How Chance the Rapper Leveraged Technology to Change the Music Industry

Chance the Rapper is an artist who has leveraged technology to be a vital part of his career path.

Chance has used social media and streaming services to break the traditional success path of a rapper, make grammy history, and make a statement in his community. He has done all this as an independent artist, and it is due to how he has leveraged technology.

Changing the Grind

When we think about the hip hop grind, we think about mixing in the studio and handing out music on the street.

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This is all in the hopes of getting discovered, and being signed to a record label. Once you’re signed, you have access to all the studio time you need and help with various other logistic and artistic tasks that would be tough without a label. Not to mention the money and fame that comes with it.

Here is the traditional path many rappers have taken to fame (pre-internet)

  1. Be able to rap well (ironically just the first step)
  2. Rack up enough money to afford some studio time to record and produce your music
  3. Get your music out there by handing it out on the streets, playing small events, etc.
  4. Get discovered and signed with a record label

This is when hip hop was still raw and underground — before the internet.

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The creation of the internet changed the world, especially the music industry. All of a sudden there were ways to share, download, and read about music instantly for free. Even though social media platforms and streaming services provided new outlets for music discovery, there wasn’t much disruption in this classic path to success. Not until Chance the Rapper played new-age social media and streaming services such as SoundCloud particularly well to his advantage.

SoundCloud is a free online music streaming service where anyone can post or listen to music. It is a social media itself as well, as the platform has the ability to share, repost, and like tracks. People who want to be successful on SoundCloud will share the link to their profile where others can see all the tracks they post and interact with them. Chance the Rapper currently has all his music released on SoundCloud. [Understanding Social Media and Sound]

SoundCloud is different than other classic music streaming services such as Spotify or Apple music. This is because it’s free, and acts more as a social network than other streaming platforms. Music being “provided as a service increased amateur creativity”. [The Music Industry]. The increased amateur content on the sites have made it the prime place to find upcoming artists and follow their work.

“SoundCloud has evolved as the platform for promotion of artists and recordings” [The Death and Life of the Music Industry in the Digital Age]. Building on the point from before, musical social networking is getting to be at its prime. It has created some sort of “Musical Utopia” [The Death and Life of the Music Industry in the Digital Age] that Chance the Rapper hits the ground running with.

Chance flipped this traditional path upside down. His first mixtape titled “10 Day” he made while he was still in high school — the inspiration coming his 10 Day suspension from school [Genius]. The 2012 album included notable features such as Vic Mensa and producers such as Blended Babies. However, Chance the Rapper’s intention wasn’t to sell his mixtape. He wanted to give it out for free. He posted it on platforms such as SoundCloud and DatPiff, and used social platforms to gain popularity.

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However, he was still an emerging rapper. He was nowhere near recognizable outside Chicago or his growing fan base.

Next came Acid Rap:

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This was Chance the Rappers breakthrough. Out of school and after finding his voice he debuted his mixtape Acid Rap with notable features like Childish Gambino, Ab-Soul, Saba, Vic Mensa, and Twista. Again, Acid Rap was available on SoundCloud and DatPiff, but Chance also went on an Acid Rap tour. This is when he started to gain worldwide recognition and really start to create a name for himself.

At this point, he was more popular than many artists who were signed to record labels. This played to his advantage because when “Coloring Book” dropped it topped the charts [Rolling Stone]. It included huge features like Chance’s hero Kanye West, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Justin Bieber, Young Thug, and Lil Yachty.

Several live performances and interviews later, Chance the Rapper has clearly blown up as one of the most popular independent artists. As we can see, his timeline looks quite different that what was described above. It looks like more like this:

  1. Be able to rap well
  2. Rack up enough money to afford some studio time to record and produce your music
  3. Post on social media, give your music out for free, do shows, get your name out there
  4. Gain popularity and be successful all on your own accord

Chance has always had a stigma against labels, and this is reflected through some of his lyrics such as:

“I met the devil in Manhattan, quickly ended discussion
I don’t need a thing, he warned of repercussions
But I know he come in all forms, that won’t be his last visit”
“Need to know” by Macklemore feat. Chance the Rapper

Where he speaks about labels trying to sign him, and how he thinks they are evil. There is also another lyric from Finish Line off Colouring Book that reflects the control that record labels have over their artists:

“Labels told me to my face that they own my friends”

This reinforces the idea that Chance can do whatever he wants whenever he wants since he is an independent artist.

As we can see, Chance pushed the limit of the traditional path to fame through his use of technology (social media and streaming services).

