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Deputy Music Editor Aidan Riddell looks back at the 2019 release from Chance the Rapper
Anyone even passingly familiar with the popular hip hop of this decade will know of Chicago’s own Chancellor Jonathan Bennet. His trilogy of enormously successful mixtapes brought him to prominence in the Chicago scene, and the hip-hop underground and his collaborative efforts with genre titans such as Kanye West and Childish Gambino skyrocketed him into the musical mainstream. Known for his soulful, gospel-inspired lyrics and no-label approach to tackling the music industry, Chance the Rapper has made a name for himself as one of the nicest guys in hip-hop over the last few years, and has earned numerous Grammy awards for his efforts.
I’m usually unafraid of lengthier projects, as long as they continue to be compelling, and have enough ideas to justify their runtime. Having tackled all 8 hours of Autechre’s NTS Sessions, and thoroughly explored the 18 hours of newly released Radiohead demos last summer, the prospect of a longer than usual release from Chance wasn’t cause for concern. However, throughout the 77 minutes of this bloated 22 track anti-epic, Chicago’s favourite son achieves the feat of saying a lot without really saying anything at all. Despite the illusion of variety among the components of this slog, Chance appears to run out of ideas very early into the tracklist, on account of his many musical detours appearing more indicative of desperation than inspiration. Examples of this include his unreservedly lame attempt at genre fusion with indie rock outfit Death Cab For Cutie on Do You Remember, a song with all the eye-roll-inducing over-sentimentality of a Maroon 5 radio ballad, and his horribly misjudged expeditions into hip-house such as Found A Good One, constituting some of the most boringly produced and weirdly dated offerings on the album.
At its very best, this project’s subject matter is sickeningly saccharine and aggressively corny, at its worst, it ventures into the unlistenable territory. Hot Shower’s empty, underproduced beat paired with Chance’s clumsy vocal delivery sounds like a Lil B song, except Lil B usually has the decency to be terrible enough that his music is enjoyable by virtue of being hilarious. I Got You starts as a pleasant, if a cheesy, tribute to old school RnB, with genuinely solid guest vocals from Ari Lennox and En Vogue. Unfortunately, it isn’t long before Chance interrupts with an ill-fitting, shrill, nasal rap verse, followed by some singing of his own, which I can only assume was inspired by the sound of nails on a chalkboard. The album’s title track goes for an awe-inspiringly awful experimental edge when Chance’s subdued whispering suddenly makes way for an expletive-laden rant by Francis Starlite. Think Frank Ocean’s breakdown at the end of Biking sans any notions of taste or decency.
Chance finds himself in a creative wheelspin even when he’s firmly within his comfort zone too. I’m not one to turn my nose up at a fun bit of superficial, braggadocious hip-hop, but Chance’s crippling lack of charisma or energy on the track Handsome leaves him unable to sell it. This lethargy characterises the middle stretch of the album, as Chance manages to sound downright bored on the track Big Fish, and Get A Bag is so lyrically one-dimensional and sonically monotone that it accidentally serves as a parody of what your dad thinks modern hip hop sounds like.
As the record draws to a close, we get a few more attempted tugs on the heartstrings in the form of Town on The Hill and Zanies and Fools. The former ultimately amounts to a scant, meandering piece of gospel-flavoured RnB which Chance lacks the vocal chops to carry on his own. This song, much like the record as a whole, is in desperate need of structure and doesn’t go anywhere. The latter sees the dying gasp of this ordeal handed off to Nicki Minaj, of all people. Her verse is surprisingly personal and shows a side of the typically explosive pop songstress which we don’t normally see, amounting to one of the most forgivable moments on the entire album. With that said, I definitely get the impression that Chance wanted to offload the last word onto her through sheer unwillingness to carry the burden of tying this mess together himself.
I think it was halfway through the track Ballin Flossin when my ears were assaulted by Chance’s truly disturbing rendition of long-dead internet meme song Peanut Butter Jelly Time, that I came to the realisation that I’d rather be listening to literally any other release I’d heard in 2019. Perhaps, barring Logic’s ill-conceived venture into indie-pop on Supermarket, DJ Khaled’s unashamedly soulless Father of Asahd, or whatever the hell Ed Sheeran’s No 6 Collaborations Project was supposed to be. This record is an uninteresting, unfocused, unwieldy colossus of mediocrity that makes for Chano’s weakest work to date and easily the biggest disappointment of 2019.
It’s hard not to see Chance’s recent decision to make his first two mixtapes available on streaming services as an act of autocannibalism, as The Big Day ultimately lacks the quality highlights and standout tracks that define his earlier releases. Not a single moment approaches the old school funk grooves of Pusha Man or the bombastic gospel-pop-rap of No Problem. In light of his better material being more readily available than ever, the very existence of this project is hard to justify. Artists like Anderson Paak seem to have a much better understanding of what makes this type of music great, and in a year that gave us his fourth studio album, Ventura, Chance’s efforts feel completely redundant. I wholeheartedly recommend this record as an alternative to The Big Day; it’s roughly half the length, twice as good, and infinitely more faithful to the legacy of 70s RnB and soul music that Chance so clearly wants to live up to.