A review of music reviews: Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day

Zach Christian

If you aren’t tuned in to music at all, you would be forgiven (by me, not necessarily everyone) for not knowing that Chance the Rapper released his debut album The Big Day this summer — July 26, to be specific.

Chance has been a big name in hip-hop for many years now and his debut album has been a long-awaited project. It was released to moderate acclaim, but not everyone was thrilled with the project. Special mention goes to Anthony Fantano (@theneedledrop on YouTube), who gave the album an especially harsh zero out of 10 review.

This article isn’t a review, but rather a discussion of reviews and their purpose. In my mind, a review is akin to a teacher grading a student’s paper. The teacher points out flaws not to be cruel, but to offer constructive criticism so that the student may grow. A review is similar, meant to analyze and discuss exactly where an artist triumphs or fails. Anthony Fantano’s review does not feel like constructive criticism. It feels like evisceration created for no reason other than the prestige and notoriety it will bring him.

Fantano spends a good portion of the review reading off some of Chance’s (admittedly corny) lyrics. While dedicating a portion of the video to this topic would have been enough, Fantano decides to spend a lengthy portion of the video criticizing this specific aspect of the album. Fantano wastes precious time he could have spent talking about the themes of the album, Chance’s evolution as an artist (good or bad) or the narrative of the album.

Instead, Fantano beats a dead horse and he beats it hard. He ends the review by giving the album a zero on a 10-point scale, which is an excessively harsh score, if I’ve ever seen one. I’ve often heard people give reviewers grief for not using the entirety of the 10-point scale, such as giving albums or works they deem “horrible” scores such as fives or sixes, which should correspond to mediocre or even above average albums. However, in my mind, there is no need to ever give an earnest album a zero. A zero should be reserved for an album that is truly artless, one that is made without any care whatsoever, not simply one that misses the mark.

I’d like to contrast Fantano’s review with a review from a source that I do not normally like: Pitchfork. In his review, Pitchfork contributor Sheldon Pearce does a deep dive into the themes and tone of Chance’s album. Possibly my favorite part of his review is the focus on Chance’s optimism and upbeat attitude. In his eyes, this is a double-edged sword — endearing and familiar at first, before becoming oppressive as the 77-minute long album drags on. He dubs the genre of the album “newlywed dad rap,” which is an apt description.

The last two lines are some of the most poignant, as Pearce comes to the conclusion that “…The Big Day rises and falls on Chance’s vows. Even on the dance floor, his hopefulness can feel like a beacon.” Pearce ends the review by giving the album a 6.9 out of ten. It’s an exceedingly well-written review. A fair review. But more importantly, it is a constructive review. It displays and analyzes the triumphs and pitfalls of the album. It feels like a genuine attempt to help an artist hone their craft.

This is precisely why I dislike Fantano’s review so much. It feels like an attempt to garner fame or infamy by harshly underrating a mediocre album by one of hip-hop’s most well-known names.

In truth, I did not like The Big Day. I think it is easily Chance’s worst effort as an artist. A 77-minute-long album in the age of streaming where the average album length is closer to 45 or even 30 minutes was sure to go down poorly. But I can see what Chance was trying to do, even if it was poorly executed. There is absolutely no reason to give an album like The Big Day a zero. It feels completely disingenuous. In my mind, Fantano’s review spits on what a fair review should be.