December 2015, Chance the Rapper was seated center on the SNL stage surrounded by his band, the Social Experiment, Jamila Woods, a full chorus, and a slew of sleigh bells. He repped Chicago varsity wear, and the church meets hip-hop explosion couldn’t be anything but reminiscent of his hometown idol, Kanye West.
Like Kanye, Chance wasn’t unanimously loved when he hit the scene, and I’m sure most of his fans today were initially skeptics who later came around. They both incorporated soul into their music, they were both cute (and properly played off that), and they both carried the city of Chicago on their backs.
When Kanye approached album No. 4, he was coming off of Graduation, his highest point of success thus far, and a strong hold on both the sound of rap and the style. Then, his mother, Donda West, passed away, and his longtime engagement to his girlfriend since 2002, designer Alexis Phifer, also came to a close. His next record, a gloomy and auto-tuned pouring of the heart entitled 808’s & Heartbreak, was a massive risk, but it has gone on to influence the state of hip-hop and pop ever since.
On the other hand, Chance’s fourth release, The Big Day, plays like a 90’s soundtrack to his own wedding. Where Kanye’s life was turned upside-down, Chance was getting married and touring late night television with the success of John Legend getting rapturous applause for low-bearing fruit along the lines of, “oh boy our Cheeto in chief sure is dumb, ain’t he?”
Coloring Book positioned Chance as the most popular artist on the planet, and with that gift, also comes a curse. Instead of hoping that your art connects, now the pressure to please overcomes the craft. It’s not a bad thing that Chance is happily married, or that he loves his wife, he just doesn’t manifest those feelings into interesting art.
Chance is overwhelmed by one emotion, and over the course of 22 tracks, the concept just drags on. It’s not a terrible, disastrous record, as one could have predicted, it’s just long and uneventful. Some tracks are unlistenable, such as “Hot Shower,” and others packed like sardines with the most forced pop-culture references or oddly crafted similes, set aside Peppa Pig-brained nonsense phrases such as “bing bing bang booka booka” from “Get a Bag.”
Other than including Da Baby and Megan Thee Stallion, The Big Day doesn’t interact with the current musical landscape, and features like Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie definitely pull it back more than anything. He tries so hard to make a Kanye record on The Big Day, as he grasps at universal love with similar sounding skits, high-pitched samples, and soulful callbacks featuring En Vogue, but it all feels too much like a performance. It made one comedian’s viral meme mocking the rapper hilariously accurate.
Francis & The Lights’ tone almost sounds like he’s mocking Chance at the beginning of “The Big Day,” the title-track, before Chance himself takes over the duties. The track is then interrupted by devilish laughs and Frank-Ocean-“Biking”-like screams, as if ruining this sweet song was the only way he knew how to express that sometimes love can make you go crazy.
The Big Day is a prime example of what would happen if Chance’s squeaky-voiced genius deflated. If all the risks he took throughout his career didn’t pay off. He always wore his heart on his sleeve, but it wasn’t until now that he started force-feeding it to us. Where Chance was wacky and the music was sweet, now it’s the opposite, and it’s no longer just so bizarrely easy to shrug off.
As I’ve discussed with those around me, if anyone deserves to be the most popular artist on the planet, it’s Chance the Rapper, but the curse of being the most popular artist is that to stay there, you have to please everyone, and you can’t please everyone. Ego and controversial politics aside, Kanye West knows that every time he makes an album. Chance wasn’t thinking like the most popular artist on the planet, he was just trying to please everyone at the party. He was just playing the groom on his big wedding day.
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