The year of good music, the year of free music, the year of accessibility, and the year of going against the gradient at all costs.
In 2012 when I first discovered the baby-faced rapper with the high-pitched voice and incredible wordplay known as Chance The Rapper, it wasn’t on a Who’s Got Next list by a well-known blog, and neither was it through making a connection from a recognizable music name. It was on a Tumblr account, with merely an image and a link to the mixtape that would form the solid base of the journey that many artists could only dream of embarking on. I was immediately drawn to the lingering duality that made him so easy to relate to. He was quirky yet skillful, uplifting yet somber, good-hearted but still mischievous and, quite honestly, everything else that I was too. He got me, or I got him. I was hooked.
Four years and two projects later (three if you include the Social Experiment’s Surf), Chance the Rapper is not the same. In addition to building an entire global fan base with an assortment of new and day one listeners, he’s firmly cemented his name and his influence strongly into the music industry, an outcome that most of his spectators weren’t expecting.
“Real nigga with a nose ring, that’s right. Just here to rap them songs.”
– Favourite Song
The 10 Day mixtape, Chance the Rapper’s first musical project, told the story of young kid growing up in Chicago amidst the abundance of drugs and teenage mischief. He is introspective, honest, witty and almost effortlessly highlighted all of his best qualities in 50 minutes. His prowess in wordplay, his often unconventional flow, his intentionally off-pitch vocals and his rare ability to adjust to a wide range of beats made the mixtape enjoyable and enhanced the stories to real, relatable experiences. On his second, more attention-grabbing project, Acid Rap, the subject matter became more mature and hard-hitting. Chance dealt with death in more detail than he had before. He delved into the various sides of love: external, internal, happy and hurtful. Drug experimentation seemed to become less fun, instead becoming more chilling. The social commentary was darker, but accurate. He upped the feature roster both in number and calibre by spitting alongside Ab-Soul, Childish Gambino and Action Bronson among many more. Acid Rap was the complete mixtape for those looking for both the fun yet intricate lyrics as well as a well-balanced production. So, when Chance the Rapper’s gospel-meets-trap-meets-soul debut album, Coloring Book, was released, it’s no surprise that much of his listeners’ reaction was quite divided. A new father, it was a step even higher than Acid Rap in maturity both musically and in the subject matter. It was gospel, but featured your favourite commercial artists from Lil Wayne and Young Thug to Jeremih and Jay Electronica. The project’s direction wasn’t entirely unexpected for most people, though. Whether it was on Surf or the occasional single or guest verse, during the three year period between Acid Rap and Coloring Book, a lot had happened. Chance The Rapper’s sound slowly began to incorporate more soulful influences and his signature adlibs were less frequent. To some, this new development signaled the end of the quirky Chance the Rapper that they loved. To others, it was the beginning of a slightly different Chance The Rapper – maybe even an improved one.
“Fuck a few A&R’s, told them ‘Bitch I can’t wife you.'”
– Somewhere in Paradise
It wasn’t really until Coloring Book that Chance the Rapper’s pro-independence stance began to actually mean something as it shaped itself in the business decisions that he made. When you’re an unknown emerging artist aware of the ugly side of the music industry and record labels, it’s easy to be a loud advocate for independence. But when you’re climbing Billboard charts and gaining global acclaim, denying all of the offers being thrown at you, this stance begins to hold much more weight. “They’re saying ‘Acid was an album, re-tell it.’ Said ‘I’ve got way too much soul for me to sell it.'”, he spat on his guest verse on Rapsody’s Lonely Thoughts. And most recently, he proudly rapped about how he’s “anti-label, pro-famous” on Blessings, one of the songs on the Grammy nominated Coloring Book. Chano isn’t the first or only commercial rapper to speak up on this, but it’s interesting that he’s still considered a newcomer and already making such drastic changes to the music industry – the music industry is being molded to accommodate Chance. He is a reflection of the way in which the internet is slowly forcing itself to be recognized for its strength and ability to rapidly grow an entire following. The most evident sign of this is his influence in the Grammy’s now making streamed albums eligible to be nominated. Free is okay, and popular.
“I even had Steve giving out Apples for free.”
Rather than succumbing to pressures and designing a strategy based on the set-up of the industry and how to succeed in it, Chance the Rapper did his own thing. He did not make music with the intention of selling millions, he made it with the intention of people listening. And that seems to be working. This year birthed many new viable options for artists to earn money, share their music and interact with their listeners. It also brought a newer sense of empowerment and choice for audiences as different ways of getting their music, at different costs (such as streaming) became more prominent. While his influence was undeniable, 2016 allowed Chance The Rapper to merely act as proof of what many people had already felt had been happening: good music, free music, accessibility, and deviance away from the norm across all genres.