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Chance the Rapper Switches Up His Release Strategy With 'Coloring Book'

Chance The Rapper performs at ACL
Erika Goldring/FilmMagic

Chance The Rapper performs during Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park on Oct. 11, 2015 in Austin, Texas.  

"I don't release my music for free, I release it for freedom," Chance the Rapper says on "Blessings," off his third mixtape Coloring Book. True to his promise, the Chicago MC has yet to sell any of his music at retail, instead favoring self-releases via his SoundCloud and mixtape sites like Datpiff or making his music available for free download via the iTunes Store, as with Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment's Surf project in 2015.

But Coloring Book marks a change for Chance, a decision seemingly made with one eye on the Grammys. The project came out shortly before midnight last night (May 12) as an exclusive stream via Apple Music -- technically his first commercial release, though the rapper previously impacted Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Heatseekers Albums for a single week in 2013 with Acid Rap. Coloring Book is currently unavailable at retail, and an Apple rep confirmed it will remain an Apple Music exclusive for two weeks, meaning any reported streams from Apple Music would contribute to a potential debut on the Billboard 200.

Initially, however, the Apple Music streaming exclusive wasn't actually exclusive at all. Quietly, Coloring Book also appeared on mixtape site Datpiff shortly after midnight May 13, where it was available for streaming and as a free download; it was subsequently removed from Datpiff before noon. The site touted it as an official release by the artist -- this afternoon, a rep for Chance told Billboard it did not come from them, however, and was actually leaked -- and Coloring Book accumulated 825,000 views, 207,000 streams and 141,000 downloads within its first 11 hours of availability on Datpiff only, according to the site. Fans without Apple Music could get the project for free in those first 11 hours, which could cut into the project's first-week chart position. (Datpiff does not report its numbers to Nielsen Music; to date, the biggest mixtape release on the site is Meek Mill's Dreamchasers 2, with 2.6 million streams and 4.6 million downloads since its May 2012 release.)

Coloring Book was removed from the site due to a complaint filed by Colin Morrissey, an associate at the Davis Shapiro Lewit Grabel Leven Granderson & Blake law firm. Datpiff did respond to multiple requests for comment on the Coloring Book upload. Apple Music did not respond to requests for comment on the takedown. A message left for Morrissey went unreturned.

The Apple Music deal will also involve an upcoming ad for the service, a la Taylor Swift's recent commercial spots. Swift's ads were put together by Apple Music head of content Larry Jackson, sources say, who was also part of Drake's OVO deal which involved the exclusive release of his album Views on April 29. Views set a one-week streaming record with 245 million U.S. streams, according to Nielsen Music.

The release of Coloring Book comes in the same week that Chance promoted a petition imploring the Recording Academy to change the eligibility rules for Grammy nominations, which currently require releases to be available for sale at retail outlets during its eligibility window. That means that both free releases and streaming-only releases -- Coloring Book is likely to be both -- are not under consideration, something Chance noted in his verse on Kanye West's "Ultralight Beam" in February. ("I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy / Let's make it so free and the bars so hard / That there ain't one gosh darn part you can't tweet.") But that could change before next year's awards; a rep for the Grammys tells Billboard that the nomination process goes under an annual review each year, with results to be announced in June.

With the rise of streaming and exclusive windowing, particularly in the past five months, those eligibility requirements are likely to change to accommodate the direction in which the industry is headed, one source says. But the particular language of whatever switch occurs will be worth paying attention to; simply allowing "free music" into the conversation could open eligibility up to any song uploaded to the likes of YouTube or SoundCloud regardless of legitimacy or quality, part of the reason the Grammys have had a gate in place. With Chance leading the charge, Coloring Book could help shake up the 59th Grammy Awards early next year.

Ed. Note (3:13 p.m. EST): This post has been updated to reflect a statement from Chance the Rapper's rep, clarifying that Coloring Book's appearance on Datpiff was a leak and not uploaded by the artist or his team.

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