In a sentence:
Chance The Rapper’s first official album ‘The Big Day’ showcases Chancelor Bennett’s obvious talents, and addresses maturity and responsibility, but buckles under the weight of its ambition.
Having taken a mere half-decade to ascend to the position of biggest independent hip-hop star in the world, with a series of excellent mixtape albums both firming up his critical standing and expanding his adoring fanbase, things have largely been quiet from Chancelor Bennett, the cap-wearing icon known as Chance The Rapper. When we left him, on 2016’s hazy and wonderful Coloring Book, the normally carefree and optimistic Bennett had experienced life-changing upheavals, with the recent birth of his daughter occupying his mind. Three years later, he’s returned with what he’s categorised as his debut studio album. Consisting of a massive 22 tracks, The Big Day is loosely themed around the concept of his wedding four months ago to his childhood sweetheart, Kirsten Corley.
Swept up in
that framework is Bennett’s attempt to honour all of the musical influences,
material struggles and good fortune that’s brought him to this point in his
career, as well as his Christian faith. The Big Day also features a minor
galaxy of guest producers, and a number of star features ranging from John Legend
and Shawn Mendes to Death
Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard to Randy Newman, of all people. Everything
about the record points towards A Grand Statement – and herein lies the minor
but substantive fault with the record. In contrast to his clipped, economical
mixtapes that made his music so compelling and brought him to where Bennett is
today, the 77-minute structure of The Big Day is possibly too sprawling
a canvas to support his ambition. It’s admirable, in a way, to revert to this
kind of old-fashioned hip-hop album structure precisely at a time that the
genre is leaning more towards shorter, punchier tracks. But by the time that ‘Handsome’ rolls around
approaching the halfway point, the almost relentlessly upbeat disposition and
grand themes become a bit trying. It’s almost the hip-hop equivalent of the
same kind of thing that makes so many post-Coldplay major label guitar albums
fall apart – a surfeit of ‘The Big Music’.
That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t a treasure trove of spectacular individual moments on The Big Day. Many of them see Chance musing upon how far he’s come, the changes he’s seen and looking forward – cautiously, but optimistically – to what the future holds. After ‘All Day Long’ establishes the lyrical and musical themes, full of righteousness and radio-friendly sonics, ‘Do You Remember’ gets into the meat of the album. Gibbard’s plaintive croon meshes surprisingly well with Chance’s philosophical flows. Themes of maturity repeat throughout the album – on ‘Eternity’, he raps about school runs and Little League games; on the beautifully spiritual ‘We Go High’, he says “they don’t take teenage angst at no banks”; on ‘5 Year Plan’, he strategises for his future with his new family. The plinky-plonky infectiousness of ‘Let’s Go On The Run’ breaks up the mood and provides levity; ‘Slide Around’ sees the carefree Chance of old come to the fore, and ‘Hot Shower’ is an old-fashioned lyrical back-and-forth that could have come from a Beastie Boys classic.
But in among the good dozen moments of essential Chance The Rapper moments, there are moments that feel like ballast in order to stretch out a running order, and eventually it makes The Big Day feel a bit tiring as a listening experience. ‘Roo’, even though it sweetly features Bennett’s brother Taylor on one verse, feels lightweight, his inclusion little more than a novelty. Unlike other feature-heavy records like Lemonade in the recent past, some of the guest features here feel like Chance has put them there just because he can. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon lends his hand to the disappointingly Imagine Dragons-esque ‘The Big Day’, which triggers a noticeable mid-album lull that sees three back-to-back moments (‘Handsome’ through ‘Ballin Flossin’) which, while mercifully short, kill The Big Day’s momentum before it eventually surges back to life in the final third.
As a giant,
conceptual blow-out album, The Big Day fails to have the consistent
impact that previous mixtape effort. With a ruthless eye for editing and a more
harmonised production oversight, there’s potentially a fantastic hour-long
record dwelling within its 22 tracks, one to match the psychedelic Acid Rap and the secular/religious
tensions that underpinned Coloring Book. It’s the kind of album that
Bennett may have just had to get out of his system as Chance The Rapper – you
can only write one album about marriage and domestic bliss, after all. But as
comedian Keith David says in the album’s second skit, toasting Chance in a
wedding speech, “we see the success, but what’s next?” (6/10) (Ed
Listen to The Big Day by Chance The Rapper here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: album, Chance The Rapper, Chancelor Bennett, hip hop, review, The Big Day
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