A Shadow of What I Once Was: Stylistic Diversity and Chance the Rapper’s “Same Drugs”

In which Randy Newman, Toy Story and Peter Pan are echoed in the music of Chance the Rapper.

Coloring_Book

To my dear reader,

While working with some musical theater actors recently, one of them offhandedly sang a song from Chance the Rapper’s most recent mixtape Coloring Book, and I surprised him when I began to sing along. Admittedly, were I him, I’d be surprised too – hip hop and rap are not my areas of expertise. That isn’t to say that I hate these genres, but that these genres lyrically speak to issues that infrequently affect me, and musically are often repetitive to highlighting the words and/or to be danceable. Also, that I’m probably one of the whitest non-white people you’ll ever know. Coloring Book, however, captured my attention foremost because of its stylistic diversity, drawing heavily from Gospel music and the harmonic language of jazz and blues. One of my favorite examples of this is the song “Same Drugs.”

One of the first aspects of it that caught my attention was its lyrical references to Peter Pan to examine the lost glory of youth. This isn’t a revolutionary literary reference, but Chance does an excellent job spinning out the metaphor throughout the entire song, rather than bringing it up only a few times or diluting it with other metaphors or references. Musically, the 12-bar-blues-like chord progression on the piano reminds me of Randy-Newman like accompaniment. The brief but harmonically adventurous piano interlude in the middle of the song, following by the addition of a sweeping cello and rapidly arpeggiating violin, further embrace the sentimentality of film scores like that of Toy Story.

Hip hop and rap are unlikely to be genres with which I’ll ever have much contact. I don’t listen to either very often, and for the foreseeable future, I won’t be performing or composing in either genre anytime soon. I will admit, however, that in despite my reservations, and being one of the whitest non-white people you’ll ever know, Chance the Rapper’s most recent mixtape has very much captured my attention.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

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