The music world operates alongside a myth: to achieve the highest level of success and recognition, one must sign on to a record label and sell a ton of records. It has always been generally understood that a “big” record deal equated to a “big break” in the music and entertainment industry.
At the 59th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 12, this myth was shattered when the young Chicago-native artist and producer Chance the Rapper brought home three awards: Best New Artist, Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance, signifying universal acclaim, without having sold a single record.
“I know that people think independence means you do it by yourself, but independence means freedom,” stated Chance in his acceptance speech for best new artist.
The 2017 Grammys were the first in a 59 year history to make eligible streaming-only recording. The recording academy issued a press release last year in June that announced this amendment as well as changes to the award criteria for best new artist.
These included “the best new artist must have achieved a breakthrough into the public consciousness and impacted the musical landscape during the eligibility period.”
This criteria represents exactly what chance the rapper accomplished. Within the first week of his third mixtape’s release on Apple Music in May of 2016, “Coloring Book” was streamed over 57.3 million times.
“Coloring Book” embraced witty bars and an impossible to imitate style. The mixtape, now classified album, embodied diverse influences from James Brown to Freestyle Fellowship to Kanye West. It was co-produced by the Social Experiment, Lido and Kaytranada to name a few. Every song on the album, excluding “Same Drugs” and “Blessings,” was a collaboration featuring numerous well regarded artists such as Kirk Franklin, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz and Justin Bieber. This music impacted the standard “musical landscape” with a certain uniqueness that is genuine and relatable across a broad and diverse fan base. He conveys the experiences of life in Chicago, being a father, suffering the adversities of relationships and piloting the music industry without a label. He communicates positivity and his untiring trust in God, dancing across the borders of genres.
The album can be classified as gospel rap, voicing an upbeat and spiritual listening experience. In regards to this, Chance’s music defies a variety of social normalities, as well as mainstream rap/hip-hop familiarity.
He made it to the Grammys, defying the status quo. In his acceptance speech for best rap album, he dedicated the award to “every indie artist who has been doing this mixtape stuff for a long ass time.”
In receiving his honors, Chance opened the door and he is leading the way, setting an example for these “others” he mentioned. This years Grammys was the first ever to allow “mixtape stuff” a seat at the table and there could not have been a more worthy forerunner to this new era.
Chance also won Best New Artist and Best Mixtape for “Coloring Book” at the 2016 Soul Train Awards, Best New Hip Hop Artist at the 2016 BET awards and Outstanding New Artist at the 2017 NAACP Image Awards.