By Jack Hutchison (@hutcho33)
Let’s appreciate how much Chance the Rapper really changed the music industry.
At the time of reading this, it’s common knowledge that Chance the Rapper’s success has been attained in an unorthodox way.
Since the release of his mixtape Colouring Book in May of last year, Chance the Rapper has been amassing critical and mainstream popularity. His happy-go-lucky attitude and fun lyricism make him one of the most accessible artists of this generation. While other successful artists have begun to rely on methods such as flaunting their excessive indulgences, creating an enigmatic mystery about their person or even resort to borderline pornographic methods to boost their popularity, Chance the Rapper has simply become popular by being himself.
The 23 y.o. Chicago native doesn’t pretend to be anything more than he is. An avid music fan that is totally awe-inspired by the level he has been able to reach. He performs with a vibrant and gleeful enjoyment for the moment, reminding party-goers more of their curious younger siblings than of a deity.
However his main contribution to the music industry at large is the shatter of traditional studio album releases. Chance has arguably released two of the best collection of hip hop tracks of the last five years in both the aforementioned Coloring Book and Acid Rap, which was released in 2013.
Both of these were mixtapes, not albums.
The distinction here being that usually mixtapes are used by artists to become more reputable within the hip hop community or simply to create buzz about an upcoming release. Mixtapes have defined hip hop since it’s inception, with the entire genre of rap music existing entirely on physical cassette tapes and at live parties in New York in the 1970s until groups like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Run DMC were able to break through and have highly successful commercial records/albums
The studio album used to be considered the way to make money in the music industry at large, but in particular for rap music it was considered a great victory. However Chance has none achieved a level of success without the use of a record deal that has created a very interesting choice for artists.
Whilst it looked as if the 21st century was taking us to a place where particular streaming services bid for the rights to big album and content releases (for example, Apple music having exclusive rights to Dr Dre’s 2015 album Compton and Frank Ocean’s Endless, as well as Kanye’s short lived Tidal exclusive Life of Pablo) Chance has presented a scenario that is exciting to music heads.
His music is free to the public.
Right now you can listen to all of Chance the Rapper’s music on Spotify, Apple Music, Soundcloud and even the extended library of early mixtapes on a variety of other platforms. He makes his profit purely from touring and merchandise sales. It’s safe to say he’s made a fairly comfortable living for himself as well, marking a possible movement away from the traditional method of record selling for profit.
However the question becomes this. Yes Chance has been very successful by releasing music for free and making money by other means. But is that really sustainable for a lot of artists?
Others at his level of acclaim could certainly do it. Kanye and Drake merchandise flies off shelves at extremely high prices and big names like that also sell out wherever they go.
But what about the middling star? Maybe one can see Gucci Mane as an example of this working, as he is always releasing free and accessible content and has been doing so since 2005. But even then he didn’t totally reject the idea of being backed by a record label.
Whatever Chance’s rise to prominence means for the entire industry remains to be seen. It could be a major influence on a movement to free content, or a wonderful flashpoint in music history.
In either case, the impact Chance has had is undeniable and the manner he’s done it in is even more surprising.
Just by being himself and expressing his love for music on the grandest stage he’s on.