In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that the black man’s body is commoditized and devalued by the nation he lives in.
The virulent racial trope of the black male as an absentee figure only detracts from the creation of a colored American family and access to the long-denied promise of the American Dream.
In similar ways, Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book and Anderson .Paak’s Malibu seek to recover the Dream for the colored family. While Chance’s black traditionalism comes out in love for his city, .Paak’s shows through his celebration of the role of the dreamer. The Dream, a common theme between the albums, both traps and frees with its allure. Coloring Book traces Chance’s construction of maturity and family while Malibu reflects on .Paak’s path to the family he has. Both albums and artists look forwards to the promise of forming a colored family amidst racial tensions.
A low-key Chance hit from his first mixtape 10 Day, “Family” marks a longstanding toying with the idea of family as a constant in the constant upheaval faced in South Side Chicago. To wish for “the land where the famo stay / Grind all day till the fam okay / It still warm my heart to hear my grandma pray / For the fam of my friends when my mans go away” is to wish on family as the redeemer in a time that blacks are denied the ability to find comfort, a sentiment echoed on Coloring Book’s Same Drugs.
Same Drugs isn't about drugs ?
— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) May 13, 2016
As Chance tweeted “same drugs isn’t about drugs”, speculation leads to the assumption that the titular drug is the belief that youth and innocence are permanent, that “way back when everything we read was real / And everything we said rhymed / Wide-eyed kids being kids” is forever, that narcotic nostalgia blinds. The parallel between Wendy of Peter Pan and Wendy as a play on Windy City keys in a matured approach to the promises of youth. Aloof hope no longer works, instead cherishing youth and using it as fuel becomes the exit from suffering and into renewed prospects. This theme continues the wistful reflection of “Summer Friends” set when “79th was America,” the belief that the comfort and family is all there is.
Yet the memories of youth also prove stopper and stimulant to the unfurling of maturity. “When the plague hit the backyard,” comfort is among memories of the “summer friends [that] don’t stay.” Though broken youth breaks blissful ignorance, the happiness of friends and family proves a salve as Jeremih croons “When I was so young before I could remember / I would always treat my gang like family members / Even when I changed, a nigga never changed up.” To preserve family is to preserve the self.
On “Blessings (reprise),” faith in youth serves as the catalyst as Chance “speak[s] of wondrous familiar lessons from childhood / make you remember how to smile good.” The address to youth, common to Malibu and especially Between the World and Me, informs the building of the new family. For Chance, youth is the hopeful memory of an idyllic world. For .Paak, youth is the reminder that struggle creates the future. On “The Bird,” .Paak croons “now I look what’s taking over me / couldn’t fake it if I wanted to / I had to wake up just to make it through.” Perseverance and self-belief guides the slighted through past struggles to make his dream. Youth’s “lonely castle,” “always [having] a friend to call” create the present. As .Paak asks “how could I make it here without you?” he qualifies his dues to the “ancient roots” and the families that form anew.
Echoing .Paak on “How Great,” Chance asserts that “[his] village raised him a child comes through the crib and he’s bussin / you meet anyone from my city they gonna say that we cousins.” The promises of perseverance drive the creation of a new family. Resilience is the structure that buttresses the nascent colored dream in the face of adversity. On “The Season / Carry Me,” .Paak asks “What’s the meaning of my fortune meeting? / When I crack the cookie all it said was ‘keep dreaming’ / When I look at my tree, I see leaves missing / Generations of harsh living and addiction.” Reflection keeps pushing him towards a belief in the dream, the dream denied to him. The base of the dream, the “tree…leaves missing” precludes him from the conventional escape of the glorified family. As “generations of harsh living and addiction” come from forces beyond one person’s control, the ideal of a unified and pure family stays out of reach. On “Without You,” .Paak’s “papa said, when [he] get older, get a girl like your momma / but [he’s] twenty years old and runnin out of options / How [is he] supposed to trust ya?” The root is broken. The only way to proceed is find alternatives.
Through struggles, the birth of his son gives .Paak a reason for joy. On “Celebrate,” as he sees his “son today, in the likeness of a full grown man / [he’ll] celebrate while [he] still can.” The growth of his son in a new world gives him a reason to believe in himself again: “captivated, the fruits of [his] family tree / where would [he] be without [his son] … it would be a bad look talkin about what could have been.” The past’s broken dream doesn’t deter, rather keeps alive the promises of a right to a new “family tree.”
Malibu’s closer “The Dreamer” doubles this view as .Paak serenades a lost generation of 90’s latchkey kids. The dream doesn’t exist for the “ones who never gave a fuck /[the] product of the tube and the free lunch / Living room, watching old reruns,” the ones who never felt the comfort of an intact family. Yet, “who cares your daddy couldn’t be here? [as] Mama always kept the cable on.” The family doesn’t have to be made the same way for those who were denied its holism. Clinton’s 1996 Welfare Reform Act and the 1994 Crime Bill may have eviscerated the government’s protection for blacks, but the resilience through it, as Talib Kweli rhymes, fuels the “job as an artist is making miracles /To show you how to struggle poetic and make it lyrical / Crystallize the thought to make it clear to you /And make the revolution irresistible.” .Paak’s later use of his cousins, the Timan Family choir, to sing the chorus then serves as a nod to both the gospel genre and a hopeful look towards a future holding a reconfigured idea of family.
On Coloring Book’s closer “Blessings (Reprise),” .Paak, along with Ty Dolla $ign, Raury, BJ the Chicago Kid, Donnie Trumpet, and others form a choir of their own to greet Chance with a round of “Are you ready for your blessings? / Are you ready for your miracle?” The question of preparedness expands upon the idea that music and alternative forms of family may reshape the American family to include the concept of a colored family.
The diptych finale of both albums—“Celebrate” to “The Dreamer” and “Finish Line / Drown” to “Blessings (Reprise)”—feature a mirthful high before a descent into plaintive praise. “Celebrate” and “Finish Line / Drown” are bouncy upbeat anthems to the happiness that exists while “The Dreamer” and “Blessings (Reprise),” both anthems in their own rights, are more introspective celebrations to suffering. The inversion from high to tempered celebration prompts reflection on what is left to do.
Together, the dreamer and the dream look towards a changed world, yet both .Paak and Chance don’t necessarily situate themselves as preachers. Both look away from the listener on their covers. Chance looks down towards his child, emblem of a reconfigured family. .Paak looks down towards the piano, emblem of honing his craft. The downward gaze, the fixation on what already exists seems the best way to create what yet doesn’t. Hope actualized doesn’t need dwelling, instead, it needs further action and investment.