ALBUM REVIEW: Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day is full of ecstasy, but lacks in consistency

The Big Day album is the musical accompaniment to Chance the Rapper’s real big day: his wedding day. He and his wife Kirsten Corley got married in March earlier this year, so it’s no surprise the family man brings the love for his wife to the forefront of the album. In an interview with Zane Lowe of Beats 1 radio, Chance affirmed as much: “the whole album has been inspired by the day I got married and how I was dancing that day.” 

Chance’s three mixtapes leading up to his debut album were impressively original. Acid Rap introduced a trippy free-spirited talent and Coloring Book found him refining his sound, and bringing gospel hip hop to the mainstream. With The Big Day, Chance further expands and experiments to make the ultimate musical toast to his newly wedded wife. While The Big Day’s toast finds beauty and bliss in alternative hip hop territories, it gets unpleasantly interrupted too frequently by bland and random moments. 

The Big Day is an eclectic album. The sprawling feature list alone spans the spectrum, including pop stars Nicki Minaj and Shawn Mendes, Death Cab for Cutie’s Benjamin Gibbard, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Randy Newman, Chance’s brother Taylor Bennett, and a slew of new age rappers such as Da Baby and Megan Thee Stallion. Most of the guests make great contributions, often out-singing (not surprising – even though Chance’s singing is likeable) or out-rapping Chance along the way. But the skepticism that comes along with a 77-minute subgenre-exploring album ends up being validated. The songs don’t stick to any genre or musical direction too long before jumping into something new. Chance is constantly pivoting to try out something different, and it seems like the style changes are more for the sake of style changes rather than anything deeper. Eclecticism can be a strength for an album, but on The Big Day Chance plays the jack of all trades and master of only some. 

The album starts off with 3 songs that pick up where Coloring Book left off. Fellow Chicago native John Legend joins Chance on the opening track All Day Long that brings the same peppy gospel-influenced charm that Coloring Book opener All We Got did. Eternal comes next – it’s a breezy song that has Chance and Smino rapping humorously about keepers vs side chicks over Daft Punk-style production. The third song, Do You Remember featuring Death Cab for Cutie’s Benjamin Gibbard, is reminiscent of one of his best: Summer Friends. Do You Remember isn’t the most interesting song on the album, but it ends up being one of the most solid. This groovy and soulful triple threat opening is as cohesive as it gets; it takes some of the best music from Coloring Book and incorporates new elements to reflect who Chance has become 3 years later.

The trap-influenced Hot Shower comes on abruptly after the smooth opening to the album. Surveying the internet, it’s clear that this is the most polarizing song on the album, which unsurprisingly also translates to being the most streamed on Spotify. Your feelings on whether or not this song makes The Big Day better or worse likely determines how you feel about the album as a whole. Hot Shower is catchy and fun and about nothing. The reason Hot Shower sounds so out of place is because of where it exists in the tracklist, and how overtly thematic the songs before it and after it are. The beat and the lyrics totally abandon the progression built up over the endearing, purposeful first three songs. Hot Shower is a good song in the way that Groceries is a good song – it has memorable lines, an infectious hook, and Chance’s unique voice shines through. The problem is that Hot Shower’s presence on the album feels arbitrary, with nothing tying it to The Big Day more so than Groceries or any of the other singles he released leading up to the album. 

Hot Shower isn’t the only song that feels unnecessary. Handsome, Get a Bag, and Slide Around, all showcase Chance’s unique charisma and knack for hook-writing, but they feel meaningless when played next to sentimental songs about the greatest day of his life. For listeners that see a 22-song album as a large farm of crops to pick from and ship off to various playlists, The Big Day will be a bountiful harvest. The songs mentioned above might be misfits on the album, but they’ll be great for a summer barbeque playlist. For listeners that want albums to be coherent ecosystems in and of themselves rather than a collection of singles, The Big Day will probably not be a favorite.

The album’s legacy will survive through individual songs, so it’s worth mentioning some of the ones that stand out. Chance enlists his younger brother Taylor to rap with him on Roo, which is one of the grittier rap songs Chance has released probably since Everybody’s Something in 2013. On the following song, which is also the title track featuring frequent collaborator Francis and the Lights, Chance quietly sings to himself, rejoicing, over an acoustic guitar and bass drum, and delivers arguably the best line of the album: “and the only way to survive is to go crazy.” On Sun Come Down, he approaches the subject of his marriage and future with rare acuity: “I don’t want nobody to be at my wedding, that won’t be there for my marriage / they can see that shit on Facebook / they can like it they can share it.” The album does end on a high note – Zanies and Fools is irresistible with its hand drums, its ‘it’s possible’ chants, and a vintage-Nick Minaj verse.

The longer an album is, the greater the risk for having highs and lows becomes; pulling off a great album longer than 60-70 minutes is a real feat. The most successful marathon album in recent years was Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (TPAB), which runs for almost 79 minutes – two minutes longer than The Big Day. But TPAB was special; a lot of fans and critics cite it as one of the best hip hop/rap albums of the past decade (or even of all time), and it’s largely considered better than Damn, which won Kendrick the Pulitzer for Music. Unfortunately, from beginning to end The Big Day isn’t even better than Coloring Book or Acid Rap, so the length of the album hurts it more than it helps. 

After all, this album is a celebration. Chance Bennett loves his wife and his daughter and he’s on a high from his wedding day. He recently bought the local Chicago newspaper the Chicagoist, he’s been politically active around his community, and he was hired to consult on the live-action remake of the The Lion King. The Big Day didn’t meet expectations, but Chance has put himself in a position where it’s impossible not to root for him, even if you can’t always root for his music. 🍑