Not quite a classic, it’s nonetheless a welcome statement from one of the decade’s most important hip-hop artists.
The title of Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day could be taken one of several ways: most obviously, it rather cheekily announces the long-awaited arrival of his first album proper and acquiescence to a traditional album release format (i.e. not a mixtape), or, more likely, as his supremely over-the-top coming out party. So chock-full of guests and musical ideas, the album very nearly lives up to its title in terms of sheer grandiosity; at 22 tracks and more than 75 minutes of material, it’s his most ambitious outing to date.
That said, it feels more a continuation of the sound and lyrical vision he established with his highly-touted mixtapes Acid Rap and Coloring Book. In fact, nothing here, despite its best intentions to the contrary, manages to supersede the epic, life-affirming vision of the latter He almost would’ve been better served had that been his first proper release rather than The Big Day.
But this is splitting hairs as Chance has already long-since been ensconced as one of the preeminent talents of his generation, not just in hip-hop but all of popular music. In other words, he would’ve had to have failed miserably for The Big Day not to come off as anything less than a well-deserved victory lap. Indeed, it’s hard to believe it’s already been more than three years since we last heard from him (a lifetime in our current ADHD-addled, content oversaturated society), yet a quick look at his output of the past decade will show that he’s largely stuck to a once-every-three-years workload. This isn’t to say he hasn’t been busy, of course, given his extremely high profile via both his music and his unprecedented philanthropic efforts designed to help the city and community he so clearly loves.
So how is The Big Day? Thematically, it continues mining the personal and nostalgic elements that made both Acid Rap and Coloring Book so endearing from a lyrical standpoint. The most obvious and immediate example of this well-worn nostalgic territory comes in the form of “Do You Remember,” an almost overly-twee track featuring Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard singing the hook, his delivery of the lyric, “Do you remember how when you were younger/ The summers all lasted forever?” sounds for all the world like an aborted Postal Service track.
On the personal front, he explores the dysfunctional nature of brotherly love on “Roo,” a track featuring another indie artist in the form of CocoRosie, a seemingly unlikely pairing that subsequently pales in comparison with the world-bending pairing on “5 Year Plan” (more on that in a moment). He also spends copious amounts of time exploring his new role as father and myriad relationship pitfalls, none of which has the same sort of visceral impact as his previous efforts, unfortunately. But as his world has grown exponentially, so has the need to broaden his collaborative horizons.
And it’s this spirit of collaboration that makes The Big Day such an enjoyable listen. Pulling out all the stops, Chance enlists the help of a who’s-who of hip-hop and R&B luminaries, bringing along the likes of John Legend (“All Day Long”), En Vogue (“I Got You (Always and Forever)”), Gucci Mane (“Big Fish”) and a double dose of Nicki Minaj (“Slide Around” and “Zanies and Fools”). Each of these makes perfect sense and fit within the expected framework of a major release like this. But Chance has never been one to be concerned with expectations and the prevailing trends of the genre; just look at the heavy gospel and jazz influence across all his mixtapes that continues here.
So when, of all people, Randy Newman makes an appearance midway through “5 Year Plan” the initial shock of his inimitable voice singing the song’s anti-hook wears off rather quickly and, just as hastily, settles very nearly into the commonplace. It makes a strange kind of sense, in a way, Newman being an equally iconoclastic performer—albeit within in a decidedly different medium—and slotting in nicely within the world of The Big Day.
It’s not all revelatory, however, with more than a few seemingly tossed-off moments thrown in to maintain some sense of levity. “Get a Bag” (“You want a bag /You get a bag”) isn’t exactly groundbreaking, while “Hot Shower” is more amusing than rewarding. But anyone already firmly within the Chance the Rapper camp won’t mind in the slightest, so overwhelmingly thrilled will they be with the arrival of The Big Day that even these slight dips in quality will be forgiven, if not entirely forgotten. On the whole, this is more of what we’ve come to expect from Chance, only this time it’s conducted on a far more epic scale. Not quite a classic, it’s nonetheless a welcome statement from one of the decade’s most important hip-hop artists.