It’s easy to root for Chance the Rapper, but it can still be hard to believe the variety of people who do. “What an album. Bravo,” tweeted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—whose last notable musical opinion was saying “I love ska” on CNN—just hours after Chance’s The Big Day hit streaming services last Friday. In 2017, the New York Times’ David Brooks, who once fretted about hip-hop’s themes, devoted a column to Chance entitled “What Sincerity Looks Like.” Donald Trump even once thanked the rapper—for defending Kanye West’s MAGA phase—though that accolade was swiftly returned to sender.
Chance’s appeal to political types is oddly fitting given the 26-year-old son of a bureaucrat’s activism in his hometown of Chicago. But his broad success really owes to his artistic sensibility: upbeat, accessible, humane, smart, and often fun for the whole family. To listen to Chance is to absorb a mix of social messaging and personal anecdotes spiced with hammy humor and broad applause lines—not unlike reading a vote seeker’s memoir.
Chance’s rainbow-spectrum popularity is well on display in The Big Day, which Chance calls his “debut” after a string of highly praised, high-selling mixtapes since 2013. Other voices swarm, including in samples of R&B legends (En Vogue, Brandy), on verses from rappers both veteran (Nicki Minaj, Gucci Mane) and new (DaBaby, MadeinTYO), and in skits from comic-acting standbys (John Witherspoon, Keith David, Cree Summer). Three varieties of whimpering white-boy singers join in too, with the heartthrob Shawn Mendes enticing Gen Y, the emo-ish rocker Ben Gibbard making Millennials and Gen Xers cry, and Randy Newman representing Chance’s not-insubstantial Boomer base.