Since his 2012 debut mixtape, 10 Day, Chance The Rapper, a.k.a. Chancellor Bennett, has become a sensei-master of self-released distribution strategy, delayed gratification, and pioneering rap music. This makes The Big Day, his first formal album release, an atypical “debut” in more ways than one. While its kaleidoscopic, all-encompassing fusion of hip-hop, pop, soul, juke, jazz, and gospel could very well be labeled “wedding rap” (the album’s thematic premise revolves around Chance’s rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood and discovery of love, ultimately culminating in his recent marriage to Kirsten Corley), the album’s independent release also flies in the face of the traditional music industry zeitgeist. It’s an uncompromisingly individualistic effort that further cements Chance’s meteoric ascent from Chicago South Side rapper to global superstar.
Lil Chano from the 79th has been speaking to us all along, devoid of corporate interests (well, besides Doritos) and anything that would separate his listeners from the music. This laser focus on accessibility blurred the lines between mixtape and album so completely that we could no longer tell the difference between them, showcasing just how arbitrary the distinction was to begin with when stripped of licensing and royalty interests. If Chance’s intrepid, life-affirming acid-raps were first budding on 10 Day, blossoming on 2013’s Acid Rap, and in full bloom on 2016’s Coloring Book (the first streaming-only album to win a Grammy), The Big Day is a rare bouquet on full display; a stunningly realized array of color, sound, and sensation that swallows the room. Any structure at risk of pop cliché finds new life through Chance, whose mastery of composition creates spins on existing musical archetypes like new synaptic grooves being carved out for the very first time.
On “All Day Long,” the rapper nods to his string of previous releases by leaping into the triumphant lead track with his familiar re-introduction “And we back,” the same call to attention that launched Acid Rap and Coloring Book. The song, featuring John Legend, is a buoyant gospel-rap red carpet leading into the album.
Chance has a supreme knack for imbuing brand-new songs with the fuzzy nostalgia of the familiar: ad-libs, snippets, and one-liners that make his discography feel like sewn-together patches of a single technicolor tapestry. So when on the record’s second verse he raps “Bomb b-bombastic, used to drop acid / Marley come soon, I only drop classics,” we flashback to an era when we were first meeting Chance on 2013’s “Acid Rain”: “Tripped acid in the rain / Wore my jacket as a cape and my umbrella as a cane.” Back then, Lil Chano’s candor made him instantly likable as rap music’s drugged-out outsider. Now that he’s on the inside, the only thing that’s lost is the underdog story.
The Big Day vacillates between moods and motifs rapidly enough to keep heads swiveling, while the vast range of collaborations and cross-genre mingling becomes evident as early as the second track. On “Do You Remember,” Death Cab For Cutie’s Benjamin Gibbard stirs summertime nostalgia reminiscent of 2016’s “Summertime Friends” with a sun-drenched hook. The album hops from scintillatingly bright gospel tracks like “Eternal” to the bass-laden “Hot Shower,” the album’s first trunk-rattler, where Chance coasts across stretched-out syllables alongside DaBaby and MadeinTYO. “We Go High” renders the height of vulnerability on the project, as he explores infidelity and the tormenting prospect of love fading after breached trust. Chance is at his best during moments like these, delivering confessional rap meditations over choral crooning: “It’s true, God, this union was for you, God / We standin’ at the stoop, we want to make it to the rooftop / You told us bring some people through, we tried to bring a few, God / We tried to form a new bar, just tell us what to do, God.”
Chance’s brother Taylor Bennett is featured on the ominous “Roo,” a painstakingly assembled track detailing turbulent childhood memories but affirming family bonds. Other highlights (of which there are many) are closer to the mainstream, like Francis And The Lights and Justin Vernon’s contribution to “The Big Day,” Timbaland’s brooding beat for “Big Fish” (which comes with the iciest Gucci Mane verse in recent memory), and multiple appearances from Nicki Minaj on instantly quotable “Slide Around” and album closer “Zanies And Fools.” While the later track provides an inspiring, upbeat Afrocentric outro, it’s also attracted attention for Nicki’s lyrical breadcrumbs pertaining to her marriage and pregnancy.
The album isn’t wholly without misfires, like the torrent of abrupt screaming found midway through “The Big Day” or the Baltimore/Jersey Club-inspired outro on juke jam “Found A Good One (Single No More),” which, while ambitious, could just as easily clear the dance floor as fill it. Still, Chance wins the day by doing what he does best: disrupting convention, speaking truth, and keeping friends close but family closer. And Chance’s rap aphorisms are still second to none as he assures us the long road ahead isn’t to be feared, even as we journey toward our own life milestones: “Are you ready for the big day? I don’t know, but you’re well on your way…”
By any measure, The Big Day is a watershed moment—not just because Chance has so adeptly turned an industry on its head, but because it’s the zenith of an entire career spent demonstrating that when Chance raps, he raps from the heart. Maybe that’s why when we get to know Chance The Rapper, it feels a lot like getting to know ourselves.