Chance the Rapper lives as an anomaly within the context of today’s music industry. He’s a 27-year-old independent artist with three projects under his belt, three Grammy’s, and loads of critical and commercial success. His eccentricity redefined the way mainstream listeners consume music-blurring the lines between an album and a mix-tape in the process. 2013’s Acid Rap and 2016’s Coloring Book showcased Chance’s knack for developing unique rhyme schemes, playful choruses, and uplifting Gospel production.
Neither of those records were treated as Chano’s “debut album” however. Which is crazy to think about, especially considering how tightly woven each concept was. Neither followed the conventional erraticism of a mix-tape-nor were the songs loosely put together.
Instead, Chance recognizes his newest release, The Big Day, as a precursory album. Ironically, it’s his longest record to date, clocking in at 22 songs and 75 minutes. The Big Day is everything you wouldn’t anticipate in an “album;” capricious, relaxed and easy-going. There’s an ongoing theme of marriage, family and religion-all topics you’d expect from a Chance project. Except here, they’re curated to fit a marathon, not a sprint. Each track is notably longer (even the more “fun” ones), more feature-heavy and conspicuously self-absorbed.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when Chance delivers some of his most deliciously-textured sonics to date-like on the nostalgic-heavy Ben Gibbard track, “Do You Remember,” or the beautifully-orchestrated intro “All Day Long.” The latter packs the same punch as every other signature Chance intro (Gospel-inspired, heavy percussion, fast rapping). John Legend’s chorus carries the ability to make anyone want to dance and sing to their loved ones; something that’s sort of become a Chance staple this past decade (“All We Got;” “Good Ass Intro”). His emotional highs have always been unapologetically sweet, and the start of The Big Day is no different. By “Eternal,” listeners start to feel another instant classic unfolding.
There are times when Chance meanders a bit on his newest endeavor. Sometimes it feels like he’s spearheading a balancing act between saying something meaningful, and becoming an internet meme. A tongue-in-cheek song like “Hot Shower” has no business following the ephemeral beauty of “Eternal.” If there were any tears of joy from the first four tracks, they’re quickly dried up after Chance’s lame attempt at writing lyrics for meme culture (“Hot damn, hot water, hot shower/Hotlanta, smoking green cauliflower”). Comparatively speaking, “Hot Shower” is too playful for its own good, even by Chance’s standards. Which is why Dababy’s fire verse feels so out of place. He’s rapping about the perception of African Americans, while Chano spits eye-rolling lyrics about his wife sending nudes during a meeting. It almost feels like two different songs.
In a nutshell, “Hot Shower” represents how unfocused The Big Day can be at certain moments. When Chance sticks to his script, the results are exhilarating. “I Got You (Always and Forever)” has an upbeat 90s R&B feel to it; almost reminiscent of Brandy’s heyday. Ari Lennox is undoubtedly a highlight, displaying the exuberance of marriage through a heartwarming chorus. Chance’s unorthodox flow reminds me a lot of Acid Rap, where his passion and fervor stood out like a sore thumb (“All rightly mine, the bottom line is right on top of they text/You gotta remember that thy enemy is not of the flesh/You gotta remember that our imagery is made from the best”).
Chance also exhibits his signature melancholy feel on tracks like “Sun Come Down,” and “Town on the Hill.” Chano adds a protective side to his repertoire; specifically when it comes to his significant other (“I don’t want nobody to be at my wedding/That won’t be there for my marriage, he deftly spits on “Sun Come Down”). These are some of Chance’s most mature musical moments to date, even if they don’t always fully develop.
The record is at its strongest when the 27 year-old unpacks all of his relationship’s nuances. “Big Fish” neatly analyzes the image of a celebrity marriage, and the common stereotypes that go with it. Chance is clearly battling the common person’s perspective of what his relationship should look like (problematic, short-lived). His persistence harkens back to the idea of living with one “eternally.” Gucci Mane swiftly moves in and out of the track with a passable verse comparing his trapping days to his rapping days. Nonetheless, ‘Big Fish” is vintage Chance through and through. Good-natured with serious undertones.
That same playfulness can sometimes work against Chance on The Big Day. “Slide Around” presents modern rap in its worst form. Too many feature verses (Nicki Minaj and Lil Durk), way too long (over four minutes), and way too repetitive (the chorus plays five times). His idea of fun runs dry by the time Nicki enters the fold. “Get a Bag” is another example of a lackluster chorus from Chance, despite the killer James Taylor sample.
There are other times where Chance’s friskiness is admirable. Let’s be honest, only he can pull off a song like “Found a Good One (Single No More).” The breakbeat at the tail end of the track is glorious, despite the obvious lyrical shortcomings preceding it. It’s playfulness with a purpose; kind of reminiscent of a song like “All Night.”
Minaj pops up again one more time on the finale, “Zanies and Fools.” Her verse to end the album is the Queen’s best work since “Monster” on Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Fantasy record. It’s thoughtful, relevant, and eye-opening all at once. Not to mention, Chance provides his own world-building elements on the first leg of the track over a densely-prodcued Afro beat. Both rappers sound coherent together, with Nicki mulling over her arrival in the United States, and Chance singing about meeting his wife. It’s the perfect ending to a flawed love story.
And yes, there are many flaws-probably more than any other Chance the Rapper project. But that’s alright. It’s unfair to think Chano can carry the same emotional energy for 22 straight tracks. It’s also unfair to think he can completely emulate the cultural phenomenon that was Coloring Book and Acid Rap. Those were two records ahead of their time. The Big Day on the other hand is Chance attempting to gain an even broader audience; specifically the young kids. At its best, the album perfectly incorporates the plight of the American Dream for an African American. It’s a theme not too often explored in hip hop nowadays. Thankfully, Chance is finally living that dream. And for the most part, it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.