Let’s venture outside my usual world of blues/rock/Americana for a minute. I’ve been following Chance the Rapper way back in 2013 when his Acid Rap Mixtape dropped and, after a friend played me a few cuts, I got deep into it. The unique blend of jazzy melodies with psychedelic production and traditional hip hop beats felt fresh and exciting not dissimilar to To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. The follow up, Coloring Book, was not as exciting to me and I didn’t listen to it very much; but it didn’t sour me to the point that I wouldn’t pick up the follow up.
There’s a lot riding on The Big Day for Chance’s image. Dubbed his “first studio album” (although the difference between an album and a mixtape seems to only be whether you pay for it or not, a slight distinction in the Spotify era), Chance has made out this album as the beginning of a new chapter for him. From the get go it was marred in controversy as some releases do not include which guest artists were featured on which tracks — a true puzzle, as when you have such titans of music as John Legend and Randy Newman on your album, one would expect you’d want to boast that.
As a piece of art, however, The Big Day stands on its own. Far from a “new chapter” as he dubbed it, it feels very much a continuation of his previous work. Many of the songs on it fall short of that set up. At times it feels like The Big Day needed an editor. 22 tracks is a lot — back in the day it would’ve been dubbed a “double album” and cost extra — and not all the tracks feel like they’re worthy of being on the album. “Eternal” and “We So High” stood out as tracks that lacked any sort of imagination or feeling. But this is balanced out by the heights of songs like “I Got You” and “Let’s Go On The Run.” There’s a solid album in here, probably just as good as Acid Rap, but it’s lost in a sea of generic beats and uninspired production.
In a way, The Big Day is a victim of the digital era. 30 years ago, if your album was more than about 45 minutes, you had to make a case to your distributor that it was worth the expense of pressing a second disc to fit it all in. There were great songs that wouldn’t make the cut sometimes, but it also forced artists to put out only their best stuff. At 1:17:00, The Big Day would have been cut down to the essential tracks in an earlier era, but when you can fit all that on a CD-R, and most people are listening on Spotify or downloading digitally anyway, there’s no increased cost to include all the extras.
Public opinion has been fairly negative on Chance’s latest. Stereogum summed up the general mood around it pretty well when their writer Tom Breihan wrote “Chance The Rapper’s supposed debut album is merely a big shrug, a general sigh of disappointment. It’s a tedious album of little consequence, a clear sign of a gradual slide.“ I don’t think this is totally unfair, but I do feel it undercuts some of the albums high points.
The big weakness of The Big Day is probably it’s attempt at being a concept album. The narrative is clear, following Chance’s wedding day and exploring themes of family, but the emotional arc of the album isn’t there. A fine collection of songs — many of them great — it isn’t quite an album in the modern sense of the word.