By Christopher R. Weingarten
July 29, 2019 at 09:00 AM EDT
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

The Big Day (2019 album)

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Nimble-tongued Chicago rap sensation Chance the Rapper and his longtime girlfriend held a star-studded California wedding ceremony earlier this year. Did you not get your invitation? Don’t fret because the massive, celebratory The Big Day is basically a killer reception that anyone can attend. The unflappably sunny Chance has said this project was inspired by “how [he] was dancing that day,” and all the essential pieces of a wedding DJ’s arsenal are here: some beaming ’80s Kool & the Gang-style funk for the newlywed announcement (“All Day Long”), their first dance to Death Cab for Cutie (the band’s Ben Gibbard croons the bittersweet chorus to “Do You Remember”), and a loving toast — well, a rap — from the groom’s brother, Taylor Bennett (“Roo”). There’s even an appearance from the actual Mr. C the Slide Man, DJ Casper, who cha-cha slides all over “Ballin Flossin.”

Chance has called this project his “debut album,” but that’s really a semantic decision considering his third streaming “mixtape,” 2016’s Coloring Book, broke the Billboard Top 10, won a Grammy, and earned Chance enough celebrity status to be a Saturday Night Live host, Lollapalooza headliner, and even a voice as a galago in the box-office-topping Lion King reboot. Coloring Book‘s triumph was mixing hip-hop and gospel music with natural ease, similar to how Run-D.M.C. paired it with rock guitars. The Big Day has none of its predecessor’s musical cohesion, instead opting for a party record that bursts through genre and mood. Like the music at a wedding reception, it can be somewhat nostalgic in its touch points — flashes of ’80s and ’90s R&B, a hip-house track, the voices of James Taylor (sampled) and Randy Newman (not sampled).

But Chance the Rapper, as a rapper, never stops feeling remarkably contemporary. He’s currently the only A-list MC who’s working with both the modern hip-hop technique of rubbery sound feel (think Future) and classic knotty rhyme schemes (think Kendrick Lamar). As the beats rocket through past and present, Chance remains a constant, always rapping in his own wild style, always channeling everything through his love of God and family: euphoric bursts of melody, a scattergun blast of serious rap chops, a beautiful voice crack, the occasional corny joke or Rick & Morty reference. At his best Chance can make the profound sound casual, like this line that flips Kurt Cobain’s “Serve the Servants” sentiment into spiraling lyrical calligraphy: “Shootin’ at me point blank with those blanks/ They don’t take teenage angst at no banks.”

© 2019 Chance the Rapper LLC

For those moments that recall ’90s R&B, Chance actually recruits En Vogue (“I Got You (Always and Forever)”) and SWV (“Found a Good One (Single No More)”) to take a Bruno Mars-style nostalgia trip. A pair of currently white-hot rappers — DaBaby and Megan Thee Stallion — both stop by and bring their A-game. Various sounds of Chance’s native Chicago float through organically — Chicago house, Twista’s high-velocity “chopper rap,” the skipping samples and chipmunk soul of Kanye West, and the frenetic beats of footwork. “Eternal” even has the feel of “Chicago stepping” music, a frequent sound at Windy City weddings. There’s also a new wave-y song where Chance yowls like Pharrell drunk on Champagne (“Let’s Go on the Run”), a Dirty Dancing-style duet with Francis of Francis and the Lights (“The Big Day”), and a Pi’erre Bourne-produced track that sounds like a DJ spinning the latest rap hit with a Nicki Minaj feature. The Big Day is a bounty, and the only real downside to the record is justifying its 77-minute runtime in the SoundCloud era (think about all that Lil Nas X accomplished in a minute and 53 seconds).

By album’s end, Chance is reflecting on money and death through the lens of his marriage. The final song, “Zanies and Fools” is, naturally, a slow dance fake-out — just like Donna Summer’s perennial wedding closer “Last Dance.” With a chorus that flips “Impossible: It’s Possible” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Chance tells the actual story of meeting his future wife and shares his personal anxieties with grace and feeling: “The caterpillars that had burrowed inside my belly/ Started to flutter before I learned how to fly/ I had a bunch of midlife crises ‘fore I turned 25.” A master lyricist, a musical omnivore, Chance and his family of producers and instrumentalists channel all the big emotions of the big day in a swirl of bliss, marital and otherwise. A-

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The Big Day (2019 album)

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