Chance the Rapper just picked up his first Grammy for Best New Artist. His most recent release was last year’s Coloring Book, a joyful, spiritual departure from some of his earlier work. In his acceptance speech, Chance said, “I know that people think that independence means you do it by yourself, but independence means freedom.”
While this is an exciting win for Chance, who has consistently refused to sign with a label, the Grammys’ best new artist designation has always felt like a bit of a crapshoot. Last year’s winner was mildly successful pop star Meghan Trainor, while 2015’s winner was Sam Smith, who at that point had already collaborated with popular artists like Disclosure. This year, Chance was up against Kelsea Ballerini, Anderson .Paak, Maren Morris, and the Chainsmokers.
As is the case with most musicians nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy, Chance has actually already been making music for years. His mixtape 10 Day was released in 2012, when he was still in high school, but it was 2013’s Acid Rap that is probably most often credited with flipping the switch on his star status from local rap upstart to indie hero. Despite his commercial success, Chance remains entirely independent, which is unusual for a Best New Artist winner.
Although many artists, especially in hip hop, have been getting their music to fans without the help of a label for decades, Chance has taken an unusual path to stodgy industry recognition. He’s released all three of his mixtapes online (the first two for free). Coloring Book (an Apple Music exclusive) was the first streaming-only album to chart on the Billboard 200. Coloring Book was also nominated for Best Rap Album this year, making it the first streaming-only record to earn a Grammy nomination.