The funniest thing about this Chance The Rapper “backlash” is while it may feel new, there are actually references to it on the internet dating two years back, coming on the heels of his critically acclaimed collaborative project with Donnie Trumpet, Surf. Even in 2015, there were cries of “Chance The Rapper is an industry plant,” even though, at the time, no one had any evidence of this. There is just as little evidence now, but apparently, it’s easier for people to see Chance’s recent success as the result of conspiracy than of his clear talent, luck, business savvy, and genuinely engaged fan base that legitimately loves his music and wants to support him.
The thing is, it seems that this silly, unnecessary rumor is one of the driving forces behind a brief period of backlash against Chance. Any wildly successful artist can you tell you about this process — it’s practically a given. With production group J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League going ham on Twitter following the news that Chance may have had a hand in the reversal of Soundcloud’s fortune, it seemed as though the tide might be turning on the incessantly upbeat, squeaky clean rapper from Chicago’s South Side. Never mind the donations, the humanitarian efforts, and his genuinely fun new album Coloring Book you can play with your mom in the car, Chance The Rapper is now being painted — in some obscure corners of the internet — as a terrible, terrible major label double agent, quietly COINTELPro-ing the profits away from all those poor, poor Soundcloud rappers like Famous Dex, XXXTentacion, and Kodak Black. Come on.
Because, wait… in fact, that sounds insane. Yes, Chance may have used contacts within various corporate entities to extend his brand, as many, many, many artists, actors, and creatives have before him. No rapper, I don’t care how indie or underground or street or real you think they might be, can survive in this industry without cash on hand, and lots of it. Street teams cost money. Tours cost money. Ads cost money. The reason so many rappers were ex-drug dealers in the ’90s isn’t because that was the best hip-hop to be made, it’s because they had more money than the super rapper kid on the block with the best bars but no money for studio time (and because of major label marketing departments, but that’s a whole other essay).
So, if Chance The Rapper is a sellout because he partnered with Mars, Inc. to sell candy bars, then so is (inhales) Kurtis Blow, Young MC, Heavy D, Pete Rock, C.L. Smooth, Grand Puba, Nas, AZ, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, MC Shan, The Lost Boys, Afrika Bambaataa, Fat Joe, Goodie Mob, Common, Mack 10, LL Cool J, Mia X, Amil, Lady Of Rage, Roxanne Shante, Bahamadia, Ludacris, Kanye West, Drake, Vince Staples and Jay Electronica, all of whom have shilled for various soda companies over the last three decades worth of hip-hop. And yes, Chance may have even exerted power — over another brand — to remove one annoying negative review from the internet, but that’s literally how the business works. Guaranteed all your favorites have used their star power in a similar way, it’s just rarely reported on… because at the end of the day, we all know how the system works.
You may or may not notice some respected names in that list above. The difference is, Chance The Rapper, instead of receiving a check to appear in a commercial, made sure to negotiate partnerships that insured that the companies he’s worked with — Apple, Mars, Inc., et al — are just as invested in pushing Chance as he is in pushing their respective products. Nas and AZ got paid to appear in that Sprite ad in 1992 and may even still be receiving royalties from them, but Chance’s exclusivity deal with Apple reportedly netted Chance $500K.
The fact that he did all this without a major label negotiating those deals for him is all the more impressive and should be celebrated. “But, he’s really secretly signed…” Shut up. Just stop right there. Why on Earth would any major label, with the opportunities at their feet provided by one of the most popular, marketable young rappers in the world right now, purposefully hide their affiliation and miss the chance (ahem) to be associated with all the money and cultural cachet he provides? It makes no sense. In a world where everything down to the water you drink is branded, if Chance were signed to a major label, they would make sure you knew about it.
It’s odd that, as any artist becomes more successful, there is a successive backlash against them, as though authenticity and success are somehow mutually exclusive. Even more frustrating is that lack of success is held over artists’ heads, as if to say “what good is keeping it real if no one buys your album?” This is doubly hypocritical and cruel, as it’s the fans themselves who ultimately hold the power in that situation. The artist definitely has a duty to his or herself to do whatever is necessary to ensure they make a living, especially since the goalposts of an artist’s validity are constantly being moved by a fickle fan base. That’s exactly what Chance is doing, and if the world has to adjust to accommodate him — like the Grammys and Billboard changing their criteria for awards — then that makes him a trendsetter and a revolutionary, not a sellout, plant, cornball, or whatever other insult is arbitrarily leveled at him for the crime of doing too well at doing what he loves.
I have absolutely no idea why some rap fans collectively chose Chance of all people to turn on while they ride out for all the rappers I sarcastically mentioned in that first paragraph, who all have active and open records for doing genuine dirt. They are accused of beating and sexually assaulting women; if Chance — at worst — reneged on five racks for a beat way back in 2013 when he was still just an up-and-coming blog rapper, zip-tie me to the Chance bandwagon for rest of my natural life.
Especially if it means free laptops for poor kids in Chicago, a possible political platform that he uses to take the current failing regime to task, and a gospel-inflected rap album that my mom can bang in the whip, Chance deserves a little more slack than he’s currently being given. As for “industry plants,” maybe we can come up with a definition that makes a little more sense before slapping it on any kid that gets “too successful” as an indie artist.