17 Facts About Chance the Rapper’s Revolutionary Career
While a lot of ambitious 24-year-olds are barely out of college and looking for work or just beginning their careers, Chance the Rapper is different. He has accomplished more than most people twice his age. Since 2013, he has made millions and donated millions, and he’s dabbled in politics, journalism and reality television. He’s even made a movie.
What’s his secret to success at such a young age? In 2017, he told Complex Magazine that being the “upper-management” of his own career has been the major key.
Here’s how this Chicago-born rapper and producer has helped define a new career path for entertainers and made it to the top in a little more than five years.
Chancelor Jonathan Bennett was born on April 16, 1993 to a middle-class family on Chicago’s South Side. His father worked for the Chicago mayor’s office and, later, Barack Obama’s senate office. His mother, Lisa Bennett, worked for the office of the Illinois Attorney General. Chance’s brother, Taylor, is also a rapper.
Loyal to the Windy City, he still lives there with his fiancée, Kirsten Corley, and their daughter, Kensli.
While Chance the Rapper’s parents may not have been musicians, a love for music pervaded the household. His parents listened to a lot of jazz and gospel music, including Sam Cooke and Billie Holiday. Gospel, in fact, can be heard on his album “Coloring Book,” which Rolling Stone magazine called a “gospel-rap masterpiece.”
Rapping wasn’t allowed in the Bennett household, so between sixth and seventh grade he began to sneak out of the house to record at his cousin’s music studio. In an interview with Complex magazine, Chance said that around the time he entered high school he learned to play the piano, violin and saxophone, but never got very good at any of them.
Making the Most Out of a Suspension From High School
When he was suspended for possession of marijuana during his senior year, in 2012, Chance used the time to record his first major project called “10 Day,” which he released as a free download on a mixtape website — his first venture into the world of free digital streaming. It was a smart move. The fourteen tracks got him noticed by Complex magazine, which appreciated his unique style.
Mastering the Art of Digital Streaming
Chance’s choice to stream his albums for free is a key part of his self-branding and success. Giving his music away for free turned out to be a genius marketing move. The more people that had access to his music, the more his music could be heard, talked about and, most importantly, shared.
He also targeted his audience correctly. Hip hop is listened to by a large youth demographic, including millennials, people who easily navigate the digital world and for whom digital streaming is second nature. Some analysts have pointed out that younger generations also expect music to be free.
Early on, Chance clearly realized that free streaming his music wouldn’t affect his bottom dollar if he was able to get enough listeners to purchase his merchandise and go see his shows.
Success Breeds Success
After recording a song with rapper Childish Gambino in 2013, Chance released his mixtape “Acid Rap” on the free music streaming site, SoundCloud. The album was a hit on the internet and Chance became a big name in hip hop music. In 2013, at just 19, he was named Spin Magazine’s Rapper of the Year.
He Had the First Free Digital Streaming Album to Win a Grammy
Showing that he didn’t need a label to win fans, or major awards, Chance’s “Coloring Book” was the first streaming album to ever win a Grammy. The prolific artist took home three Grammys in 2017.
Chance was paid $500,000 by Apple to stream “Coloring Book” for free for two weeks exclusively before it was available to the general public on SoundCloud.
Going It Alone in the Industry
Although plenty of labels have tried to sign the Chi-town prodigy, Chance has gone it alone — meaning the dividends he earns are mostly his. While he may have a team that includes manager Pat Corcoran and legendary music agent Cara Lewis, among others, he isn’t in a traditional artist/label relationship, which means he owns the rights to his music. And as every artist knows, owning the rights to your music and lyrics is where the long-term money is.
Traditionally, most artists who get a record deal with a label sign away the rights to their music for a set period of time or the entire duration of the copyright, and then the label pays them an advance, which will be offset against future royalties the artist stands to make from the music the label now owns. By owning the rights to his music, Bennett not only has creative control, but also control of where and when and how he releases his music. He is his own upper management.
In a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair, Chance explained that he had intended to sign with a label after the success of his second free digital mixtape, but then realized doing so would limit him financially as well as restrict his creativity.
