by Adam Clements
Chance the Rapper, an eccentric 22-year-old musician from Chicago, has a unique position in the music industry. He has become one of the biggest names in hip-hop, all without signing to a major label or selling a single album. After initially receiving and denying contract offers from numerous major labels following the release of his breakout 2013 mixtape Acid Rap, he claims labels now view him in a different light. In an interview with music publication Fader, he claimed, “They’re almost like, ‘Keep going. You’re in uncharted territory, and you’re helping to shed light on what [the future of the business] will look like, and we’re all curious.'”
Chance, who visits Boston on his “Family Matters” tour Oct. 27, has sold out high-profile venues across the country, befriended celebrities such as Kanye West, and lectured at Harvard University. While his peers struggle to make money in the dying market of people who still pay for music, has taken the revolutionary approach of offering all of his music for free. Rising to stardom from mixtapes offered for free download online, he relies on other means such as touring to maintain a steady income.
Following the success of Acid Rap, Chance devoted his time to serving as the uncredited lead vocalist on Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s outstanding free album Surf, which was released earlier this year. It featured a vast and diverse array of different sounds and musicians, and promoted messages of positivity.
While his skills as a musician are excellent, a big part of what makes Chance the Rapper so important and exemplary is his unrelenting support for his community and the world at large. He often hosts open mic nights in Chicago, events open for free to all high school students where attendees are invited to share their creative skills. In addition, he has worked with Chicago politicians to create events designed to draw the city’s youth away from criminal activity.
Chance’s selfless efforts are similar on smaller scales as well: with his family, friends, and fans. He has disregarded the option of solo fame to make unique music with his friends. He turned a gospel-influenced ode to his grandmother into a hit single. He interacts heavily with fans, and makes efforts to extend himself beyond the usual hip-hop demographic. For example, at live shows he often performs a rendition of the theme song to children’s TV program Arthur. Prior to Chance’s rise, acts of the sort were unheard of for a prominent hip-hop artist.
The hip-hop world needs Chance the Rapper because he is an artist who can appeal to anybody. He and his band the Social Experiment have described their music as being aimed at “grandmas and babies,” according to Fader. True to that statement, much of Chance’s work feels like a cross between hip-hop and a children’s lullaby. He has enough lyricism and substance to appeal to traditionalist hip-hop fans, enough positivity and maturity to appeal to skeptical adults, and enough of a fun and entertaining sound to appeal to younger audiences. Already seemingly poised to take over the music industry at 22 years old, the possibilities are endless for Chance the Rapper, and so far it seems he can do no wrong.