It feels strange labeling The Big Day as Chance the Rapper’s debut solo album. After eight years as an active recording artist, Chancellor Jonathan Bennett has three independently released mixtapes, a collaboration album, and countless features on major releases from the likes of Cardi B, Ed Sheeran, and Kanye West. Ironically, Coloring Book — one of these mixtapes — earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Album in 2017. All of this would point toward the notion that, if in reference to Chance the Rapper’s music industry arrival and cementation, the big day in question has come and gone.
Nevertheless, The Big Day is in fact the first studio album by Chance the Rapper. Across 22 songs and a huge 80-minute runtime, the album re-introduces us to a man with a plethora of different perspectives on life and his milestones to date; though how relevant and meaningful those perspectives are is now up for debate.
It appears as though Bennett is somber in the early stages of The Big Day. His nostalgia leads him to moments of the past spent in his hometown – “Do You Remember,” for example, pays tribute to his childhood. Paired with a piano-led production and Death Cab for Cutie’s vocal assistance (!?), Chance expresses his love for summers spent in Chicago. After the second chorus, the listener is transported to present day, Will Smith-Genie shoutouts and all. Having been a father for four years now, the baby references soon leak in. The transition is off-putting, but before the song’s end it’s evident that Chance has been ready to take on the present, including both married life and fatherhood.
This excitement and overwhelming happiness has a tendency to morph into a cocktail of humble brags. The first taste of this appears on “Eternal” – interjecting on what begins as a smooth ode to funk tinged with gospel, Chance quickly notes that “Side niggas can’t step like this.” Later on, he makes it known that they can’t cook, look, or fuck as good as he can as a committed man. Smino, a mainstay in the Chicago alt-hip-hop renaissance era, marks his territory on the record with smooth and flawless bars in quick succession and nearly steals the show. It’s noticeable by the end of “Eternal” that Chance has found his ideal relationship; it provides him with everything that he wants and more, and fundamentally exceeds anything that he can get from a side chick. Which is great, but this begins to wear thin as the album’s runtime grows ever longer.
Meanwhile, across numbers such as “Big Fish,” we gain some insight into how Chance’s self-analysis as a rapper has evolved. Having the privilege of being one of the most successful independent acts in music, it’s clear that the label-owner now views himself as one of hip-hop’s frontmen. Aided by a trap-laced and choir-led backing, Gucci Mane draws “Big Fish” to a close by reminiscing on their non-musical trap experiences and highlighting the journey both have been on. Fortunately, he adds some humility to what can easily be read as unabashed cockiness from Chance. That Gucci Mane, of all people, is giving a record a sense of grounding illustrates how bloated the scope of The Big Day can stretch to.
Genre experimentation is spread with taste and care across The Big Day, alongside the incorporation of a wide array of flows and cadences too. Unfortunately, when attempted on tracks like “Hot Shower,” it misses the mark. Equally hit or miss are the album’s guest features, with DaBaby standing as a clear highlight (and saving “Hot Shower” from total abyss). Trap being his mainstay genre, the current XXL Freshman uses his distinct tone and animated word-choices to ride the bass-heavy number with ease. In contrast, Chance sounds oddly cartoonish and unable to convince us of whether he’s being serious or mocking the trap-arena.
This sort of confusion reigns across The Big Day, raising the question of why the project needs to be a gargantuan 22 songs long. It would feel justified if the project as a whole was comprised of a majority of deserving cuts. But even in the first half of the album, tracks such as “We Go High,” although great in sentiment, don’t see Chance the Rapper at his lyrical best. Lines such as “Fuck goin’ straight to the pros, I’m professor” leave “We Go High” half-baked and a perplexing choice for inclusion.
However, this distortion isn’t across all the songs, and when he gets it right, Chance for the large part succeeds. It appears that familial assistance brings out the best in the rapper, as when placed alongside his brother Taylor Bennett (and CocoRosie) on “Roo,” where the pair soar as they tackle classism and mental health. Chance is able to draw arcs towards both Acid Rap and Coloring Book here as societal woes and religion meet centerstage. This nod towards past eras is etched into the fabric of The Big Day, particularly the embedding of God and worship (which formed a foundational part of Coloring Book). “Town on the Hill” quite literally forms a direct prayer, as he sings “Thank you Father, Father” across the song’s chorus as he acknowledges the love that the Lord has provided him with.
Perhaps the biggest question one is left with after listening to The Big Day is what exactly the day actually is. It could just as easily be the day that Chance the Rapper released his much-delayed debut as it could be his much-lauded wedding day. More widely, the entire album seems to nod towards love and union, but it holistically feels anti-climatic. Even with its focus on beautiful life placeholders, musically it misses the mark to a great degree and fails to engage the listener across the whole of its offering. The few moments where Chance the Rapper does gain our attention, he demonstrates a similar realism and authenticity that first formed his fanbase on projects such as Acid Rap, which, ultimately, will just make you miss the old Chance even more.
On this episode of The Dropcast, we are joined by founder and creative director of 18 East Antonio Ciongoli, who gives us some wisdom on how to run an independent label today and talks about his past in menswear. Enjoy.
- Words: Nicolas-Tyrell