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Chance The Rapper is somebody to look up to. He’s the first artist to not sell physical copies of his music and win a Grammy.

He’s famous for doing things differently. Most notably, he has stayed an independent musician rather than signing to one of the major record labels.

And as of this writing, he still doesn’t have a record deal. He also encourages other artists to follow suit.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of staying an indie artist as embodied in the rapper named Chance.

Where Did Chance the Rapper Come From?

Chance The Rapper, born Chancelor Jonathan Bennett, hails from the city of Chicago. He went to Jones College Prep High School, even though he was often not even there.

You see, he didn’t do very well as a student.

“I wasn’t really good at high school or getting good grades and shit,” he told Pitchfork. “And at that point, I wasn’t going to graduate. I was looking at my life and just like, ‘Who am I supposed to be?’”

And this struggle and tension as a highschooler would eventually inspire his first album.

“My parents always wanted me to go to college,” he said. “I got suspended a lot, but senior year I got suspended for smoking weed right before spring break, which was sick because I had three weeks in a row off.”

And during that suspension in 2011, he finished and announced the release of his debut mixtape, 10 Day. He took that seemingly negative thing — a suspension — and turned it into a career-starter, a launching pad.

It was bound to happen at some point. His parents were very musical, listening to gospel and jazz, like Billie Holiday and Sam Cook. For Chance, Michael Jackson was a huge influence — apparently, he exclusively listened to MJ up until fifth grade.

And he had been rapping since the sixth or seventh grade, inspired by his cousin, rapper Chef Sean. He remembers how his family was not so keen about the rap world, and how, despite that, he would “sneak to [Chef Sean’s] crib and record” throughout grade school and high school.

And those times he snuck out to make music would prove to pay off.

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How He Rose to Fame

Simply put, Chance worked hard and stayed patient.

But mainly, his music was killer, so that naturally got people’s attention. When he dropped 10 Day in the spring of 2012, word spread about this new rapper from the Windy City. Because of the buzz, he got connected with local producers, like Blended Babies, Chuck Inglish, and Kenny Jame$.

Complex named him one of “10 New Chicago Rappers To Watch Out For,” citing his solid rapping skills but wondering, “Will he live up to the hype?”

Forbes featured him, perfectly summing up an explanation for his early success.

“The mixtape isn’t perfect. . .” they write. “But Chance’s ambition and vision dilute most of the problems on 10 Day. Who knew a little bit of trouble could end up being such a good thing?”

So, although you may want to give former President Barack Obama some credit for encouraging Chance by telling him “word,” the rapper’s success was a mixture of pure talent, hard work, patience, and struggle.

And after 10 Day blew up, it was off to the races for this teenager.

He went on to work with Childish Gambino, Action Bronson, Pharrell, and many more. He has won a bunch of awards, including three Grammys, two BET Hip Hop Awards, and an NAACP Image Award.

And this whole time, he’s never taken a record deal. He has stayed completely independent. The question is: why? If you have the chance (sorry for the pun) as a musician to do less and make more money, why not take it?

Why, Chance?

Staying independent is all about ownership and control. And when it comes to your art, something you’ve created, those two things are important.

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Why He Didn’t Take a Record Deal (Even Though He Could’ve)

He could have easily taken a record deal. Probably every record label would have loved to marry him, or at least go on a couple dates.

But he’s still single. Because he believes in independence.

“For a long time, I think I missed out on a lot of opportunities because I was kinda in a rat race where everybody else just had a boost,” Chance told Yahoo in 2017. “But it’s becoming more and more recognized that everyone starts out as an unsigned artist. . .and being signed doesn’t necessarily make you more validated as an artist.”

He believes in this idea so much that he even turned down Kanye West. West offered to sign him to his label GOOD Music in 2016, but Chance had already gotten so popular and wanted to stay independent.

“It’s not easy at all, definitely not telling Kanye,” Chance said. “It’s definitely hard keeping that resistance, but I want to teach people that it’s doable without.”

He even got into a Twitter argument with the website DJ Booth about this idea of being an indie rapper.

