Giving Chance a Chance: The Big Day Review
Check out my review of Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day, an assignment from my Critical Music Writing class this past semester, in which we were asked to write a short assessment of an album from an artist we’d never listened to before.
In a political climate as rocky as today’s, it’s no wonder hip-hop artist and activist Chance the Rapper, born Chancelor Jonathan Bennett, became popular in a relatively short time. Hailing from Chicago, he preaches goodness through uplifting lyrics while upholding his strong Christian beliefs. Chance the Rapper redefines the struggles of modern life through his themes of marriage, fatherhood, and religion on The Big Day.
As an indie rapper, Chance dropped his first mixtape 10 Day in 2012, then gained mainstream recognition the following year with Acid Rap, which Pitchfork raved about as “genius.” In 2016, he made history as the first streaming-only artist to win a Grammy for his project Coloring Book, which also debuted at number eight on the Billboard 200. His success peaked this past July (2019) with the release of his debut album, The Big Day, which reached number two on both the Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album charts.
The Big Day was inspired by Chance’s recent marriage to his childhood sweetheart and reflects an ability to encompass a myriad of genres, including rap, gospel, blues-rock, house, jazz, and more through collaborations and skits like “4 Quarters in the Black,” which fit well, and “Photo Ops,” which seemed like a distraction.
Laced but not overpowered by synths, one can hear why Chance cites Prince—among other artists including Kanye West, James Brown, and Lil Wayne—as an influence. The album opens with “All Day Long,” a bouncy, expansive up-tempo track featuring John Legend.
With a bumping bassline and Minneapolis sound synthesizer and drum machine, Chance freestyles about how quickly life passes in a way that makes you nostalgic, but also want to dance: “If you blink you might miss it / You gotta click it or ticket” / You gotta go get to gettin' before it's gone / End it quickly as it begun.”
Chance reveals his vulnerability on the title track which alludes to the “greatest day of his life”: his wedding. Over a sonically stripped down, mid-tempo track, he lyrically paints his future dreams with a simple drum beat and acoustic guitar that tickle the listener’s ear. “I can't believe it / Must be the luckiest guy alive,” he repeats. He ends by humbly illuminating his devotion to God: “I might just be a molecule of Christ / Folding in a universe of dust and light.”
In contrast, he makes “Slide Around,” a raunchy collaboration with Lil Durk and Nicki Minaj, sound like the theme song to your vacation in Miami, building a bouncing, bass-heavy wall of sound and lyrics that discuss a materialistic life: “Salmon Gucci slide, slide around / Legit on that jet, I can fly around.” Chance proves he’s a master of every genre from these dirtier party lyrics to his gospel-based tracks such as “Zanies and Fools.” With each album he creates, he progressively becomes better at seamlessly melding genres reflecting his eclectic personality.
Most striking of all tracks on the album is “5 Year Plan,” Chance’s collaboration with Randy Newman, Los Angeles songwriting legend. Piano-led, it hits your soul deeper than a sad movie, featuring Newman in a motivational spoken-word cameo as the archetypal elderly voice of wisdom: “And you think how so many people live through things like this / Sounds crazy but it's true / You can get over anything, almost.”
Chance is successful in staying true to his motivational rapping brand through his commentary on marriage, fatherhood, and religion in addition to showing off his mastery of multiple genres in The Big Day. With this record marking a deepening maturity in Chance’s music, it will be exciting to see what he does next.