This year, we’re celebrating an extended Black History Month by highlighting a variety of rising forces who are creating history before our very eyes. Today we're repping for Chance the Rapper, the Chicago artist who's somehow only 22 years old despite having made a cultural and social imprint that's never going away. Born Chancelor Bennett, the guy has never released a single song for profit. 2012's remarkable 10 Day and 2013's landmark Acid Rap were both free mixtapes; 2015's Surf album, billed under the Chance-featuring band Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, was a surprise release available for $0.00 on iTunes.
Chance has made a point of doing things his way; he's been courted by every label imaginable and refused to sign. "Label deals suck, that’s just the truth of it," he told the Wall Street Journal in 2015. He went on:
"That feeling of getting something free—it’s a complete turnaround from what the industry feeds us. Why charge a dollar for [a song] when that’s not doing anything but making people undervalue music? None of my songs are worth 99 cents. They’re worth a lot more."
And how's it working out for Lil Chano? In 2015 he showed up on tracks by Madonna and Lil Wayne. And became the first completely independent artist to perform on Saturday Night Live. And had a daughter with his longtime girlfriend. And debuted new music on Late Show with Stephen Colbert. AND dropped a space-and-time-bending freestyle mixtape with Lil B.
In this young year, he was revealed—at a Madison Square Party album premiere—as the first rapping voice on Kanye West's forever-awaited LP The Life of Pablo. Then he returned to SNL alongside Yeezy and The-Dream.
We'll be patient while we wait for Chance's long-teased third mixtape, because he's got his hands in other important spheres, like teaming up with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel (for whom his father works) to fight gun violence, using his platform to support public education improvements, taking Spike Lee to task for his controversial film Chi-Raq and hosting open mics and concerts for local high school students.
Chance isn't just rapping; he's reinventing what it means to be a young creative person today.