In recent days, Chance the Rapper has come under scrutiny from his massive fan base for how he conducts business.
Though his music has drawn acclaim, his notion of how to release that music -- free, direct to fans -- has earned him praise as a revolutionary. The 23-year-old artist, who grew up on Chicago's South Side and began releasing mixtapes while still roaming the halls of Jones College Prep High School, found himself a triple Grammy Award winner in February, even though he hadn't yet sold a single piece of recorded music.
On Friday, Chance took to Twitter because he felt compelled to explain a deal he negotiated last spring with Apple Music. The digital music platform paid Chance $500,000 and financed a TV commercial for exclusive rights to the "Coloring Book" album. After two weeks on the Apple site, the album became available for free at multiple online outlets.
"I never felt the need to correct folks on my relationship with @apple but now that more people have tried to discredit my independence, I wanna clear things up," he wrote. "I needed the money and they're all good people over there. I feel like if I didn't clear it up people would keep trying to discredit all the work we did to make Coloring Book what it became. I think (an) artist can gain a lot from the streaming wars as long as they remain in control of their own product."
Later, he advised artists that "If you come across opportunities to work with good people, pick up cash and keep your integrity I say Do It."
The message behind the series of tweets: Don't put me in a box. And, by extension, don't allow yourself to be put in a box.
The late, great Prince would be proud. The Minneapolis funk master, who died last April, was both praised and pilloried for his unconventional business practices. In many ways he created a blueprint for what Chance is doing now. After chafing under the major-label restrictions imposed on his music for nearly two decades, Prince went independent in the mid-'90s and became one of the first major artists to embrace the internet to communicate with and market music directly to his fans. He later began licensing his albums one at a time to major labels to benefit from their distribution while retaining ownership of his music.
In the same way, Chance is experimenting with using corporate clout and cash to expand the reach of his music. In recent interviews, he has discussed the importance of artists finding a way to use the system to serve their music, rather than becoming servants of the industry -- as Prince once felt he had become before breaking free.
Though some of his fans would surely love Chance to remain that kid who handed them a copy of his mixtape on the streetcorner, this is an artist who thinks big, and the Apple deal was just part of the larger canvas on which he's painting. He staged a major multiracial music festival in U.S. Cellular Field last year, led a rally in Millennium Park on Election Day in November, recently met with Gov. Bruce Rauner and donated $1 million to Chicago Public Schools.
His albums and videos aren't just solo efforts but incorporate a community of artists -- musicians, singers, producers, video directors, dancers. It's telling that the first major project he focused on after the 2013 "Acid Rap" mixtape made him a national figure was "Surf," an album helmed by his trumpet player, Nico Segal.
By framing his music as the work of a community, Chance is on to something much bigger than a deal with a corporate power. Just as Prince did before him, Chance is demonstrating that it's time to put artists in charge of their futures -- led by a generation of creatives who Chance believes can fundamentally change the way art is made, distributed and consumed.
(c)2017 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.