The rise of an independent artist like Chance the Rapper has disrupted the music industry in ways we couldn’t see coming. As of Thursday (August 17), the 24-year-old MC is now the youngest member of Forbes’ 40 under 40 list of rising moguls, a feat he reached less than five years after the release of his 2013 debut Acid Rap.
Chance’s creative and charitable works have been hailed by everyone from Kanye West and Beyoncé, to the Obamas. And while many of his peers continue to jockey for followers, likes and views, the Chicago MC is anchored by a higher purpose, seeking political and spiritual impact in a world that desperately needs constructive energy.
Many have tried to pin Chance’s success to anything but the individual. Spike Lee, who is also Chance’s uncle, called out the rapper’s privileged upbringing to counter his critical tweets calling the filmmaker’s 2015 joint Chi-raq “exploitative.”
And while many of his peers continue to jockey for followers, likes and views, the Chicago MC is anchored by a higher purpose, seeking political and spiritual impact in a world that desperately needs constructive energy. When the rapper refused to back down from his harsh critique, Lee dubbed Chance a “straight-up fraud,” after pointing out he is the son of a career politician and aide to Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel.
Conspiracy theorists have also gone out of their way to diminish Chance’s accomplishments, labeling him an “industry plant.” He has been criticized of being a benefactor of inorganic label politics and behind-the-scenes dealings that make him appear to be an underdog indie artist when he is actually backed by corporate entities.
Those focused on Chance’s advantages and shortcomings are missing the biggest lessons his rise can teach: whether you are a rapper, student or 9-to-5’er, honesty with yourself and supporters will always take you further than fronting for acceptance. No matter how much promotion his music gets, Chance’s connection to listeners starts with his self-reflection and vulnerability. From drug addiction to baby mama drama to religious salvation, Chance has narrated his own journey with humility and without shame, freeing listeners to process their own issues. And every demon he slays before the public eye elevates his legend in ways that political and corporate ties can’t influence.
His recent reunion with formerly-estranged Save Money partner Vic Mensa, who appeared on Chance’s breakout groove “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” is another example of the mature example Chance seems poised to set for the next generation. It’s the same evolutionary blueprint that has kept Jay-Z at the top of the rap game, decades after his introduction as a spitter. Using fame as a tool of self-empowerment and social action is what turns stars of the moment into eternal icons. By standing up when others stay seated to look cool, Chance is winning with a strategy that will only increase his popularity and net worth with every new challenge.
If money were his only inspiration, Chance probably wouldn’t have made the Forbes list or touched as many listeners with his voice. Still, he has leveraged the small slice of pie that corporate America rations to successful young Black men into something much more powerful. Integrity, honesty and positivity have proven to be liberating forces in a time dominated by fake news and false prophets.
Winning is not a simple function of natural superiority or nurtured advantage. Anyone attempting to simplify the world in such a way is either deceiving their audience or defending their own shortcomings. There are a trillion tools at our disposal if we wish to impact the world. Chance is leading the way in showing that making a difference starts with embracing differences, finding ways to build bridges between humans from all walks of life and doing the work to bring them together. From his $1 million donation to Chicago public schools, to his unapologetic advocacy Black Lives Matter, his willingness to walk as boldly as he talks has made him much more than a musician.
Chance is leading the way in showing that making a difference starts with embracing differences, finding ways to build bridges between humans from all walks of life and doing the work to bring them together.
Chance The Rapper isn’t winning because he’s luckier or more talented than any of his peers. He is winning because, unlike many millennials, he has a goal that is bigger than himself and a plan that isn’t limited by his ego. His devotion to religion may not fit everyone’s life, but his search for knowledge of self should serve as an example to both believers and atheists. Haters can continue to nitpick while Forbes keeps counting his digits. But the wise will recognize the many ways they can learn from Chance’s unique example. The only way to impact society is to refuse to become a product of it.