Written by: Joshua Eferighe (@Jman23j)
Chance The Rapper is the best independent artist in the game. He has 1.3 million followers on twitter, a star-studded list of collaborations that includes the likes of Kanye, Erykah Badu and Justin Bieber (just to name a few). He’s appeared on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show, performed with Tinashe on Kimmel and graced the SNL stage twice- making him the first independent artist to do so . And if that doesn't convince you, last week Friday, in an effort to promote his newest project, Chance made his debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, all without having released a body of work in three years.
There have been independent artist before Chance as i’m sure there will be others who succeed him, but none have managed to remain relevant, strengthen their brand, and grow a loyal fanbase all while sitting on their catalog.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis moved 1.2 million under their own LLC when they debuted The Heist in 2015, but did so with the help with Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA), an independent faction of Warner Music Group. Tech N9ne started his own label -Strange Music - which does its part in placing him on Forbes Cash Kings every year, but even that wasn’t accomplished until he was six years in the game and after being dropped by his major label. Curren$y has a catalog as thick as the bible, making him a mixtape legend and independent artist icon, but, much like the others, was signed. This time to Master P’s No Limit Records and Lil Wayne’s Cash Money Records.
Given Chance’s commercial appeal, it’s hard to believe that all his opportunities weren't benefactors afforded at a label’s expense. I mean, how else can you explain his knack for landing national television airtime? If you compare Chance to his XXL freshman comrades, you would think he didn't get the memo: sign to an indie or major label, flood the streets with content, then release debut album. But given his success, it's clear he had a memo of his own.
Last winter he joined forces with Empowerment Plan Detroit to bring warm jackets to Chicago's homeless in an initiative called Warmest Winter 2016. He is one of the forces behind Open Mike - an open mic series founded to give Chicago’s youth a place to hone their rhymes, as he once did in youth. And just this past April, he was named the club ambassador of the White Sox in effort to help market the team to a younger audience. Chance’s attention to matters beyond music did the job major label would have done: build interest. Resonating with his audience not only filled the void of the music he didn't release, but has heightened the anticipation for the May 12 release.
Chance 3 is the going to be the third mixtape of an unsigned artist, yet somehow has the buzz of an debut album. Lil Chano from 79th’s unquestioned ability as an artist is well documented, but his prowess as an independent artist, too has been on full display leading up to the May 12 release. Fans all across the across the country are posting Chance 3 posters on buildings, billboards and street signs, giving the Chicago native free national promo on the streets without having to leave the comfort of his own home- a product Chance selling his album artwork in 10-packs of 24″ x 36″ then encouraging buyers to post them everywhere.
But the arrival of Chance 3 is more than another rapper releasing another mixtape - it’s a testament to the will of 23 year old kid who believes his impact can truly change things. Not only is he commanding prime television airtime, he’s challenging how we view free music. His co-sign of a petition for Grammy eligibility of free music has helped bring light to the proposal, but is no new agenda for Chano. His involvement with Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s Surf project was the first sign of how serious he was about releasing music for free, with it being one of the first free album releases in Itunes history and his verse on Kanye's Ultralight Beam may show some insight with his plans for Chance 3:
“ He said let's do a good ass job with Chance three, I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy. So let's make it so free and the bars so hard that their ain't one gosh darn part you can’t tweet”
From standing on the street handing out cd’s of his first mixtape, 10 Day, to vowing to always make his music free, Chancelor Bennett has shown a new path to making it in the music industry. Long gone are the days of don’t have to compromising sound for a radio hit singles and needing major deals for promotion. Chance is the best independent artist out because he showed that making it big can happen to anyone - he made being a rapper relatable again. And that’s quite alright with me