Has record label-rejecting, humanitarian and activist Chance the Rapper gone commercial with his new album?
It seems ludicrous to even pose the question. Throughout Chance’s entire career, despite the fairly widespread fame he accumulated after releasing just one mixtape, 10 Days, which was written during a period of expulsion from his school, he has steadfastly rejected the advances of record label CEOs.
His second mixtape, Acid Rap, brought him into the mainstream musical consciousness, before Coloring Book and a coveted feature on Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo propelled him into rapstar status. All still while Chance was independent.
Since then Chance has become a major humanitarian figure, earning praise from world-leaders such as Barack Obama, donating $1million to Chicago Public Schools, and being actively involved in tackling gun violence, homelessness and racial equality in Chicago. When he broke onto the scene, his brand of conscious rap was heralded as the antithesis to the Chief Keef instigated drill movement, which was characterised by its aggressive and nihilistic lyrics.
In today’s LA-fuelled music industry, where artists’ eyes seem to be clouded by dollar signs, Instagram followers and merch sales, Chance the Rapper serves as the stereotype subverting superhero (wow, that was a mouthful) who has charged onto the scene in the name of art and philanthropy.
How could anyone doubt his motives as being anything but pure and incredibly refreshing?
The only reason anyone would have to think such a thing, is that Chance recently released all of his projects onto streaming services. Along with this, he has an online store newly stocked up with clothing, vinyls and hats publicising all of his projects, the purchases of which includes the download of his upcoming album.
This linking of an album download with merchandise is a well-known marketing strategy, perfected last year by Travis Scott. His use of the technique was famously criticised by Nicki Minaj, who claimed it was the reason he beat her to Number 1. DJ Khaled, Quavo and many others have employed the tactic, and it seems to have become the strategic norm in boosting record sales.
The fact that Chance has maintained such a squeaky clean persona over his career so far, might have led fans to presume he would not get involved in such PR methods, and would simply let the music do the talking. Does the fact that he has succumbed to this temptation, mean he has gone back on the principles that made him such a beloved, sunny feature in hip hop’s increasingly murky landscape?
I really don’t think so. While critics may suggest otherwise, in my opinion this is simply a man who wants to try his best to get his album to Number 1. He has spoken in the past of his slight frustration that, because he has not released his projects to regular, paid streaming services, he hasn’t always received the recognition he deserves.
This might sound odd coming from someone with three Grammys, but I wouldn’t say this is vanity. I think Chance just wants the credit where it’s due, and if he has to play by the rules of label-style advertising and marketing in order to get this, then so be it. It must feel a bit weird to be an artist of the status of Chance the Rapper, and to not yet have had a Number 1 album. The consensus is fairly unanimous in saying that if Coloring Book hadn’t been released as a streaming-only project, it would have done far better than the Number 8 spot it climbed to on the Billboard charts. And if a unanimous consensus wasn’t enough, then surely this glowing review on my old blog was…!
Despite some people viewing a Number 1 single with disdain nowadays, and many of them do end up being mere flashes in the pan, a Number 1 album is still a highly revered feat. So regardless of the financial benefits, which are obviously aplenty, it is incredibly prestigious. At the very least, it’s a pretty darn cool story to tell the grandchildren.
So let’s not view Chance the Rapper through the same eye as we would another, more commercially minded artist (DJ Khaled shouting ‘Still in the Meeting!’ on yet another Instagram post springs to mind), and respect Chance’s wishes to make his album do as well as it possibly can.
We all like a bit of praise and appreciation every now and then. Does it make Chance any less of a good person if he simply wants the same?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?