Chance the Rapper first Grammy winner without label

Twenty-three year old newcomer Chance the Rapper took home three Grammys last Sunday. He is the first artist to ever win the award without a record label. (Matt Sayles/AP Photo)

There is much to talk about in the days following the 59th Grammy Awards—from Beyoncé’s show stopping performance while pregnant to Adele’s big wins—but perhaps the most talked about artist of the night is newcomer Chance the Rapper. 

The Chicago native won three major awards on Sunday Feb. 12—best new artist, best rap album and best rap performance—and he did it all without a label, choosing instead to give his music to listeners for free. 

With a career that began when he was just 18 years old touring as Childish Gambino’s opening act, Chance—born Chancelor Johnathan Bennett—has created a total of three mixtapes, the latest of which earned those three Grammy wins.  He then released them online for listeners to stream—completely free of charge. 

Both Acid Rap and Coloring Book have received rave reviews from fellow rap artists, critics and former White House inhabitants (Malia Obama is a fan). In fact, Coloring Book, with its authentic themes of “God, love, Chicago and dance,” beat out some huge names in the category for best rap album, including DJ Khaled, Drake and Kanye West. 

Although he’s certainly had the chance to sign with many major labels, Chance decided to stay independent, which allows him to “offer my best work to people without any limit on it” and work more creatively and freely. Plus, Chance has said that he doesn’t want to be a part of the record labels’ “dick-swinging contest” to get the most and best rappers.

And his refusal to sign with a record label hasn’t hindered Chance in the slightest. He’s written for and learned from West, collaborated with Lin-Manuel Miranda and toured with Macklemore. 

“I honestly believe if you put effort into something and you execute properly, you don’t necessarily have to go through the traditional ways,” Chance said.  

So how exactly does this 23-year-old rap genius make a living? The answer is simpler than expected—by selling concert tickets and merchandise. That’s it. Being an independent artist comes with some seriously dedicated fans. Who wouldn’t appreciate being able to legally and easily download quality content straight to their iPhones and computers?

Although he doesn’t come without his fair share of history, everything about Chance seems to be genuine: his love for his new family—as he has a young daughter with girlfriend Kirsten Corely—his dedication to producing meaningful music and his determination to tell the truth. 

In fact, Chance is an active fighter against gun violence in his hometown of Chicago and is a part of the My Brother’s Keeper campaign, which strives to address the challenges faced by young black individuals and to promote racial equality. 

As for the rapper’s next move, it could be anything; he’s independent, after all. But for now, he’s followed up his Grammy wins with the announcement of his spring tour, which will be sure to keep Chance out of record labels’ reach.