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Chance The Rapper and the (Imagined) War on Marriage

‘The Big Day’ is a sprawling concept album meant to defend the institution of marriage, a mission that proves to be both touching and frustrating

Chance The Rapper and Kirsten Corley

Chance The Rapper and his wife, Kirsten Corley

Swan Gallet/WWD/Shutterstock

Chance The Rapper isn’t single anymore. In fact, he’s so married that he would never entertain a side chick — because he’s married, and it’s a happy marriage, with a strong foundation that’s built on God, and the relationship was etched in cosmic stone from the moment the two lovers met. He would very much like you to know that. At 22-songs and 77 minutes, Chance’s “debut” album The Big Day is a modern monument to matrimony.

“The whole album has been inspired by the day that I got married and how I was dancing that day,” Chance told Zane Lowe. “We had a reception with the legendary DJ Pharris. And we all danced our hearts out. It was the hardest I ever danced in my life and I’m a great, longtime dancer. Everything in it is all the different styles of music that make me want to dance and remind me of that day and remind me of that night and all those people that were there.”

Chance The Rapper is a man that thrives on taking the opposition position. His albums tend to revel in their roles as foils to the rest of the modern rap industry, and live or die on the depths of Chance’s convictions. Over the last seven years, listeners witnessed Chance war with unfair school-mandated suspensions (10 Day), the violence gripping his city (Acid Rap), and labels hellbent on holding him back (Coloring Book). Each was an album only Chance could make. It’s halfway through The Big Day that our beloved protagonist proclaims “they don’t sell marriage no more,” and his latest battle becomes clear. Chance’s debut is a concept album devoted to the institution of marriage and, less convincingly, defending it against imagined persecution and preaching about the effects of its salvation.

Despite Chance’s assertion, modern rap is firmly entrenched in the marriage selling business. For the last decade, the topic was inescapable. Jay-Z and Beyoncé went on a three album relationship counseling tour-de-force. Kanye West documented his every mood since his marriage to Kim Kardashian, from having horny sex with his wife on a conference table to ruminating on whether or not he wants to kill her. J. Cole told the story of the domestic bliss that comes with folding clothes with a spouse, Kendrick Lamar championed loyalty over lust, Cardi B and Offset complained about clout, and a healthy 75% of Future’s discography details the dissolution of a Ciara engagement and its lingering effects. Chance’s vision of devoted, Christian, heterosexual matrimony just isn’t as revolutionary as the music struggles to make it seem.

Instead, The Big Day adheres so close to its concept that it starts to take on the physical and social properties of a traditional wedding. Depending on your views, the run-time of this metaphorical ceremony is either too brief or interminable, the lyrical vows are self-affirming or self-righteous, and the production is either priceless or gaudy. Simultaneously, Chance plays the role of minister and groom. The arc of the ceremony follows nearly every sermon I’ve witnessed a black preacher give at a wedding: childhood lessons (“Do You Remember”) bleed into warnings against the flesh and infidelity (“Eternal,” “We Go High”), that transition into advice about planning for the future (“5 Year Plan”), and climax with a closing story about how the marriage we’re all witnessing is fate (“Zanies and Fools”).

At its most effective and affecting, The Big Day forgoes describing what love is and revels in the all-encompassing feeling of the emotion. “Ballin Flossin” features Shawn Mendes channeling his best Justin Timberlake impression over a hyperactive sample of Brandy’s 1994 song “I Wanna Be Down.” The nostalgia works because it’s built into the music instead of resting on top of it, like the countless Dragonball Z and Nicktoons lyrical references Chance peppers into each song. For an album based on the feeling of letting go on the reception dancefloor, “Ballin Flossin” is among the few songs that would sound at home in a 2019 DJ set. Similarly, the uncontrolled chaos of “The Big Day” and Chance’s lyrics — “Oh my God, think it’s the greatest day of my life / So glad you arrived / But the only way to survive is to go crazy” — say more in three bars than most of the tracks bother conveying in 3-minutes.

But far too often the album transitions between sentimentality and sanctimonious screeds. Either Chance is ending verses with a Michelle Obama slogan (“When they go low, we go high”) or he’s imagining that the people who weren’t invited to his wedding are hoping for the downfall of his relationship on Facebook. Even his last verse on the album tries to grapple with declining marriage rates and its intersection with race — “They were forever, but marriage had an apparent decline / Now we live in fear of doin’ what our parents was tryin’ / So every Rapunzel don’t got the kind of hair you can climb.” The moment is devoid of nuance, instead basking in the idea that if wedlock could save our protagonist, it can save anyone.

Critically, much will be made about whether the topic of matrimony can inspire compelling music. On The Big Day, Chance paints in large, joyful, and selfish strokes. Musically and narratively it’s unsatisfying, but nevertheless the arc is earned. Six years ago, Chance paused his technicolor breakthrough Acid Rap to tell the world about the desertion of Chicago and the nation that took a blind eye to its troubles. Fast forward a few years later and most of Chance’s contemporaries were largely forgotten by the major labels that swarmed the city during drill’s boom. In the world of The Big Day, life, marriage, and longevity weren’t promised.

Debut albums traditionally mark the beginning, but The Big Day feels like a conclusion. Chance spent much of his career remarking about the wonders of his childhood; it now seems like he needs to master the art of aging gracefully. Now that The Big Day is finally here, it’s nice to reminisce on the journey, but a wedding can’t last forever.

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