Chance the Rapper’s new album concludes the first act of his career. For years he’s been progressing toward a project as grandiose and earnest as The Big Day, out since July. Here it is: a scattered double album and/or wedding playlist, commemorating his recent marriage, his decision to embrace family life, his transformation into a mature, responsible adult. The tone is celebratory and playful, but also wheedling; he wants to convince you that marriage is a good decision.
Chance has been associated with upbeat positivity since critics fell for his breakthrough mixtape, Acid Rap (2013). While loosely slapdash enough to maintain a mode of casual play, Acid Rap had a coherence and solidity rare among mixtapes; compared to its predecessor, 10 Day (2012), the sequencing was more deliberate, without a blank spot or dead moment.
Partly it was the beats, whose kaleidoscopic swirl of color encompassed tooting trumpets, bouncy piano chords, and fuzzy synthesizers that kicked in during the most joyfully climactic moments (as in “Chain Smoker”), a homemade, rickety synthesis of gospel-inflected soul and children’s music.
Chance rapped with a big grin; his ad-libs (“Ah!”) and rhythmic taunts (“Na na-na na na na!”) project effortless charm. His was a new flavor of rap goofiness, marked by childhood tropes, aw-shucks diffidence, and the shrewd, witty, homiletic repackaging of common sense.
He spent the next three years touring, accruing goodwill, collaborating with a wide range of peers (including the Social Experiment, on its group album Surf), rapping countless guest verses, and becoming a locally beloved Chicago fixture.
The gospel influence was prominent on his next mixtape, Coloring Book (2016), with religious lyrics and an expanded choir of background singers. The elements of children’s music were more pronounced as well: chirpier singsong melodies; sunny xylophones; a collaborative, communitarian spirit.
Chance often sounds like he’s talking to a child, rapping with a distinctive combination of overly careful didactic meticulousness and cloying sentimentality, instructing us: “Don’t forget the happy thoughts/all you need is happy thoughts.”
Inspired by his renewed faith and the birth of his daughter, Coloring Book was a maturity move, flaunting his spiritual growth and commitment to uplift, but a weirdly inverted one — the children’s music seemed to suggest that becoming a parent made him juvenile.
The Big Day embraces his new adult persona more straightforwardly. A musical rendition of his wedding, complete with toasts, speeches, and a first dance, the album stretches out with leisurely insouciance, like a celebration where none of the guests want to leave.
Compared to Coloring Book, whose many gospel singers were often packed so tightly into the musical space that the arrangements didn’t breathe, the beats are lighter and airier, coasting on pastel synthesizers and airborne electronic funk. He starts the album with his brightest moment of elation: “All Day Long” glitters with electricity and color, gliding over glassy rhythm guitars and plastic strings, with John Legend singing g a gleeful soul chorus whose simplicity complements Chance’s own chattering multisyllabic rhymes.
Throughout the album, he keeps marveling at how freely and enthusiastically he danced on his wedding night, and the music that captures that feeling is lovely. “Eternal” builds a sublimely loopy groove from a spiraling synthesizer hook and the chirping of helium soul voices, sped up Kanye-style. The spare, burbly electrobeat on “I Got You (Always and Forever)” allows En Vogue and Ari Lennox to lace their voices into a dense, echoey mesh of harmony.
The album can’t maintain such momentum over 77 minutes, though. In the second half especially, the message gets repetitive, occasionally dipping into self-parody — on “Found a Good One (Single No More),” Chance just repeats “I ain’t single no more” over and over. The slower, brooding songs (“We Go High,” “Town on the Hill”) seem perfunctory, as if it were the duty of family men to meditate solemnly on their responsibilities. The wedding speeches, recited by actors John Witherspoon and Keith David playing Chance’s uncles, are as corny and nattering as they would be at an actual wedding.
As is often the case with musical tributes to marriage, the album’s celebratory spirit is at odds with the sheer size of the gesture. The Big Day rather recalls Vampire Weekend’s recent Father of the Bride (2019), another inflated double album that commemorates and examines a once-callow young man’s passage into adulthood and embrace of family life. Where Ezra Koenig makes a show of being thoughtfully conflicted, Chance bursts with one-dimensional joy. But both albums extol the wonders of monogamy and reveal, perhaps accidentally, a certain anxiety about the whole thing.
The interminable length of these albums reflects the momentous scale of the life transition, or, in Chance’s case, the boundlessness of his euphoria and gratitude, while providing space for the artists to get defensive. It’s as if they need to explain their choices at length, in song after song, in long, tortuous, rationalizing paragraphs.
When Chance sneers “They don’t sell marriage no more” on “Big Fish,” or bemoans on “Zanies and Fools” that “Marriage had an apparent decline/now we live in fear of doing what our parents was trying,” he’s responding to imaginary critics with sour paranoia.
To hint at the contours of a real relationship would spoil the party, and the only attested attribute of his wife, Kirsten Corley, in these songs is that he loves her. The Big Day treats her as a catalyst for Chance’s own maturation, an excuse for him to reveal his new adult persona, rather than as her own person.
I don’t know why straight male artists so love these shows of premarital self-erasure: the ceremonial abandonment of personality and humor, coupled with the insistence that things are serious now — this is the first day of the rest of your life, and such. Since marriage and personality are in fact not mutually exclusive, the cutesy ritual extravagance of The Big Day is less fun and less emotionally gratifying than a wedding should be, lacking the sense of possibility that animated Chance’s previous music. His victory lap feels like a routine conclusion rather than the start of something new.
Hence, a surprising comfort: the maturity progression he’s sketched over the past few years has now reached a denouement. His subsequent music must now go in a different, less conventional direction — there’s no obvious next step from here. If his first album sold commercially after a string of free mixtape releases, The Big Day marks an era’s end. “So glad you arrived/but the only way to survive is to go crazy,” he remarks quietly, and ambiguously, on the title track. He now gets to survive and go crazy.