Listening to albums is a full time job. Every day, new bodies of work flood iTunes and your favorite mixtape sites. I love the process of giving an album a spin from start to finish. It’s like test driving a car: wavering back and forth between committing and seeking alternatives with every turn. After a few listens, I tend to pick out favorites I religiously quote, place on playlists and recommend to friends.
The Standout is here to highlight one record from a particular album that fits the criteria above.
Album: Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book.
Song: “How Great” (feat. Jay Electronica and my cousin Nicole)
The 411: The big theme surrounding Chance’s third mixtape, Coloring Book, is how his faith helped him in life and career. It’s one that he hasn’t been afraid to broadcast throughout the project.
However, let’s take ‘em to church with Chance’s actual favorite track “How Great.” The record starts out with his cousin Nicole singing her rendition of Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God.” She’s backed by a beautiful choir, too. Nicole’s presence was inspired her singing at their grandmother’s funeral. “My cousin Nicole sang ‘How Great Is Our God’ and it crushed me,” he wrote during a Reddit AMA. “A week later, I had her come to the studio.”
After a lengthy introduction, Chance The Rapper steps up to the podium to deliver a sermon of his own. Jay Electronica, one of hip-hop’s best pastors since Troy, joins him. Acting out like an audio version of church, the two sprinkle many biblical references that are likely to go over heads unfamiliar with the good book. Chance’s verse kicks off with “magnify, magnify, lift it on high,” which alludes to Psalms 69:30: “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.”
A number of lines jumped out of this performance but let’s start with Chance’s Harry Potter references. He spits, “Electrify the enemy like Hedwig till he petrified/Any petty Peter Pettigrew could get the pesticide.” Any fan of the wizarding world will identify with both of the situations prompted in his words. If you’re not, Hedwig was Harry Potter’s owl until he got petrified in the seventh movie. Peter Pettigrew lived several years of his life disguised as a rat, which belonged to Ron Weasley. It’s not hard to figure out what pesticides would do to someone who isn’t only a rat but hiding their true intentions.
Then, to grasp how faith has helped Jay Electronica in his life, he utilized a well-placed Lion King reference at the start of his verse:
“I was lost in the jungle like Simba after the death of Mufasa
No hog, no meerkat, hakuna matata by day
But I spent my night time fighting tears back
I prayed and prayed and left messages but never got no hear back, or so it seemed
A mustard seed was all I needed to sow a dream”
Though he felt lost and didn’t have nobody in his corner, Jay always had his faith and now can reflect on that. In the bible (Matthew 17:20), Jesus tells his disciples that if someone’s faith is as small as a mustard seed, it can move mountains.
Later on, he gives an honest opinion on streaming services. Basically confirming what most people under Jay Z will tell you: TIDAL good, Apple Music bad. Electronica says it in a much more complex way. His next two lines are interesting, because he likens an event going on in America as punishment for what’s happening in Africa.
“I spit on the Tidal it’s tidal waves
I spit on the Apple and kill a worm
A fire in Cali will swallow a valley for every African village burned
Jay Elect would’ve never made it”
Depending on your stance toward Christianity, “How Great,” and to a greater extent the entire Coloring Book tape, may not be your cup of tea. Chance doesn’t shove his faith down your throat, but he puts it on display throughout this tape. The exhibition of his unyielding faith could understandably make listeners uncomfortable. He’s looked toward the church in times of change, such as quitting cigarettes earlier this year.
At the same time, this overwhelming positivity is a good thing. Being a role model to the youth in Chicago means he’s showing them a different path than gang-banging. He spreads hope, which was likely one of Chance’s goals with Coloring Book.