Defending His Path
Apple Music’s Carl Chery told DJ Booth that to expect Chance’s level of success without the traditional backing of a label is highly unlikely for most artists and even called his success “misleading.” Chance didn’t like that at all. In a series of Tweets, the rapper gave Chery a piece of his mind, letting him and the public know that patience is key, and adding that most artists are conditioned to think they have to work within the system, so they don’t even try to do it on their own, like he did.
The Secrets of Making Money as an Independent Artist
In his 2017 Vanity Fair interview Chance explained he makes his money mostly from his shows and merchandise. There’s also the endorsements, but we’ll get to that later.
On his website, a hat sells for $45 and a Chance hoodie goes for $50. Sales appear strong. Chance was the youngest person in 2017 to make Fortune magazine’s 40 under 40 list.
Staying Visible and Accessible to Fans
Chance hasn’t needed money from a music label to rise to the top. Instead, he has kept himself visible and accessible to fans. The rapper has 9.3 million Instagram followers and helped save SoundCloud — the same online platform where he got his start in 2013 — by discussing the platform’s business strategy with the CEO and founder Alex Ljung. Being able to stream music for free makes him more accessible to his fan base, which supports him in other ways.
Giving Back Big Time
Chance hasn’t let himself be blinded by greed. Instead, he’s decided to put some of his money toward making a difference in high-need Chicago communities. After starting his own charity in 2016, SocialWorks, in 2017 he donated more than $2 million to Chicago Public Schools. The rapper has also made time for kids with collaborations with “Sesame Street.”
At his 25th birthday party, Chance raised another $100,000 for his charity for Chicago school children.
A Renaissance Man
In part, Chance has kept his name in the news, and people coming to his shows, by staying visible in multiple areas. He’s acted in one film, he’s a reality show judge, he’s a philanthropist and he even has his hand in Chicago politics.
Chance also knows how to tap into his base to promote his upcoming tracks and shows, while not appearing to take himself too seriously. For Christmas of 2017, he released a funny teaser for his Christmas mixtape.
He’s Involved in Local Journalism
In 2018, Chance acquired the Chicago news publication The Chicagoist. Forbes called the move “a dangerous precedent,” arguing that his ownership will influence writer opinions and that the magazine will function as a “PR generator for the artist.”
Regardless of whether is his acquisition poses a problem for fairness in local journalism, it’s clear that he’s looking to expand his investments and have a major influence in Chicago.
He’s Got a Hand in Politics
In 2019, he donated $400,000 for Chicago mayoral candidate Amara Enyia. Her chances at winning the race may be long, but with Chance’s backing she has more political punch with his fan base. He’s even made videos to educate Chicagoans about local politics on The Chicagoist.
He’s in Demand for Endorsements
Chance has secured endorsement deals with companies like Nike, Apple and Twitter, among others. Thanks to his diversity of investments and income sources, he made Forbes’s highest-paid celebrity list in 2017, coming in at No. 95 with $33 million dollars.
In 2017, Chance starred in Twitter’s #SeeEverySide commercial campaign. Joel Lunenfeld, Twitter's Vice President of Global Brand Strategy, told Forbes, “We chose [Chance] because his use of Twitter is exactly what we’re trying to portray. He really captures the essence of how an artist can connect with people on Twitter.”
He’s Not Afraid to Admit a Mistake
After Lifetime finished airing the series “Surviving R. Kelly,” which told the story of the artist’s numerous domestic violence and sexual assault incidences, Chance and several other artists admitted it was a mistake to have worked with R. Kelly.
In his public apology, Chance explained that while he is “hypersensitive to the oppression of black men,” maybe he “didn’t value the accusers’ stories because they were black women.”
Chance the Rapper next album is expected to be released in the summer of 2019. Chance has said on Twitter that the album will be different than “Coloring Book” and “Acid Rap.”
In the meantime, he has been releasing songs on his website, and a rumored collaboration with rapper Childish Gambino in the works.