The 2017 Grammy’s occurred last night. With it came entertainment’s biggest stars, fans obsessing over Beyoncé’s baby bump, everyone questioning why Cee Lo Green mistook the award ceremony for a costume contest, and why he mistook that mistaken costume contest for a good opportunity to dress like a ferror rocher candy. Adele stole the night by receiving five awards, including Album of the Year, and paying tribute to Beyoncé, saying that Lemonade was more deserving. As heartfelt as the moment was—and as talented as Adele is—one man’s multiple Grammy victories stand above the rest.
“I used to pass out music, I still pass out music,” Chance The Rapper recites in spoken-word on Coloring Book’s closing track, “Blessings (Reprise),” referring to how his high school days of allotting free music have translated into his professional career. Chance has never charged money for one of his projects. And yet, last night he proudly and humbly accepted three Grammy’s: Best New Artist, Best Rap Album, and Best Rap Performance. Chance’s rising-star status that followed him ever since his sophomore release, Acid Rap, has bursted into bonafide superstardom. His individual accolades are impressive; his impact on The Grammy’s, and music at large, is groundbreaking.
Until this year, for-sale physical albums were the only Grammy-eligible projects. Seeing as there hasn’t been a demand for physical CDs in some time, this rule seemed antiquated and exclusive; music’s consumption shift has essentially rendered physical copies obsolete. The award ceremony’s stubbornness inhibited its progressiveness, denying promising artists, like Chance, the opportunity to claim music’s hardware. History has relied on special individuals to alter an accepted rule—baseball had Jackie Robinson; NASA had Sally Ride; music has Chance The Rapper. While systematic musical revelations don’t hold a candle to hurdling race or gender barriers, dismantling them is still impressive. Chance, in all his glory, is very impressive.
In addition to becoming the inaugural streaming-only-eligible project, Coloring Book was also the first streaming-only album to chart on the Billboard 200, back in May. The latter distinction made it increasingly difficult for the Recording Academy to deny streaming-only artists access to music’s mainstream award stage. On June 6, 2016, a month after Coloring Book’s release, the Academy amended their longstanding rule to include artists of Chance’s class. The Chicago kid is using his palatable artistry to align music’s past with its present, while blazing it into the future. He’s qualifying streaming-only artists as credible award recipients. Chance The Rapper is changing the game.
Despite former absent recognition from the Recording Academy, and convictions to never charge for his music, Chance is not some unknown underground artist with a mediocre SoundCloud following who’s witnessed the occasional glimpse of success. He’s one of Hip Hop’s most vibrant lights, its next big thing, and its future, all packaged into one soulful, creative body. Coloring Book currently has over 205-million SoundCloud streams and over 525-million Spotify plays, making it one of 2016’s most consumed projects. However, these numbers alone weren’t his sole defender in his case against the Recording Academy.
Chance did not silently protest for The Grammy’s to alter their selection process. Potentially delivering the best verse off Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo on the opening track “Ultralight Beam,” Chance emphatically states, “He said let's do a good ass job with Chance three / I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy / Let’s make it so free and the bars so hard / That there ain't one gosh darn part you can't tweet.” Chance has never been one to conceal his emotions to appease others. Perhaps the coolest thing about him is his inability to conform. If you tell him he can’t accomplish something, he will internalize that negativity to propel himself forward.
I first heard of Chance in 2012 during the spring of my junior year with his rookie release, 10 Day. It was raw, heartfelt, honest, but most of all, it was a preview—a preview into today’s shining, captivating star. During high school, Chance was suspended for 10-days after getting caught smoking weed. The project was his middle finger to all those doubters, and individuals who wrote him off as just another person squandering their future at the hands of marijuana; to those who dismissed his music dream as a lofty ambition.
Last night—five-years after 10 Day’s release—standing on stage in his tan “3” hat, holding three hard-earned Grammy’s, Chance answered those doubters. Chance is not only realizing his musical dream, he’s changing the game as we know it, on his terms, right before our eyes.