Chance the Rapper ‘The Big Day’ – Review

8 Aug

On ‘The Big Day’s opening track, ‘All Day Long’, John Legend makes a defensive declaration on behalf of Chance the Rapper – ‘We can’t be out here pleasin’ everybody, we know who we are.’ It signifies, unwittingly or not, how the perception of Chance has shifted from the release of ‘Colouring Book’, an amazingly generous mixtape that he put out in 2016. Once the toast of Chicago – the artist who donated millions to City Arts projects, who gave away his music for free, who used his platform to shine a light on social injustice – Chance has, more recently, become known for shutting down critics on twitter, pressuring MTV to remove negative reviews and his increasingly goofy guest verses. An early plattitude ‘The halo can turn hollow’ – almost starts to sound like a self-fulfilling prophecy in the rear view mirror. 

In this context, Chance has doubled down rather than concede ground, choosing to write almost exclusively about his love for his wife and reverence for God. ‘I don’t care what people might say/ I know you know, I’ve got you always.’ On the surface this seems commendable but what seems sweet to one person comes across as sour to another. Is this a collection of heartwarming love songs or not so subtle humble brags?

Nearly a decade in the offing, The Big Day’ has to be the most long-awaited debut album of all time – but what exactly makes this any more of an ‘album’ than Chance the Rapper’s previous three long players remains a mystery. Ironically, considering the importance he clearly places on the ‘album’ designation, ‘The Big Day’ flows considerably more like a mixtape than the watertight ‘Acid Rap’ or ‘Colouring Book’. Stuffed with unnecessary skits and corny throwaways, and skewering between genres haphazardly, the album runs long at  80 mins. It feels like a lot.

The album is a throwback to the ambitious, thematically cohesive, skit heavy Rap albums of the early 00’s. Specifically it recalls Kanye’s ‘Late Registration’ in both scope and style. ‘Get a Bag’ is the closest homage, with its pinched soul sample and liberal use of puns. Chance shares Kanye’s audacity but lacks his genius in threading it all together. In this instance, 22 songs is simply far too many. 

And Chance stakes everything on you finding his personal life as interesting as he does. Equally, enjoyment of this album rests on your tolerance for uncomplicated happiness as a topic for art. Despite its length, Chance never really untangles or dissects marriage, with its myriad of complexities and complications. His wife, who he gushes over, is little more than a cartoon avatar used to symbolise his own gains. It’s a two dimensional representation of a love affair, stretched to cinematic lengths. More than that, his style is frequently overwhelming and confusing. The punchlines and similes tumble over each other (one fan counted – staggeringly there are 178 punchlines and 100 similes), some bounce off targets, some never even land. Peel back the the imagery and there isn’t much true insight underneath. What we do have is a lot, an awful lot, of joy. That Chance the Rapper should be so deliriously happy at the expense of nuance goes against the modern trend for sophisticated cynicism. Unadulterated love and commitment seem far fetched to many people in 2019, so no wonder the general response in the Hip Hop community hasn’t been too kind. 

Personally, I’m enthusiastic about the vibes Chance is trying to convey. He remains the most loveable rapper out there and at his best is almost totally unmatched (listen to how effortlessly the rhymes unspool on ‘We Go High’ for example). At points, as on the title track and the helplessly nostalgic ‘Do You Remember’, he nails it with the tools he has always utilised – hooks and humour. But his positive message is diminished by over-indulgence. My visceral reaction every time I’ve considered listening to this album has been an internal sigh. Like a lot of weddings, ‘The Big Day’ ends up being a tedious, epic slog pricked by moments of genuine euphoria and celebration. You’re left with a handful of good memories but the physical and emotional strain of the thing itself is daunting in advance and exhausting during. ‘Think it’s the greatest day of my life’ Chance purrs on the title track. That might be true for him but I’m not sure anyone else will feel that way.

6.5/10

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