Chance The Rapper: Business Lessons Learned From An Independent Phenomenon

(ArtBySaki)

Chancelor Bennett, better known by his professional pseudonym, Chance The Rapper, has been one of the most consistently popular names in hip hop over the past half-decade. Since his 2013 breakthrough with the mixtape Acid Rap, Chance has appeared on two Billboard Top Ten Rap Songs, released Coloring Book, a mixtape that was streamed over 57 million times in its first week alone, headlined countless music festivals across the country, and garnered three Grammy Awards for Best Rap Album (Coloring Book), Best Rap Performance (“No Problem” featuring Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz), and Best New Artist. Perhaps more impressive than all these accomplishments, however, is the fact that Chance has reached this high level of respect and notoriety without signing a single record contract. Eschewing traditional paths taken by commercial musicians, Bennet, age 24, has solely released his projects free of charge through various streaming sites and has crafted an image for himself that emphasizes this unsigned status — actions that have granted the young rapper a wide-ranging, grassroots fanbase. Despite Chance’s dismissal of music imprints and refusal to charge money for his albums, the artist has still been wildly profitable, garnering an estimated $33 million in 2017 alone according to Forbes.com. Examining the patterns that have brought Bennet so much success as an independent musician illustrates three central lessons that will benefit any businesses aiming to establish themselves in today’s digital landscape.

1. Create a Captivating Brand and a Product to Match

In Coloring Book’s closing track, “Blessings (Reprise),” Chance raps, “The people’s champ must be everything the people can’t be,” and this quote speaks volumes about his overall appeal. Hailing from Chicago, a city whose current hip hop scene is dominated by drill artists like Chief Keef and Famous Dex, Chance’s sonic output and public image contrast wildly with his contemporaries. While Keef and Dex rap about gang violence and materialism over booming bass drops, Chance lyrics tend to revolve around social activism, familial relationships, his Christian faith, and are generally set above bright, gospel influenced, backing tracks. This original approach to the genre has brought Bennet critical acclaim and a steadfast fanbase, two achievements that have allowed him to maintain relevancy despite lacking the promotional power provided by a major label.

Chance at the 2017 Grammys (Getty)

By proclaiming himself as “the people’s champ,” Chance is referencing both what endears him to his supporters and what separates him from the competition. The fans see his image as genuine and inspirational — as a figure that is incredibly successful because he stays true to himself and resists following mainstream trends. His music then serves as a continual demonstration of his originality and reinforces his brand. Additionally, by being a champion, he also lords over his peers, as they fail to deliver a comparable product.

For businesses at large, this above two-fold statement should likewise be reflected by the public’s perception of a company as a whole. Chance’s image is so powerful because his fans believe that what they hear in a Chance song is who Chance really is, and when they listen to his music or watch his videos, they are therefore partaking in a product unavailable anywhere else. They are buying into a personality and the lifestyle that accompanies it. A business equivalent is how a craft brewery can highlight a greater level of personal care as compared to what a macro brand provides. Though each group creates beer, smaller companies can cultivate a culture exclusive to themselves, emphasize how they experiment more with their brews, and benefit from increased personal outreach with customers. Essentially, whatever commodity a business aims to sell, solid marketing can be done to not only sell a specific product to the public, but also construct a larger meaning of what the company specifically represents in the eyes of the consumer.

2. Promote, Promote, Promote

On top of expertly branding himself as a unique entity within the music world, Chance has done a stellar job of promoting himself through a multitude of different mediums. The rapper has appeared/performed on television programs such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Saturday Night Live, while also maintaining a strong social media presence with over seven million followers on both Twitter and Instagram. Of course, the very act of releasing free music is promotional in and of itself; it has contributed immeasurably to the meteoric rise of his profile. Finally, Chance has gained an enormous amount of good press across the country for his philanthropic work to help combat gun violence in Chicago as well as support the city’s public-school system which received a one-million-dollar donation from the rapper in 2016.

Chance Donating a Million Dollars to Chicago Public Schools (Chicago Tribune)

All of these actions, whether specifically related to artistic promotion or not, have successfully brought a positive spotlight on Bennet and have reinforced his image as the good-willed, independently operating “people’s champ.” Furthermore, the outreach achieved from television spots and especially his philanthropic work have been fantastic ways to expand appeal past average hip hop listeners and attract new demographics who may be receptive to his distinct take on the genre.

Chance’s deft ability for promotion stems from the utilization of his defining quality: independence. In spite of his moniker, Bennet resists pigeonholing his output from appealing simply to rap fans, and instead embraces market growth by actively expanding his audience. Similarly, public appearances and actions from businesses should not solely be content with attracting the same demographics over and over again, but should also work on gaining the interests of new consumers. A huge benefit for businesses in the internet age is how swiftly cultural attitudes can change; there is no reason why a company should restrict itself to only marketing towards a single age group or gender in our rapidly shifting market climate. For instance, skin care products are now bought in equal amounts by both men and women, a far cry from only a decade ago. In another example, women have become increasingly interested in purchasing new technology, overtaking men in likelihood to purchase new tablets, smartphones, and laptops. Creative campaigns and innovative outreach can break down any previously limiting stereotype and bring about ever expanding audiences — never feel limited to a single customer base.

3. Diversify Output

(Silver Wrapper)

Along with constant strides toward market growth comes a complementary compulsion for product expansion. Considering that Bennet has yet to sell a single song to his fans, this last point is especially essential for his business model. Rather than relying on record sales, Chance has instead focused on selling merchandise and concert tickets, two categories that he and his team constantly create new iterations of. For the former, this includes shirts, hoodies, lighters, stickers, and posters. Additionally, the rapper is ubiquitously seen adorned in his signature “Chance 3” hat (as seen in the above pictures), variations of which are periodically made available for purchase on his website. Turning towards events, Chance not only embarks on high grossing tours and headlines music festivals throughout the year, but he also created his own festival in 2016, Magnificent Coloring Day, which was attended by over 47,000 people. Although he has yet to create an event to follow the massively attended show, the success of his inaugural fest illustrates a lucratively creative potential that has only begun to flourish for the young artist.

Chance’s willingness to evade conventionality in both his artistic and commercial pursuits is an example to be followed by companies similarly looking to capture the public’s attention. His ability to craft a one-of-a-kind sound and then capitalize on it through continually updated merchandise and events displays a savvy business sense rife with possibility. For companies in general, this enthusiasm for innovation can manifest itself in nearly any format. Whether that pertains to a software business further developing its operating systems to be inclusive of new clientele, or simply a food truck deciding to sell t-shirts for the first time, the greatest takeaway from Bennet’s steadily growing career is that expansion is only limited to the power of the imagination.