Hip hop this summer has embraced any number of exciting themes, from the Yeehaw Agenda (Lil Nas X) to Hot Girl Summer (Megan Thee Stallion). But until this past weekend, no artist had capitalized on the so-called “Wife Guy” phenomenon — a slow-burning but now unavoidable trend of hapless straight men going viral due to public incidents or declarations involving their spouses. The ongoing meta-meme has lately culminated in what’s been termed Peak Wife, the moment when any passing mention of any particular wife may trigger a cascade of ridicule.
Enter Chancelor Jonathan Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper, a Chicago-based musician and activist who really loves his wife, Kirsten Corley — and loves to rap about her.
It’s impossible not to notice that Chance’s new album, technically his debut, is a celebration of matrimonial bliss. (Well, impossible for anyone other than a brain-dead listener like myself; I simply had “Hot Shower” on repeat all weekend.) The Big Day weaves in and around the event of his March wedding to Corley, who is now expecting their second child: “I can’t believe it / Must be the luckiest guy alive,” he declares at the outset of the title track, and it escalates from there, until he’s wondering if he and his beloved are “just molecules in the body of Christ.” Okay, dude!
Chance has long maintained a vibe of positivity, romanticism and religious faith, so in a sense, there’s nothing to raise an eyebrow at here. And yet, coming as it does in the midst of Peak Wife, these songs invite a different — one might say more hostile — critique than they might have in years past. The Fader called out some “criminally corny” lyrics that dragged him into the realm of “mawkish sentimentality.” VICE, acknowledging that this was Chance’s “Wife Guy LP,” hit upon marriage as emblematic of an obstacle that every ascendant rapper faces: How do you maintain your scrappy, underdog charm when you’re living at the top? The New York Times lamented that The Big Day was his “least effective release to date,” given the challenges of making domestic joy into textured art. The emerging take appears to be that while Chance is still entertaining and infectious, it’s weird that he’s mainly promoting and praising the married life.
There’s truth to the opinion, expressed in the tweet above, that it’s fashionable to turn on a pop star after they’ve become, well, massively popular — and to claim that he’s lost his flavor because he put a ring on it is an uncomfortable suggestion at best. There’s no denying, however, that Chance has married his sound and image to his relationship. Whether you can get behind that choice or not probably says more about your own love life than his, but at a time when mega-popular YouTubers are staging celebrity-level nuptials, a random dude is trying to leverage his wife’s body shape into an influencer career and presidential hopefuls have clumsily asserted that their wives are their personal heroes, this approach would seem to place him in dubious company. Remember: The Wife Guy crucially fails to understand that being married isn’t a personality, nor a brand, nor proof of merit. The Big Day wants it to be all three.
Perhaps Chance would have evaded the brunt of this not-entirely-deserved backlash by tempering his optimism; the album has a giddy honeymoon glow rather than the even warmth of mature reflection. By going hard on the lusty passion (AirDropped nudes, “I’m runnin’ through your organs,” etc.) and protesting too much against “side chicks” who can’t perform the duties of a committed partner, he risks a setup for the disillusionment and disaster that are the hallmarks of so many Wife Guy stories. What if this is merely the prelude to a Wife Event that shakes the internet to its deep, molten core? As Jay Z and Beyoncé have shown us, there are no certainties in wedlock — and an affair, managed properly, can be the most lucrative side of it.
None of this is to doubt Chance and Corley’s happiness, now and well into the future, only to explain the resistance to its allure. Especially where the rich and famous are concerned, we’ve learned not to trust in vows as unbreakable. Chance just had the misfortune to say his when we were highly attuned to — and skeptical of — anything like the ideal bond he’s advertising.
Best of luck to the newlyweds!