Every year like clockwork – he would get a phone call usually late at night around 2 am from a student that was asking him to help them get out of a bad situation. What was this bad situation? A marriage gone wrong? A STD that wouldn’t stop burning? Nope, nada, try again – folks were calling because they had signed a record contract to a company and now they wanted desperately to get out of it. I took music production classes in college. I remember this speech being shared at the start of the records and publishing class that I was enrolled in. Professor Joe Ferry – fantastic teacher amazing studio musician and all around great guy – wanted us all to know that despite learning about the predatory aspects of the music business, that he knew for sure that one of us would be giving him a call months from now wishing we had paid more attention when he gave that speech.
Fast forward to Sunday’s Grammy award ceremony. Chance the Rapper was awarded three Grammy’s for the critically acclaimed and fan favorite “Coloring Book. “ Coloring Book is the first album to receive a Grammy while being available only through streaming. Chance the Rapper, who is not signed to a label, for those unfamiliar with him. He was born in Chicago- a city that gave birth to windy nights, deep-dish pizza, and phenomenal MC’s like Oscar Winner, Common and Kayne West. Unlike fellow Chicagoan Kayne West whose mother was an academic, Chance’s father career was in politics.
Politics, where everything hinges on power and knowing the best and correct move to make to achieve the most favorable outcome. Politics requires being cunning, being sharp, and it stands to reason that this would have influenced Chance; and just maybe this had some bearing on him not wanting to sign a contract and setting off on his own. On Sunday, receiving his Grammy he said “I know that people think that independence means you do it by yourself, but independence means freedom.”
I am speculating of course – one could never know why or what influenced Chance the Rapper to be an independent artist; however, there he was being acknowledged as an industry standard of excellence. How does the establishment decide to reward someone with what is considered one of its highest honors and he is not connected to any label? I am not suggesting that Chance is anti-mainstream, he does openly court mainstream appeal and nothing about this artist requires a parental advisory sticker. He’s got a very wholesome image with skills to match; he is the rapper that you feel comfortable letting your kid sister or brother listen to. And there he is being awarded, getting a stamp of approval while firmly being an independent artist who theoretically receives all masters and royalties into his pockets. Well-played sir! How cheeky, how ballsy, how very Hip Hop- after all Hip Hop is a genre of music that was born out of equal parts rebellion to the status quo and openly courting it.
The significance of Sunday’s Grammys Award and the effects will be shown in the years to come in how many artists emerge that decide to forgo label support and go the independent route, and still be considered great. And the good thing is no one will be happier than my old college professor Joe, he can finally get some sleep.
By Yasmine Lancaster
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