On a basketball court, a heat check is easy to define: It’s a tough shot following a string of easier shots. Outside of basketball, it’s harder to identify. But if we take “heat check” by its most serviceable definition — “impossibly difficult, super-low-percentage shot from YOLO range” — then a Facebook Live–streamed music video starring a cast that is roughly 98.7 percent puppets would probably be it.
Ladies, gentlemen, Statler, Waldorf: Chance the Rapper is cash from anywhere inside the arena doors. In a short video posted to Twitter on Monday, Chance explained that he’d made a video for “Same Drugs,” a single from 2016’s Coloring Book, which isn’t, at least literally, about drugs. He also explained that he’d gone to Twitter and Instagram before Facebook caved and gave him the green light to stream the pre-recorded video in HD, complete with a nifty and suitably cartoonish countdown clock. For a savvy loner who positions himself against the hunched titans of industry, Chance the Rapper is exceedingly tech-y — he signed an exclusive streaming deal with Apple for the Coloring Book release. Authenticity is key to Chance’s appeal as an eternal underdog, and it would seem that aligning himself with huge tech companies puts cracks in that image. But everyone, including myself, is ready to love just about everything he does, if occasionally only because he’s a young black man having fun and getting money. Again, Chance is cash from anywhere inside the arena doors.
The video was directed by Jake Schreier. Like the other visual treatments from Coloring Book thus far — “No Problem,” “Angels,” and “How Great” — “Same Drugs” examines the idea that youth has less to do with age than it has to do with your way of thinking. There are 24-packs of crayons sold in every convenience store, and it is entirely your own fault if you ignore that to “grow up.” In a way — an “overcaffeinated and sleep-deprived Charlie Day connecting newspaper clippings with red yarn” way — the video feels like the inverse of Childish Gambino’s “3005” clip from 2013, which also made use of plush toys to illustrate the loss of innocence. But with Gambino, the loss was permanent and irreparable. (The tenor of the thing is also gloomy, which befits Donald, but for a happy-go-lucky dude like Chance, “gloomy” in itself is a heat check.) In “Same Drugs,” it seems that innocence, or at least joy without complication or condition, is hard won but possible — at least judging by all the puppets listlessly working film equipment.
Of course, I did get distracted by how much the filter on the first half of the video reminded me of “She’s Out of My Life” and then I got super emotional, so.
At any rate, Chance is in the middle of a first-quarter takeover and nailing the pre-Grammys rollout in a year when Drake, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Justin Bieber have all bowed out of the awards show for reasons of low to medium levels of complication. And in that vacuum, Chance has already made history by being up for seven Grammys — seven — off the strength of a mixtape he gave away for free. It’s almost like the shots don’t even have to go in for them to count.