showcases God’s kingdom at work in the midst of seemingly insurmountable evils.