Grammy History

Chance the Rapper made grammy history this year winning three awards for best new artist, best rap album, and best rap performance. [quartz]

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The reason his wins were such a big deal is because he is not signed to any label. The only way to win a grammy in the past was to sell physical copies of your music. Last year, the grammy rules were “relaxed”[quartz], and that is what made it possible for Chance to win these awards. Since streaming services such as Spotify and Apple music are so huge, they are awarding artists who exclusively release on these platforms. This is an example of technology influencing the industry. One of the biggest awards ceremonies changed its rules to keep up with current trends.

Chance the Rapper has a huge following of over one million people. He gained this following through social media and putting his music out for free. Having outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram can make anyone go from nothing to everything quickly — and being a great artist above it all sealed the deal for him. Chance is also a high profile case, and it was great publicity for the grammy’s to give him awards.

Notice what happened here, Chance won a grammy doing nothing more logistically than putting out music on all streaming platforms and gaining popularity through social media. There was no handing out music on the street or big record label deals. Just a passionate man with a voice. Through the power of technology this was all possible.

Social media is a great way to build hype. The influence social media has had on marketing is so great that there are whole courses taught on the subject now. Using these social media outlets as self branding is very important for hip hop artists to maintain their image, and to update their fans about what is going on with their life. Chance being nominated made his fan base feel as if they accomplished something, as if what they were driving toward has finally been accomplished. Huge media outlets also picked up this story, and it was all over the news.

Needless to say this was one of Chance the Rappers biggest accomplishments. All this fame and publicity gave him a platform to make a stance, and he did just that.

Using the Influence

In November 2016, Chance performed a concert in Chicago and then led a march to the polls encouraging people to vote. [Tribune] This was during the last presidential election, and a quite sensitive one at that. A lot of celebrities that had platforms spoke out about voting, including John Legend, Shakira, and Snoop Dogg. Chance took it to the next level by taking people to go vote. He didn’t explicitly tell people who to vote for, but in that community, not many people would voted for Trump.

Through social media platforms Chance organized this march to the polls, which again garnered media coverage. He used his following and influence, due to technology, to try and make a positive change in his country.

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Chicago is notorious for its inner cities. Being from Chicago, Chance wanted to give back. With his many earnings, Chance the Rapper donated $1,000,000 and counting to nine different Chicago schools. (He is donating more as others donate) [Fader]

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He is able to do all this as an independent artist. Chance being able to give back to his community shows just how far he has come due to the technological platforms available to him, and how he used them.


Despite all this, there are some ways that Chance couldn’t rely on his clever use of technology. Being a great performer is a huge part of success in hip hop, and Chance is an outstanding one. His “Coloring Book” tour included thought out skits with characters and was overall entertaining.

Video taken by Kabir Virji at Chance the Rapper concert in Toronto

Even though it did use technology at its core, there is no digital substitute for charisma and being a great stage performer.


Conclusion

It is no doubt that Chance the Rapper has leveraged technology to become one of today’s most popular rappers. Through his unique social media use he has garnered a fan base that loves him and his music. Chance used streaming services to get his music out into the world, and was eventually nominated for, and won, three Grammys! He used his influence along with technology to bring a positive change to his community. Overall, Chance the Rapper has truly worked beautifully with the technological tools at his disposal.

More importantly, he has set an example for upcoming artists. You don’t need to sign a record label to be famous. The dream isn’t to be signed anymore, it’s what it should be — to make music that people love. With the right leverage of technology, anything is possible.

Sources

Academic: Rogers, Jim. The Death and life of the music industry in the digital age. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publications, 2013. Print.

Academic: Wikström, Patrik. The music industry: music in the cloud. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014. Print.

Academic: Alan Chamberlain, Sean McGrath, and Steve Benford. “Understanding Social Media and Sound: music, meaning and membership, the case of SoundCloud.” (2015): 1–3. Web.

“Chance The Rapper.” Genius. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

Roti, Jessi. “Chance the Rapper performs concert, leads march to polls.” Chicagotribune.com. N.p., 08 Nov. 2016. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

Wang, Amy X. “Why Chance the Rapper-who just made Grammy history-gives his music away for free.” Quartz. Quartz, 13 Feb. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

Weingarten, Christopher R. “Chance the Rapper ‘Coloring Book’ Album Review.” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, 18 May 2016. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

Dandridge-Lemco, Ben. “Chance The Rapper’s Social Works Organization Is Donating $10,000 To Nine Different Chicago Schools.” The FADER. The FADER, 09 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.