The signature ‘3’ on Chance the Rapper’s hat matches the number of gold record trophies the Chicago artist took home at the 2017 Grammy Awards for his mixtape “Coloring Book” released last May.
This year is the first time that streaming-only albums were eligible to win at the Grammys, and Chance took full advantage, walking away with best new artist, best rap performance, and best rap album honors. Did we mention the independent rapper dropped the award-winning mixtape entirely for free?
“What’s an album these days, anyways?” Chance told Rolling Stone. “Cause I didn’t sell it, does that mean it’s not an official release? So I might not ever drop a for-sale project. Maybe I’ll just make my money touring.”
And he has. Basically, Chance is doing a damn good job at shattering the business model for the music industry. Even with literally every record label out there begging him to sign, he understands his primary audience is from the Napster and Limewire era. He understands the millennial trend to acquire music in any way besides purchase. He sees the industry for where it’s going, not where it was or has been in recent years. For Chance, music isn’t about out-selling other artists. It’s a means to connect with listeners, entice merchandise purchases, and increase live show attendance and overall relevancy.
“I never wanted to sell my music,” Chance told Vanity Fair. “Because I thought putting a price on it put a limit on it and inhibited me from making a connection.”
Thanks to streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and SoundCloud, the Internet has overthrown the industry’s best attempts at keeping the CD alive. Given this musical climate, it doesn’t surprise anyone that Chance is rolling with the times by releasing his music for free. Besides, selling music is a dying art; it’s time to innovate and reach a new demand, one that can’t be downloaded, one that’s more experiential.
Chance has established his fan base over the years, and with that, he has a captivated audience that will continue listening to what he has to say, especially if he keeps releasing it online for free. And as much as it feels good to hold a physical copy of an album, Chance’s fans aren’t about that. They’d rather buy a “Coloring Book” tee at the merch booth of his show to promote his brand.
Though he’s had a sudden, meteoric rise to fame, Chance’s success as an artist is partially due to the footwork he put in as a young artist in Chicago. His choice to keep his marketing and promotion in-house has given him the leeway to release his music the way he wants to, when he wants to. He has no rules to follow, no boss to please, and he is completely in control of his destiny.
It’s hard to guess what exactly Chance the Rapper’s next move will be, an unpredictability that has become part of the rapper’s infectious charm. While the music industry scrambles to make up for CD sales, Chance is building the foundation for upcoming artists to stand upon, a foundation built upon free music. Chance proves how there is more than one way of conquering the Internet’s change of the music industry—even without a record deal. In the meantime, listen to Chance the Rapper’s latest free release.