If you hadn’t already heard: Chance the Rapper loves his wife. It’s both the reason we finally have debut full-length The Big Day and the thread running through the 77-minute project.
A project which, all things considered, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed by. Chance has been generating hype for its release for years now; it comes off the back of three excellent mixtapes, a star-making feature on Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, and a slew of impressive singles released last year. The most popular criticisms of it are as follows: it’s overlong, overcrowded, too often lacking focus, not often serious enough.
But there’s a wealth of merit to outnumber the disappointments. It’s present from opening track ‘All Day Long’, which is introduced by career refrain “Yeah, we back”, before settling as a positively frenetic party anthem reminiscent of Coloring Book’s ‘All We Got’. The tune is undeniably fun, even if it doesn’t offer anything particularly new from the Chicago rapper.
As The Big Day goes on, there’s a handful of further upbeat numbers – namely, ‘Let’s Go on the Run’, ‘Ballin Flossin’ and album closer ‘Zanies and Fools’. They work to varying degrees: ‘Let’s Go on the Run’ feels like the necessary companion piece to Coloring Book’s ‘All Night’, once again with production from Knox Fortune; ‘Ballin Flossin’ contains some of Chance’s worst bars on the album; ‘Zanies and Fools’ brings in Nicki Minaj for arguably the best guest verse on it. She also appears on ‘Slide Around’, to similar results.
The lyrics on ‘Ballin Flossin’ are uncharacteristically poor – “Tell me all the money that you make off that / Peanut butter jelly with a baseball hat” – but that’s not to say Chance isn’t in on the joke. They’re also more forgivable considering he blesses us with those on ‘We Go High’: “My baby momma went celibate / Lies on my breath, she say she couldn’t take the smell of it / Tired of the rumours, every room had an elephant”. Or those on ‘Do You Remember’, which has one of the stranger features of Chance’s career in Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, but is all the more impressive for it: “Used to have obsession with the 27 club / Now I’m turning 27 wanna make it to the 2070 club”.
This is an album that pushes the idea of grand, bombastic expression so far it becomes concept. Chance has said that the album symbolises the music he and his wife danced to at their wedding; so of course, there’s genuine and palpable feeling on here. It’s an entirely personal work, but that doesn’t mean he’s not having fun with his own narrative and perhaps not taking it too seriously. ‘Hot Shower’ is the best example of the playfulness at its most flimsy and pointless – what or who exactly Chance is supposed to be making fun of here is hard to detect and too boring to matter. The project would have been better off without it, which is the case for at least two or three other tracks (‘Handsome’ and ‘Big Fish’ spring to mind as Trap music entries that sound far beneath what Chance is capable of).
But these low points are forgotten when we consider tracks such as the aggressive ‘Roo’, which sounds like a Pablo-era Kanye cut and is almost as good. Or ‘5 Year Plan’: one of The Big Day’s softer, more contemplative moments, comparable to those that decorated Coloring Book and gave it some of its standouts (‘Summer Friends’, ‘Blessings’, ‘Same Drugs’). There’s also ‘Get a Bag’ and its inspired James Taylor sample, which the album admittedly needed more of. This was Chance’s first self-released project, so it’s early days; he doesn’t have to be reaching Kanye tier yet in terms of curation and control. Perhaps the reductive (if inevitable) comparisons to him are unfair and part of the reason so many people were disappointed by this release.
There is undeniable Ye influence here, as was the case with each of the mixtapes: the characteristic balance of rapping and singing, the genre fusion, the thematic play on fame, ego and self-myth. A feature wouldn’t have gone amiss, either – it’s both surprising and a shame that Ye doesn’t appear on here. Simultaneously, the album would have benefitted from more Chance-only tracks, isolating his voice, reminding us of his range and versatility, his sheer talent and exhilarating potential. 2019 may be the year of the successfully long album; but listening to The Big Day from beginning to end does leave you wondering just how great it could have been if Chance had trimmed the fat and narrowed the focus.
Yet the fact that he didn’t is part of its charm. The second of its three skits – ‘4 Quarters in the Black’ – features voiceover from actor Keith David before breaking into a cacophony of overlapping, uncredited voices. They create the internal pinball effect of the 26-year-old’s mind: competing with the responsibility of being the family man new to a lifelong commitment (“And you need a wife”), the man of faith (“And you need Jesus”), the outspoken activist, acutely aware of the world today and constantly debating his role in it (“Don’t forget about veganism, that’s 2019… it’s almost 2020”).
The sprawling 77 minutes is the canvas he spills this all on, for better or for worse. It’s inconsistent and far from the perfection Chance probably has in him, and which the world somewhat unfairly expected from a first album. As ventriloquised through Keith David, Chance is completely aware of the fact that he’s not the finished product, so gives us the most accurate representation of where he and his music are at by this point in his career.
It’s a necessary next step and a truly enjoyable ride. As Chance indicates during the album’s home stretch, on the terrific ‘Sun Come Down’, “If you make a movie about my life, make it right” – that perfect movie, that definitive artistic work doesn’t come by often, and The Big Day doesn’t pretend to be it. But Chance is young and the music world his oyster, so perhaps that big day will come.