I sometimes don’t feel anything when somebody gives their testimony in church. There’s a strange emotional gap when somebody pulls up their wounds, showing exactly where it hurts and why, while also explaining their hope. It’s frustrating because the person giving their testimony is clearly feeling a lot, and I’d like to be able to reciprocate. They are going somewhere, and it feels like I should follow, but sometimes I just can’t. I can recognize and appreciate the strength it takes to share something this personal and can even identify with what the person has found through the story. I believe what they are saying is true, but I’m not nearly as moved by it as they are.
That’s sort of how it feels to listen to The Big Day, the new album from Chance the Rapper. At a whopping 22 songs that span nearly an hour and a half, the album feels significant. But I feel left behind when listening to it.
Chance is a celebrity now, having been launched from Chicago hip-hop notoriety to mainstream success by his 2016 mixtape Coloring Book. And he is happily married. The Big Day focuses mostly on that second life change. It loosely plays as a narrative of his wedding day, with the heft of that concept coming from three skits interspersed in the tracklisting. Chance loves his wife and loves his daughter, and virtually all of his verses are anchored in his domestic heaven.
This is an extremely personal theme, but the album does not feel intimate. Chance speaks candidly of the struggles he and his wife have faced, detailing how they were able to find each other and find God despite seasons of mistrust and deception. But something about the way he tells this story make it feel weightless, as if it happened on some fuzzy cloud-world and not the planet earth. This hedging only gets worse the more Chance reiterates it. By the end of the album, Chance’s wife and daughter feel less like real people and more like buttons to be pushed for emotional resonance.
The production on the album does not help. The Big Day has the same feel-good sheen that Coloring Book had, but is unable to tap into its sense of joy. Most of the songs are carried by beats and hooks that feel like shells of the exultant, gospel-inspired sounds of Coloring Book. There are glimmers where Chance once again makes bliss feel potent and effortless, but the edges are dulled almost immediately. The length, again, does not help here. At song nine or 10, the easy-listening chug of The Big Day might feel alright, but by song 17, it’s purely saccharine.
There’s a myth that good art does not come from those who are happy—that suffering brings out people’s best work. We are in a good era of music to disprove this, as some of the best albums of the past few years are centered on (nuanced) feelings of brightness and joy—albums from artists such as Kacey Musgraves, Vampire Weekend, Lizzo, or Carly Rae Jepsen. So it’s not that the warmth of Chance’s family life is a bad topic for an album or that his faith in God is incongruent with the popular arts. Part of the role of art is to show us something we might not have found otherwise, even when it is about something we ourselves have experienced. Good art can show us new ways to talk about what we already know. It’s why people still listen to love songs even when they’re in love.
I am happy that Chance is happy, and on some level, I’m grateful for his testimony on The Big Day. But it’s a detached appreciation that doesn’t carry through to anywhere personal or affecting. A church member giving their testimony is not a professional orator, so it’s understandable when they can’t make their story come to life. Chance is one of the biggest rappers in the world and should be able to express so much more.
I have no doubt these songs bring Chance joy, but I fail to see what that has to do with me.
Warning: Parental guidance for explicit content. (Self-Released).