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Will 2014 Be the Year of Chance the Rapper?

Dusty Kessler, Tumblr

Newcomer Chance the Rapper is a hot commodity — record labels want him but they just can’t seem to get their hands on him. The Chicago-born rapper is on everyone’s radar right now and he’s done it without a proper album out or record deal. A product of new age Internet fame, Chance boasts 12,600,000 views on YouTube and 423,000 followers on Twitter. But what has allowed this Windy City native to separate himself from every other unsigned rapper out there spamming social media with their song links to get put on?

For one, he’s the go-to novice MC for all of your favorite rappers, having opened tours for Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore, among others. The whimsical artist has also been appearing on the bills for top festivals, gracing magazine covers and laying verses on tracks of music’s top artists — most recently Justin Bieber’s ‘Confident.’ It’s only a matter of time before his takeover.

Watch Justin Bieber’s ‘Confident’ Video Feat. Chance the Rapper

When an artist like Chance comes around, it can be premature to crown him too soon. Hype and gimmicks can get artists in the door but you need more than talent to keep you relevant. Musicians at odds with their record labels — e.g. Azealia Banks — spend more time fighting with executives than releasing music, bringing them to a premature decline on their quest to fame. Without those corporate strings pulling him, Chance continues to grow his fan base organically at his own will.

One listen to ‘Acid Rap,’ the 20-year-old’s critically-acclaimed April 2013 mixtape, and it’s apparent the soulful samples depart from the trap-influenced drill scene heralded by his Chicago peer Chief Keef, who grew up blocks away from Chance. ’10 Day,’ his very first mixtape, has been downloaded 168,312 times and has 618,701 views, according to DatPiff.com. On this project, Chance possesses the same sharp-tongued wit and melodies that brought Kendrick Lamar to the forefront, but he’s more comical and extroverted.

On ‘Nostalgia’ he raps over a boom bap loop about his childhood memories in a laid-back temperament. “I used to chill with the kids next door / And SpongeBob came around ’bout four,” he delivers. His animated, fluctuating cadence returns on ‘Brain Cells.’ On the track, he’s too deep in his drug habits. “Burned too many brain cells down / To be worried bout my brain cells now,” Chance rhymes. He was once an active participant in the drugs he raps about, although in a recent interview with The Source, he said he’s living a life of sobriety now.

Listen to Chance the Rapper’s ‘Brain Cells’

The MC, born Chancelor Bennett, hails from Chatham, a middle class African-American neighborhood in Chicago’s Southside. Chicago is facing a gun violence epidemic, however, Chatham’s history of “strong collective identity” and “high social cohesion” among its neighbors allows the community to remain fairly stable compared to neighborhoods nearby, according to a recent profile of the community in the New York Times.

Chance called for peace in his city during his first television appearance on ‘The Arsenio Hall’ show in January. “I’m really hoping the gun-related death toll continues to lower,” he said. “There’s a positivity that’s starting to garner in Chicago and I think if we can keep it going — stop worrying about cliques and gangs.”

His upbringing plays a part in the opportunities he’s had in honing his rap skills and the experiences he can rap about. Chance’s “supportive” parents both worked in government and he volunteered for President Obama’s campaign in his teens, Complex reports. He also attended a selective prep school in downtown Chicago and spent his after-school hours performing at an open mic in a library close by.

But it was his encounter with ‘The College Dropout’ by Kanye West, a fellow Chicagoan, that led him to solidify his decision to pursue potential rapper stardom. The project, which recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary, was the first hip-hop album he purchased. Years later, like Kanye, Chance decided to rap about his own tales of youthful rebellion. After a 10-day school-suspension for cutting a final exam in 2012, he recorded ‘10 Day.’ Forbes magazine featured the mixtape on their ‘Cheap Tunes’ blog, bringing it loads of clicks. Later that year, Childish Gambino put him on as the opening act for his tour. The rest, as they say, is history.

Watch Chance the Rapper’s ‘Everybody’s Something’ Video

Venue hopping has done Chance justice in spreading his name and he credits Michael Jackson as influencing how he presents his music onstage. In 2013, he was given the opportunity to perform at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, and at his hometown’s Lollapalooza. From October to December 2013, he trekked the states on his Social Experiment tour.

Chance also peppered his name throughout several projects last year. In September 2013, Lil Wayne tapped the almost legal rhymer for his ‘Dedication 5’ mixtape, for the track ‘You Song.’ In addition, he scored a feature on Childish Gambino’s album, ‘Because the Internet’ on ‘I. The Worst Guys.’ It’s no wonder Spin magazine gave him the honor of 2013’s ‘Rapper of the Year.’

Last year, there was another pleasant audible surprise from the rapper — his remix to ‘Life Round Here’ by Grammy-nominated singer James Blake, his new roommate. “We’re probably going to make a bunch of s— every day,” Chance told NME, on moving in with Blake. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with it. We might give some s— to other artists. We’re getting a compound.”

Watch James Blake’s ‘Life Round Here’ Video Feat. Chance the Rapper

As this year kicks off, Chance has much hype to live up to. The Source magazine named him Rookie of the Year in 2013, and he is expected to be included on the coveted annual XXL Magazine Freshmen Class list in the coming weeks. The talented wordsmith is also set to take the stage at California’s Coachella, New York’s Governors Ball and will give a repeat performance at Lollapalooza. It’s worth mentioning again that he has no record label home, and why would he need one when he’s already everywhere? All on his own.

Forget labels. Chance is on some next level way of thinking. He wants to create a Rapper’s Union this year, because rappers need dental too. “Like a lot of people get done over the wrong way in music when you’re signing deals,” he explained to Arsenio in January. “They want you all to sign to the label and then you make another label, you sign your friends and then they get a label and it’s kind of this pyramid scheme that keeps grabbing more and more people. But no one really knows what they’re signing.”

He described that with a union, rappers would have a minimum they must be given before signing a publishing deal. “If we can just come together real quick; like a label is cool, everyone wants to have a label but if we could just start a union, I think it would definitely work for the best,” he explains. It’s only a guess that Chance’s understanding of the strength that’s in numbers comes from growing up in a neighborhood that valued unity. But it would be no surprise if it did shape his mindset on the business of rap.

For now, many eyes will be on the young artist to see what he’ll do next. Will he sign a record deal? Drop new material? Continue touring in 2015? Maybe retire? Whatever it is, we doubt he will let the chance to be the next great rapper pass him by.

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