“[Chance The Rapper]’s independent success is ‘misleading,’ according to Apple Music’s [Carl Chery], but he doesn’t owe anyone an apology,” DJ Booth tweeted.

“This is wack,” Chance retorted. “Y’all steady tellin ppl they need a label/publisher/distributor to achieve success as an artist. That’s a lie.”

He said all artists are exposed to conditioning “by different forms of media creating the narrative that you need to be discovered or put on in order to be successful.”

Staying independent is all about ownership and control. And when it comes to your art, something you’ve created, those two things are important.

“[In a record deal], the artist is completely owned by a label,” he told Yahoo. “. . .I don’t like being owned. That’s not my thing. That’s not what I’m into.”

Well, yeah. When you put it like that, Chance, it’s hard to believe any artist would say they want to be owned. Artists, and people in general, don’t usually like to be told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

“I get to choose how much my music costs,” he went on. “I get to choose when my music gets released. I choose when I go on tour, who I work with, what movies I work with.”

He actually tells other artists to go indie, and he’s even convinced people like Frank Ocean and Lupe Fiasco to drop their record deals.

We know that the music industry is made up of mostly independent “middle-class” musicians, but Chance has proven that if you want country-wide and worldwide success, you don’t need a record label.

So is it time to say goodbye to record labels? Or do they still have some value?

Why Every Musician Should Strive for What Chance the Rapper Has

I mentioned earlier some of the reasons you, a musician, might want to be independent. But let’s dig a little deeper into those reasons.

Keeping creative control may be the most compelling reason to not sign with a label. You choose the direction of your next album, musically, thematically, and in the creative ways to release it. You won’t have a corporation telling you what kind of music to make because it’s expected to be more profitable.


This might be the biggest reason to stay indie. You have control. Nobody is telling you what you “should” do.

Keeping creative control may be the most compelling reason to not sign with a label. You choose the direction of your next album, musically, thematically, and in the creative ways to release it. You won’t have a corporation telling you what kind of music to make because it’s expected to be more profitable.

Music is art, a craft. It’s not about what makes the most money, it’s about the music.


However, money is what allows you to make more art. The money should never direct the art, the art should always direct the money.

Instead of giving a portion of your income to a label, you keep 100% of the profit. Usually, labels make most of the money and give the rest to the artist. Granted, this is in exchange for services to help get the music out there and fund music projects. But you can do the promotion yourself and run crowdfunding campaigns.

One less middleman means more profit for you. And that means you can devote more time to making music.

Keep Your Rights

As is often the case, a record label takes ownership in your music. This means they own at least (if not all) of the publishing rights, so they have complete control over where the music is published. And, depending on the fine print, this may continue even after you break off the deal.

Indie artists, on the other hand, own 100% of their publishing rights. So you can put the music wherever you want, take it down if you want, and release it when you want.

No Deadlines

Record labels are businesses. And for them to be a successful business, they need a product. This product is you and your music. So, by signing a contract, you must create a certain type and amount of this product so the business can succeed.

But forced art is usually not good art. If you’re thinking of the bottom dollar as you’re writing and recording music, it’s not going to be as authentic (and, in turn, impactful) music.

How Many Signed Artists Actually Stay Signed?

Myth: getting signed automatically means worldwide success. Fact: most artists who sign record deals are dropped by the label.

Most labels will sign a bunch of artists hoping there’s a good apple in there somewhere. It’s the shotgun approach. Then when they find one great artist, they drop the others and invest extra time and money into that one artist.

And then at the end of the year, the label can claim the dropped artists as losses on their taxes, meaning they’ll get most of the money back that they had invested in those artists. Meanwhile, the artist is left in the streets (metaphorically).

Alternatives to a Record Deal

Instead of signing a contract, you could do a lot of the things a label would do. You can learn the basic skills of a Booking Agent and book your own shows, interviews, and media features. You could look into a PR & Advertising education to help bolster your career.

You could also build your own team while staying independent. If you get so many emails and media inquiries, consider hiring a Manager. As you prepare to release your next album, maybe work with a PR agency on a one-project basis.

The point is: you don’t need a record label. You’d probably be better off staying indie.

Chance The Rapper is proof of that.

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