“I don’t make songs for free. I make ’em for freedom.”
Chance the Rapper utters this power-packed notion in his hit, “Blessings”.
No record label. 100% free music.
What?! No Benjamins rolling in for Chance? Conventional wisdom says Chance’s odds of survival don’t look good.
Let’s take a closer look. Seems that Chance the Rapper has masterfully sidestepped the traditional routes to mainstream success for upcoming artists. He has never signed his rights away to a label and his fans absolutely adore their poster boy for the rebellion against traditional music industry practices. How has he accomplished this awesomely rapid rocket of independence to the top? To answer this we must start at the beginning.
You’d think being suspended from high school for marijuana would and should be a problem (and for all you youngsters out there, it most definitely is!!). In Chance’s case, bummer came blessing when the 10 day suspension propagated his first mixtape, 10 Day. Chance rode the momentum of 10 Day and quietly rose in the Chicago rap ranks. In 2013 he dropped Acid Rap, his first real breakthrough. This led to a tour with the likes of Mac Miller and Macklemore increasing his popularity among the masses. Before long, Chance was in the music workshop with fellow Chicagoan and hip-hop kingpin, Kanye West.
Now back to the thing that separates Chance from other mainstream artists, his complete independence. No label can dictate his creative decisions, which have proved deft, whether he’s bouncing gospel tracks or swinging out with fellow jazzers and soulsters. His success, a unique vision, and a smart social media marketing strategy have been parlayed into such feats as becoming the first independent artist to play on Saturday Night Live. This dynamic rapper’s influence has even reached the legendary Grammy’s with the inauguration of streaming-only music as an eligible category.
And that’s not all. Once again exhibiting his business acumen, Chance the Rapper has launched his own clothing line. Out in the streets, you may have already seen the colorful shirts and hats stamped with an iconic “3” in the middle.
As a truly independent artist, it’s tough to find creative ways to keep your name in the mainstream and your pockets full. From all angles, Chance is the ultimate do-it-yourself musician, demonstrating his vice grip on the ever-changing industry. He’s molded his career with social media, streaming services and self-marketing, demonstrating to all of us that even in a climate where the labels languish, those who dare to work beyond hard and put themselves out there in a smart, concise way, are reaping the benefits.
Update (Feb. 13th, 2017): Chance the Rapper was nominated for 7 Grammy Awards last night and won 3, including Best New Artist, Best Rap Album, and Best Rap Performance.