Chance the Rapper’s hugely anticipated debut ‘owbum’, The Big Day, is coming out this Friday. His earlier projects 10 Day, Acid Rap, and Coloring Book were all mixtapes that were available for free online on sites like Soundcloud and DatPiff, technically making them different from official albums. These three independent mixtapes had the legs (or levers) to catapult Chance to the top of the music industry. Along the way, Chance the Rapper proved himself a true opportunist, designing a new blueprint for becoming a successful artist in the social music era.
Chance’s mixtapes became widely popular without the support of a major label. His ‘no label’ independence has been a source of bragging rights, and the more momentum his music musters the more intertwined his independence becomes with his own personal brand. Look no further than songs like Mixtape or No Problem from Coloring Book to see how he boasts about independence in anthem-style fashion. The success of Coloring Book and his other mixtapes has also made him a poster child for the age of artist empowerment. He has never had any contractual obligations to release any number of albums featuring any type of music within any timeframe. Sidestepping the industry’s traditional modus operandi, Chance’s ascent suggests the only limits are the ones others put on you.
Given Chance’s emphasis on independence, some people were critical when he released Coloring Book exclusively on Apple Music in 2016. The album lived there for two weeks before it became available for free everywhere else on the internet. Chance heard the feedback from skeptics, and went to Twitter to defend the promotional collaboration with Apple: “I never felt the need to correct folks on my relationship with @apple, but now that more people have tried to discredit my independence, I wanna clear things up. @apple gave me half a mil and a commercial to post Coloring Book exclusively on applemusic for 2 weeks.” There’s nothing that ties Apple to the album beyond the sponsorship of its release, which seems like a pretty great, uncompromising deal for Chance the Rapper, who hasn’t ever been in a position to take advantage of the marketing network of major record labels.
The countless horror stories of musicians signing away the rights to their music, their creative control, and everything in between, has sadly become a defining part of the music industry. Taylor Swift’s recent controversy over her master recordings is just the latest nightmare case to make headlines. Chance’s advocacy for artist empowerment and ownership comes at a time when there might actually be the platforms, networks, and tools in place for artists to realize independence.
Similar to how the US’s countercultural movement drove the explosion of rock and roll, the intersection of social media and digital music streaming is shifting the paradigm of how far an artist can go without relying on legacy institutions. For example, social media platforms have democratized communications. Social networks allow artists to communicate directly with their audiences, both personally and professionally, without having to go through any intermediaries. This results in an artist’s increased control over their platform and content – a phenomenon also known in this case as empowerment. This is the fertile environment where the growth of social music has sprung from, and where the opportunistic Chicago rapper is building a career as an artist and activist.
The Big Day will be Chance’s first album – but for all intents and purposes it’s just the next chapter in his mixtape series; the only difference is it will be distributed and sold through traditional channels. We wrote an article with predications for The Big Day back when it was teased as a Kanye/Chance collaborative album called Good Ass Job. (We were way off thinking it would come out last Thanksgiving, but many of the other predictions hold true).
Enjoy the Freezepeach playlist below with some of the great music he’s released leading up to The Big Day, and be on the lookout for our album review in the next couple of weeks. 🍑