Despite rising to top-tier fame throughout the 2000s, Chance the Rapper didn't technically have a studio album until he was well established as one of the most recognizable and commercially successful talents of his time. His clever rhymes, joyous flows, and production tapestries that interlaced gospel, jazz, and modern rap tendencies were all showcased on adventurous, exciting mixtapes like 2013's Acid Rap and 2016's Coloring Book. The distinction between mixtape and album might seem like splitting hairs in the case of someone on Chance's level, but The Big Day attempts to set itself apart as something more considered and detailed than his already groundbreaking earlier work. Returning to the themes of family, commitment, and marriage, The Big Day is a monolithic statement, stretching out over the course of a 75-plus-minute run time and 22 songs and skits that each sound dazzling in their painstaking construction. Adding to the album's magnanimous presence is an epic list of guest performers that includes rap mainstays (Nicki Minaj, Megan Thee Stallion, Gucci Mane) but also opens the door for R&B superstars (SWV, En Vogue), unexpected indie rockers (Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard sings the hook on "Do You Remember" and CocoRosie shows up later), and even voice-overs from actors like John Witherspoon. Bright, flawless production supports Chance's optimistic lyrics and cultivates an atmosphere overflowing with joy, wonder, and summery nostalgia on standout tracks like "We Go High" or the bounding "Get a Bag." Nicki Minaj and Lil Durk hop on an airy Pi'erre Bourne beat for "Slide Around," one of the strongest moments on an album of instantly accessible tracks. Likewise, Chance's tendencies towards eclectic and shifting production are in their highest form here, from the Chicago house flavor of "Ballin' Flossin" to high school graduation party vibes of "5 Year Plan," a song where Randy Newman drops by to sing the coda. Its extensive duration makes The Big Day feel bottomless at times, reaching what would feel like a natural conclusion before its third quarter. Chance's exploration of maturing from a wide-eyed kid to a committed husband and father makes up much of the album's content, and hearing him reflect on these things track after track leads to a voyeuristic feeling. "Sun Come Down" erases this feeling, breaking through life-cycle platitudes for a vulnerable but unheavy look at the inevitability of death and sorting out real friends from the ones who are just there for the good times. The grandiose production and vibrant colors of The Big Day are reminiscent of larger-than-life classics like Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly, and the album aspires to that level of perfection. Occasional nearsighted lyrical perspectives and three or four excellent but inessential tracks keep The Big Day from quite reaching masterpiece status, but it's still the most grown up (and the most polished) rendering of Chance's eternally bright spirit in his catalog.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas