Chance The Rapper’s Cultural Innovation
Chance the Rapper is the Culture.
It’s been a few days since the Grammy’s took place, and the trending topic on the blogs – as well as on my IG feed – is non other than the Chicago-born entertainer. Who would’ve imagined that in 2017, an award-winning global music artist would not have a record deal or even a studio-length album to their credit? The artist whose real name is Chancelor Bennett (kinda sounds like an ancient merchant of sorts), has broke through a glass ceiling many artists can barely crack. Heck, even Queen Bey is still struggling to get the Grammy recognition she deserves. But the difference in this scenario, is that Chance owes almost all (maybe 99.9%) of his success exclusively to technology.
The 23-year-old rapper dropped his first two mixtapes as free digital downloads way back when (let’s be real, anything past yesterday is old school). His third release, Coloring Book, was streamed on Apple (on my b-day), as well as other sites like Google Play, Tidal, Spotify and the free streaming service, Soundcloud. The most powerful though, and underestimated of the lot, is YouTube. The platform was a key player during the early stages of the rapper’s career (as it tends to be for a lot of young Chicago rappers from Chief Keef to Lil’ Mouse), and demonstrated that high visibility, even if positioned in a lowbrow way, is attributed to massive success.
It doesn’t really matter that the Grammy panel loosened up on their strict nomination criterion. Their already dwindling credibility would be shot dead if they hadn’t got with the times, quick-fast. Artists like Chance break the mould (which at this point is a rarity, as his predecessors Mac Miller and Macklemore are suburban, middle to upper class white males) proving the “if you build it, they will come” mantra to be a #fact. Not to say that there’s no excuse. Chance seems to have his own gimmicks to play off of, such associations with former US-president Barack Obama, and heavy support from Kanye West as well as a relatively clean, positive image in contrast to the negative stereotypes in hip hop. But if the shoe fits… In this case, a fresh pair of Air Jordans (HA! Another indirect Chicago connection).
I think this also demonstrates that there is no formula to making it big. The only thing that’ll get you anywhere is to adapt – Doe or Die, as AZ famously said. As long as Chance continues to be an early adopter, he’ll probably never need to drop an album. He probably won’t be signing his soul over to the dark side anytime soon, either. But he will be laughing his way to the bank, world tours, and a shelf full of gold statues.