There’s a memorable scene in the movie Elf in which Will Ferrell bursts into his dad’s office during a business meeting, twirls with glee, and proclaims, “I’m in love, I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it!” If you took this four-second clip and played it 1,160 consecutive times, you’d get the equivalent of Chance the Rapper’s 77-minute debut album The Big Day—a tribute to Chance’s wife, Kirsten Corley, and a companion album to their wedding, which took place earlier this year in March. It’s exultant, like his 2016 gospel-rap opus Coloring Book, but narrower in emotional scope.
Coloring Book was a unicorn rap record that imbued Chance’s entire narrative with a sense of resolution, even though he was only 23 at the time, as he championed his renewed faith as the beacon that would shepherd him through adulthood, fatherhood, marriage, and beyond. The project coincided with a stratospheric spike in Chance’s Q score; he won a Grammy for Best Rap Album, hosted SNL, and assumed his place as planet Earth’s preeminent indie rap darling. The End!
As Chance will tell you on The Big Day, he and Kirsten are more or less living their storybook ending. “I’ve got plans to hug and kiss you/I’ve got plans to hug and hug and hug you,” he coos on “Let’s Go On The Run.” The Big Day contains about as much tonal variation as a leather-bound wedding photo album. Chance is more interested in celebrating the miracle of love than examining love’s warts, or the labor required to build and sustain a lasting marriage.
While Chance’s prodigious storytelling abilities are generally wasted on his incessant hem-kissing, they briefly come alive when he cops to cheating on “We Go High,” a song about a time when his relationship with Kirsten came to a grinding, precarious halt: “My baby mama went celibate/ Lies on my breath, she say she couldn’t take the smell of it/ Tired of the rumors, every room had an elephant/ Tryna find her shoes, rummaging through the skeletons.” On “Eternal,” an allusion to his infidelities illuminates an intimate snapshot of the ways they spend their time together: “Side chicks can’t take out splinters/ Side chicks make they Kool-Aid with Splenda.” The Big Day’s lengthy, watered-down run-time makes it easy to lose sight of these important wrinkles.
To Chance’s credit, The Big Day achieves the festive vibe of a wedding not only through explicit descriptions (“Backyard blasted, dance ’til it’s grassless / Patio glass, the mazel tov cocktails”), but also in his repeated efforts to coax old heads onto the dance floor. The album’s most fun tracks invoke ‘90s R&B and Chicago’s tradition of house music. There’s En Vogue on “I Got You (Always And Forever),” SWV on “Found A Good One (Single No More),” a Brandy sample on “Ballin Flossin” On juke number and future wedding staple “Found A Good One,” Chance jumps up and grabs the mic and chants, “I’m not single no more,” simultaneously celebrating his marriage and exhorting partygoers to keep on dancing. Voices on The Big Day are as far-flung as those you’d find in any sizeable wedding; guest artists range from DaBaby to Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard to Randy Newman, and actors John Witherspoon and Keith David pop up on the skits to deliver avuncular toasts.
Nostalgia has always been a hallmark of Chance’s music. On The Big Day, it often takes the form of a kind of forward-looking sentimentality, as he expresses concerns about his death and legacy. “Do You Remember” is preemptive nostalgia for the present. Later, Chance considers the benefactors of his will and wrings his hands worrying if his Lifetime movie will be any good. On “Sun Come Down” he raps, “Please don’t make no holograms, don’t wanna do it twice/ You wanna use my likeness, please approve it through my wife.” This preoccupation with the future underscores the fact that Chance exists on an accelerated timeline; he’s 26, but he’s already turning his attention to the task of securing his legacy and raising his family.
Despite its length, The Big Day is self-contained, at least by Chance’s standards. He doesn’t touch on Chicago politics, even though he recently threw his full weight behind Chicago mayoral candidate Amara Eniya and bought the Chicagoist from Cubs owner Joe Ricketts. Some of the album’s most memorable moments occur when he steps outside of his nuclear family circle. On “Do You Remember,” he acknowledging both the distance and admiration that exists between him and Chicago civilians, who “walk on eggshells and landmines [and] communicate with hand signs.” On album closer “Zanies and Fools,” he remembers falling in love with his wife at first sight, when they were 9 years old, then argues that the world has always conspired against marriage, especially for black people. It’s the first and last time on The Big Day that marriage appears not just as a pact between him and his wife and maybe God, but as a political, even subversive, act as well: “Now I wanna give it to her, Sierra Leone, serenade/ Sometimes love come with its own barricade/ Sometimes love just gotta hold, marinate.”