In the fall of 2015, about a year before Chance the Rapper became the biggest independent rapper on Earth, he released a song with his band, the Social Experiment, about transitioning into a family man. The song, a rendition of Kanye West’s “Family Business” called “Family Matters,” named after the sitcom about a black middle-class Chicago household, warned that things were changing. “In this part of my life, I’m growing up and I wanna do this the right way … grow out of it, in the best way possible,” he said, as cautiously optimistic as ever. His daughter was born the month before. With fatherhood ahead of him, he plotted a new course and in the years since, he has pivoted from a carefree yet careful boy to a God-fearing man of the house.
Chance’s new album, The Big Day, pegged as his “debut” after three studio mixtapes, is a preordained coming-of-age spectacle. It’s full-fledged, 401k rap, a snapshot of the moment where the future starts approaching so fast it begins to look like now. “They don’t take teenage angst at no banks,” he raps on “We Go High,” invoking Michelle Obama’s famous line about what to do when “they” go low. It’s a flavor of righteousness that pervades the entire 77-minute album.
Though less thematic than his previous albums, the day in question revolves primarily around his wedding to longtime sweetheart Kirsten Corley. “The whole album has been inspired by the day I got married and how I was dancing that day,” he told Beats 1’s Zane Lowe. “Everything in it is all the different styles of music that make me want to dance and remind me of that day.” In an attempt to take the rap auteur baton from his mentor Kanye, Chance has curated these festivities to be eclectic yet holistic, emblematic of the guy who remixed the theme song to TV’s beloved “Arthur” and sampled the indie darlings Beirut. There’s an expansive list of guests: En Vogue and SWV, CocoRosie and Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, John Legend and gospel singer Kiki Sheard, Randy Newman and Shawn Mendes. For the most part, he wrangles them into a collective indicative of the Chance experience (the rapper co-produced every song on this project). There’s nothing that suggests he’s breaking character.
It’s just that this 22-track sprawl amounts to everything and nothing at the same time. God, marriage, fatherhood, children, adulthood, the future: all heavy things that feel weightless and inflatable in Chance’s hands. In trying to honor all the love and music that moves him, Chance becomes an ill-advised master of ceremonies for an uneven reception. The songs are infectious and exuberant until they become stilted and underwritten. After reclaiming the maligned subgenre of gospel rap on Coloring Book, Chance is trying to one-up himself by bringing perky, newlywed dad-rap back to the zeitgeist. Somewhere on that dancefloor, or perhaps before, he lost his edge.
On the surface, Chance hasn’t really strayed too far from his high-spirited wheelhouse, which presents opportunities for him to find his signature stuff. As the Pi’erre Bourne beat wails and shatters on “Slide Around,” he bounces singsongy nursery rhyme melodies off a more than game Lil Durk and Nicki Minaj, who match his breezy flows and Grammy-speak. There are enough glimpses of genius, like the thoughtful living trust he bestows during “Sun Come Down,” to serve as reminders of why Chance has earned all this fanfare, but not enough to sustain an otherwise middling effort.
His failures here are, if nothing else, in good faith. Bringing his family together in holy matrimony under the banner of God is clearly very important to him. It’s also a means to get his life on the right track. “My daughter mother double-ringed up/Finger look like jean cuffs, or two lean cups/Used to have an obsession with the 27 club/Now I’m turning 27, wanna make it to the 2070 club,” he raps on the Ben Gibbard-assisted “Do You Remember.” But songs like “I Got You (Forever and Always)” and “Found a Good One (Single No More)” never reach any level of introspection beyond the enthusiasm of their titles. Through all the celebration, there isn’t much consideration for what being a husband and dad actually means.
It takes a lot to make the sheer honeymoon joy of a new marriage sound labored or awkward, but Chance is nearly bursting a vein rapping and singing and squawking about how great things are. His wife and child are his muses but they almost never manifest as humans beyond his awestruck fascination with them. The true history of wives is one in service to the legacy of patriarchs. In Chance’s songs, this marriage exists solely as a symbolic vehicle for his maturation. There are moments where he seems to understand this (“For every small increment liberated, our women waited/And all they privacy been invaded,” he raps on “Zanies and Fools”), but he never interrogates it.
One of Chance’s great powers has been balancing a childlike wonder with a world-weary pragmatism. His endearing corniness was a coping mechanism for seeing and knowing too much too soon. Now, as he continues to check off boxes—rich, famous, philanthropic, award-winning, married with kids—it’s as if he’s conquered the game and all that’s left is searing self-congratulation. The charms of his cartoonish performances don’t translate well when he raps about the mundanity of adulthood or his Christian homilies.
Coloring Book made piety seem as sublime as an acid trip with heady, expanding verses. Chance was guided by his faith but never blinded by its light; his rapping not just precise but breathtakingly eloquent. It was personalized but still far-reaching, steadfast but non-denominational. Kanye’s self-proclaimed best prodigy, “pre-currency, post-language, anti-label, yet pro-famous,” had brought the secular world of rap an invocation even more profound than “Jesus Walks.”
In contrast, The Big Day, which is often just as prayerful, feels closed-off. These raps aren’t just duller and more rigid in motion, they’re dogmatic. He loves his girl, he loves his God, he loves his kid, and anyone who doesn’t share that love is a dissenter. He is so tenacious in his worship that it can feel contrived. “They prop up statues and stones, try to make a new God/I don’t need a EGOT, as long as I got you, God,” he raps, demonizing the same awards he champions elsewhere on the album as marks of progress.
The album can become a slog, almost oppressively upbeat, but The Big Day isn’t without wonders. Chance is still one of the most talented rappers working, and there are signs of that latent brilliance across about a dozen songs. There are instances where his assorted taste shines, flipping Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down” into a hip-house jam with Shawn Mendes or getting CalBoy to rap over a chipmunk’d James Taylor sample for “Get a Bag.” The fierce Nicki Minaj verse on “Zanies and Fools” that closes the album is her best in recent memory, and the most memorable among a slew of rap guest spots (DaBaby, Megan Thee Stallion, Gucci Mane, even his kid brother Taylor) that make the quirkier ones all but forgettable. Still, The Big Day rises and falls on Chance’s vows. Even on the dancefloor, his hopefulness can feel like a beacon.