Shai Linne: Are Chance the Rapper & ‘Coloring Book’ Christian hip-hop? - Christian Hip-Hop Blog |Most Trusted CHH Blog

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Shai Linne: Are Chance the Rapper & ‘Coloring Book’ Christian hip-hop?

There’s been a buzz in the music industry about Chicago native Chance the Rapper for a few years now. His critically-acclaimed Acid Rap mixtape (2013), as well as his high-profile features, such as “Ultra-Light Beam” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, have positioned him as one of the more sought-out artists of his generation.
Remarkably, this has all been accomplished without a record deal.


Chance rejected the traditional record label system and released music for free, without the usual promotional push that major labels often provide. Perhaps counterintuitively, his star continued to rise, making him something of a champion for independent artists everywhere.

Fresh off the buzz of his Kanye West feature, Chance released the highly-anticipated Coloring Book as an exclusive digital release in May 2016. Almost immediately, rave reviews came in. Coloring Book became the first ever streaming-only release to chart on the Billboard Top 200, debuting at #8 in its first week. And in an unprecedented move, Coloring Book was nominated for seven Grammy Awards, the first album to receive such nominations without having any physical copies available.

What made his success somewhat unique in mainstream hip-hop is that there is a strong undercurrent of explicitly Christian themes in his music. And yet, far from turning off mainstream, non-religious audiences, it has only seemed to endear him to them even more.

This all came to a head at the 2017 Grammy awards, when Chance won three Grammys and performed his song “How Great”, a remake of CCM artist Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God”, featuring well-known gospel artists Kirk Franklin and Tamela Mann. This seems to have tipped the scales for Christian audiences, as it is quite unusual to see a mainstream hip-hop artist passionately, publicly and boldly declaring his love for God.

It wasn’t only in his acceptance speeches either. (We’re used to seeing secular artists thank “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”). Chance was explicitly praising God in his performance on the largest of stages — before 26 million live viewers.

This increased exposure has led many Christians to begin asking questions. (Is Chance the Rapper a Christian? Is his music Christian hip-hop? Should I recommend his music?).

Some Christian writers take it as a forgone conclusion that Chance is a believer. In one review of Coloring Book for a Christian blog, the writer boldly declared that, “in Coloring Book and Chance the Rapper, (Christians have) the ‘saviour’ they have been waiting for.” Another writer has gone so far as to ask if Chance is helping to spearhead “hip-hop’s religious revival.”

So, what are we to do with all this?

I’ll admit that before the recent buzz, I wasn’t all that familiar with Chance’s music. I certainly knew who he was. I had listened to Acid Rap once a few years ago when some of my Christian rapper friends were raving about it. I saw his performance of “Blessings” on the Jimmy Fallon show. I also listened part of the way through Coloring Book when it first came out, but had forgotten much of it.

I decided to go back and listen to it again recently while taking notes and analyzing the lyrics with the help of genius.com. I also spent some time reading a number of interviews and hearing Chance speak for himself about his journey. Here are some of my observations:

Let me say from the outset that my goal is not to answer the question, “Is Chance the Rapper a Christian?” I don’t think that’s my job. I don’t know him. I’ve never met him. I know that he professes to be a Christian, but I don’t know his heart. I hear things in his music that are both encouraging and concerning.

I really do hope that what we are witnessing is a brand new believer who happens to also be an extremely talented artist wrestling with his newfound faith on the largest of stages. That would be really dope! Ultimately, as the great philosopher El DeBarge once said, “Time will reveal.”

From where I stand, this is less about Chance himself and more about questions that it raises concerning the church, discernment and Christian hip-hop. My aim is to examine his art and discuss it through the lens of Scripture.There’s been a buzz in the music industry about Chicago native Chance the Rapper for a few years now. His critically-acclaimed Acid Rap mixtape (2013), as well as his high-profile features, such as “Ultra-Light Beam” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, have positioned him as one of the more sought-out artists of his generation.

Remarkably, this has all been accomplished without a record deal. Chance rejected the traditional record label system and released music for free, without the usual promotional push that major labels often provide. Perhaps counterintuitively, his star continued to rise, making him something of a champion for independent artists everywhere.

Fresh off the buzz of his Kanye West feature, Chance released the highly-anticipated Coloring Book as an exclusive digital release in May 2016. Almost immediately, rave reviews came in. Coloring Book became the first ever streaming-only release to chart on the Billboard Top 200, debuting at #8 in its first week. And in an unprecedented move, Coloring Book was nominated for seven Grammy Awards, the first album to receive such nominations without having any physical copies available.

What made his success somewhat unique in mainstream hip-hop is that there is a strong undercurrent of explicitly Christian themes in his music. And yet, far from turning off mainstream, non-religious audiences, it has only seemed to endear him to them even more.

This all came to a head at the 2017 Grammy awards, when Chance won three Grammys and performed his song “How Great”, a remake of CCM artist Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God”, featuring well-known gospel artists Kirk Franklin and Tamela Mann. This seems to have tipped the scales for Christian audiences, as it is quite unusual to see a mainstream hip-hop artist passionately, publicly and boldly declaring his love for God.

It wasn’t only in his acceptance speeches either. (We’re used to seeing secular artists thank “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”). Chance was explicitly praising God in his performance on the largest of stages — before 26 million live viewers.

This increased exposure has led many Christians to begin asking questions. (Is Chance the Rapper a Christian? Is his music Christian hip-hop? Should I recommend his music?).

Some Christian writers take it as a forgone conclusion that Chance is a believer. In one review of Coloring Book for a Christian blog, the writer boldly declared that, “in Coloring Book and Chance the Rapper, (Christians have) the ‘saviour’ they have been waiting for.” Another writer has gone so far as to ask if Chance is helping to spearhead “hip-hop’s religious revival.”

So, what are we to do with all this?

I’ll admit that before the recent buzz, I wasn’t all that familiar with Chance’s music. I certainly knew who he was. I had listened to Acid Rap once a few years ago when some of my Christian rapper friends were raving about it. I saw his performance of “Blessings” on the Jimmy Fallon show. I also listened part of the way through Coloring Book when it first came out, but had forgotten much of it.

I decided to go back and listen to it again recently while taking notes and analyzing the lyrics with the help of genius.com. I also spent some time reading a number of interviews and hearing Chance speak for himself about his journey. Here are some of my observations:

Let me say from the outset that my goal is not to answer the question, “Is Chance the Rapper a Christian?” I don’t think that’s my job. I don’t know him. I’ve never met him. I know that he professes to be a Christian, but I don’t know his heart. I hear things in his music that are both encouraging and concerning.

I really do hope that what we are witnessing is a brand new believer who happens to also be an extremely talented artist wrestling with his newfound faith on the largest of stages. That would be really dope! Ultimately, as the great philosopher El DeBarge once said, “Time will reveal.”

From where I stand, this is less about Chance himself and more about questions that it raises concerning the church, discernment and Christian hip-hop. My aim is to examine his art and discuss it through the lens of Scripture.


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