Chance the Rapper: Chicago’s Independent, Grammy Award Winning Superstar

By: Shane Brooks

If you were watching the 59th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday night then you witnessed history being made. Last year, the Recording Academy changed their rules on Grammy eligibility to allow streaming-only releases to be considered for the award.

This allowed young artist Chance the Rapper to be nominated for seven Grammys, of which he took home three in one historic night. Chance was awarded for Best Rap Album, Best New Artist, and Best Rap Performance. The 23-year-old Chicago rapper beat out artists such as Kanye West, a fellow Chicago native, and his album The Life of Pablo, Drake’s Views and De LaSoul’s and the Anonymous Nobody.

Chance punctuated his triumphant night with a highly spirited live performance of his songs “How Great” and “All We Got” from his “Coloring Book” mixtape. “Coloring Book” was released in May of last year and it became the first streaming-only album to chart on the Billboard 200, opening in the top 10.

Chance thanked God upon accepting his award for best new artist by saying, “Glory be toGod. I claim this victory in the name of the Lord.” He also thanked his family and the mother of his daughter by saying, “I want to thank God for my mother and my father, who supported me since I was young, for Kirsten, for Kensli, for all of Chicago and I want to thank God for putting amazing people in my life.”

Despite all of these amazing achievements, perhaps the most outstanding is the fact that Chance the Rapper has achieved this as an independent artist, never signing to any record label. You may be wondering how all of this success is possible without the support of a record label, well, it took a lot of hard work and endearing fans.

After recording his first mixtape, 10 Day, Chance attempted to shop his project to a few labels but had no luck. After selling out a 500-seat venue in Chicago, Chance was invited to go on tour with Childish Gambino. He later learned that he wouldn’t need a label in order to produce his second project, Acid Rap, so he released it himself and put it out for free. Later that month he went on another tour opening for Mac Miller and in an interview with Billboard Chance states he couldn’t believe “The kids knew all the words to my songs.”

Chance explains, “It’s not about the music being free. It’s about how it is displayed and made accessible and about artistic power, it was always about the artist-to-fan relationship.”

With Chance’s success, as well as other independent artists such as Macklemore and Kansas City’s Tech N9ne, we may be witnessing a change in the way that music is distributed and represented. Streaming services may be the future of music with so many artists following Chance’s example and choosing to record and produce their music themselves and put it out for free, the idea of a major record label may soon be a thing of the past.