You can always hear how big Chance smiles when he raps. It’s that way you can “hear” an expression over the phone, but through Chance’s crackling falsetto, there is purity to his emotion. His joy, both nostalgic and youthful, overwhelms.
Chance the Rapper and fellow Chicago rapper/singer Jeremih delivered joy to the world at midnight, when they released a joint special holiday-themed mixtape called Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama. In its range of exuberance, playful taunting, and holiday melancholy, it will have you smiling just like Chance. And that’s before Hannibal Burress or NoName show up.
Though recorded in just over two weeks (!!), Chicagoans Chance and Jeremih fuse with undeniable chemistry, crafting a project more cohesive and intentional than many joint projects from your favorite rappers ([eyes emoji] Drake and Future; R. Kelly and Jay Z). The pair teased their energetic potential with records like “Somewhere in Paradise” and the “Planes (Social Experiment Remix),” but here it explodes gloriously with glee.
Hearing Jeremih in this jingle-belled setting is refreshing. While an earned reputation of club bangers and clap-backed anthems precede him, this Jeremih sings tenderly, almost more freely. He steals the iconic melody from baby Michael Jackson’s “I Want You Back” on the hook of “Stranger At The Table,” and inflects just enough winking falsetto verve to make the reference his own, instead of cheap. More like Jeremih was singing to his baby by the fire, singing his words, but in a language she’d instantly recognize. The holiday step anthem “I’m Your Santa” has Jeremih crooning sweet soul nothings into ears, his voice swaying you into bopping along.
But the real spirit of the project hails from Chance. Not only was it released through his SoundCloud and bears his trademark lettering and coloring in its cover art, but it’s straightforwardly earnest with its theme and choices in that relatable Chance manner. Chuckling while stunting on “I Shoulda Left You” and the pensive sorrow of “The Tragedy,” a tale of a man who didn’t choose rapturous love when he could, and is now all alone.
It all reminds me of my favorite Chance records: SoundCloud Chance. They aren’t really made for mass consumption. No larger design exists within their creation. They are more honest and heartfelt, remarks on a fleeting moment within Chance’s life. Predating Coloring Book and Surf, Chance and Social Experiment members released more than a dozen of SoundCloud loosies. Tracks like “No Better Blues” and “Lady Friend” that carry a melancholic specificity in their details, therefore imbuing a level of richness and furthering a relationship with listeners.
But Chance’s journey ended up happy, or at least, he seems to have found solace within himself as demonstrated on Coloring Book. This new mixtape Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama furthers that mentality, relaying a Chicago kid who had a (albeit small) thing to say. So he gathered his friends, and said that thing. This was strictly, as they say, for the fans.
Christmas time withholds a range of emotions not often discussed except in that corporate aren’t-we-freakin’-happy, whitewashed way. But Chance and Jeremih have the range: it’s joyous, it’s tragic, it’s nostalgic, and it’s about family, however you choose to decide that definition. For them, it includes all y’all lil’ mamas.
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