Since the 2016 release of his Grammy-winning mixtape, “Coloring Book,” Chance the Rapper has been busy touring, releasing a smattering of singles and even making his debut on the silver screen. Oh, and he also got married … he’s really stoked about that. The event is the essential inspiration behind his first official album, “The Big Day,” a sprawling 22 track record released on July 26.
In March of this year, Chance married his longtime girlfriend Kristen Corley, culminating a relationship the rapper traces all the way back to elementary school. The two had a child together in 2015, and are expecting another late this year. In a recent interview, Chance credited Corley with “saving his life” by going celibate and being baptized as a Christian.
The two separated during this period, shortly after the release of “Coloring Book,” and Chance claimed the time he spent alone was essential to his spiritual maturation. “You’re never fully, fully sanctified, so I had to keep figuring it out,” he said. “I had to do the Grammys by myself. I had to do a lot by myself.”
All of this spiritual and romantic growth provides the meat of Chance’s new project. The album showcases many of the strengths that the rapper has built his reputation on. From the motormouth beginning of opening track “All Day Long,” Chance’s writing is just as witty, dexterous and energetic as ever.
The album also contains a dizzying number of features: Excluding skits, only two songs on the album don’t include contributions from another artist. The rapper has always been able to tap an interesting and surprising range of collaborators for his mixtapes, but stretches farther than ever with the features on “The Big Day.”
Included in its ambitious scope are indie rock artists like Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, big pop names like John Legend and Shawn Mendes and rookie hip-hop acts like Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby and Lil Durk.
“The Big Day” is powered by a honeymoon buzz, and Chance rarely gets through a song without gushing a little about his love for Corley. On “Eternal,” Chance teams up with St. Louis-based rapper Smino for a bouncing, choir-infused jam about long-term commitment.
A few tracks later, Dreamville’s Ari Lennox provides a hook for the breezy “I Got You,” while Chance responds to all those who are skeptical about the future of his marriage. Tracks like these are delightful and sweet, and while their sentiment certainly isn’t foreign to hip-hop, it’s rarely so concentrated.
But despite the star power and load of talent Chance brings to his album, there’s little question that “The Big Day” is his weakest project to date. Given the amount of substance being offered, its length is seriously questionable, and listening through the entire album is fatiguing. Songs in the final third of the record like “Get a Bag” and “Found a Good One (Single No More)” are particularly deflating, as they seek to hammer home the same points that Chance has already made in a dozen previous songs.
When the rapper begins chanting, “I’m not single no more” at the beginning of “Found a Good One,” it’s hard to resist an eye roll. The album is so single-minded that a wave of memes and parodies swept through the internet following its release, some of which do an unfortunately good job of capturing the primary message of “The Big Day.”
While the album’s laundry list of features are often an asset, they sometimes create problems as well. A handful of collaborations seem to exist simply because they could, not because they make a meaningful contribution to the particular song.
The most obvious example is Gucci Mane’s appearance on the track “Big Fish.” Chance lays down one of his more substantive verses, in which he talks about the attacks he perceives on marriage as an institution. Then Gucci jumps in to explain how he’s “the young hoes choice that makes the old hoes moist.” The disconnect between the two verses is jarring.
Having previously worked with rappers like Future and Young Thug, Chance has already proven he’s compatible with tougher trap artists, but the context he chose for Gucci is confusing. The same can be said for “Slide Around,” one of the strongest songs on the album save for a somewhat braindead verse from Lil Durk, which conflicts with the more polished contributions from Chance and Nicki Minaj. The track deserves some credit as an interesting mix and match, but ultimately the experiment doesn’t work.
Beneath the superfluous tracks and features on “The Big Day,” there is likely a pretty solid album. But even if this trimming had been done, the release still wouldn’t stack up too well with Chance’s previous work. Compared to “Coloring Book,” or 2015’s “Acid Rap,” “The Big Day” is strikingly monotone in its emotion.
While an album written in the wake of getting married will likely be colored by the bliss attached to the event, Chance so rarely gets outside of the feeling that it quickly gets tiresome. The rapper has always emphasized positivity in his music, but this attitude has previously been balanced by the recognition and attempt to process things that are hard.
On “Acid Rap” this took the form of his grappling with the violence that was a defining part of his growing up in the South Side of Chicago. On “Coloring Book,” he opened up about his unstable relationship with Corley, and his struggles with drug dependency. There’s nothing maintaining that balance on “The Big Day,” and the album ends up having a smiling-until-it-hurts quality.
A collateral impact of this lack of emotional depth is a weakening of the spiritual messages Chance attempts to deliver throughout the album. The rapper has described becoming more secure in his Christian faith, and this is evident in some lyrics on “The Big Day,” which are his most openly devout to date. But if Chance is intending to give testimony, it falls a little flat. The image he paints of himself on the album is one of success, prosperity and romantic bliss, and falling on your knees to praise God when things are going this way seems pretty easy.
It’s telling that the most memorable verse on “The Big Day” is one that captures Chance being something other than totally psyched. The rapper opens “We Go High” by talking about the period of separation between himself and Corley that followed the release of “Coloring Book.”
It’s by far the most vulnerable he gets on the album, with Chance telling listeners, “You can fall much faster than you think you can.” When he speaks on his faith in the final verse, it feels so much more significant, because it’s in the context of a life that includes adversity. It’s a shame he couldn’t have kept it this real for more of the album.