Long before he was invited to the White House to perform for the President and First Lady on Christmas, Chance the Rapper was just another kid from Chicago trying to make it in the rap game. Though his astronomic rise may seem like it occurred overnight, the 23-year-old born Chancelor Bennett has traipsed down a worn path traveled by many, but few with the independent spirit and intrinsic knack for creativity that’s allowed him to scale the upper ranks of rap in just a matter of years.
For Chance, it began in West Chatham, located in the South Side of Chi-town, an area that has served as a breeding ground for emcees including Kanye West and Common. He always had a yearning for the spotlight, but it started out a bit differently. As far back as kindergarten, he was a dancer, impersonating Michael Jackson at his graduation that year in full attire. He realized that rap was his true calling in fourth grade while at his grandmother’s house, writing a book of poems that he likened to actual raps for a project for Young Chicago Authors, an open mic venue.
But the self-proclaimed “class clown” didn’t actually make his grand debut on the hip-hop scene until he was suspended for marijuana-related activities while in high school, using the time to record his first mixtape 10 Day that roped year-end accolades from a number of blogs and underground publications in 2012. In the time that followed, he met up with a collective called Kids These Days, which included frequent collaborator Donnie Trumpet, and immediately piqued label interest but held off in the interest of pursuing the buzz around his burgeoning career.
His true breakthrough came with Acid Rap, which arrived in April 2013, and despite the fact that it debuted at No. 63 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, it went unofficially platinum on mixtape streaming site DatPiff, where it’s currently clocked at 1.3 million downloads. It planted a seed: Chance had established himself as a force that operated outside of the mainstream system, doing it all on his own (with, of course, the assistance of his accomplice Pat the Manager) and netting slots on tours for Mac Miller and Macklemore.
Building a career with apparent longevity took a bit more time. In May 2015, he contributed to the star-studded freebie project Surf from The Social Experiment on iTunes, racking up 618,000 downloads in the first week and over 10 million track downloads. Throughout the year, his star rose significantly, with performance slots at Bonnaroo Music Festival and on Saturday Night Live as the first independent artist ever to take the stage. In the lead-up to his most recent release, Coloring Book, he linked with West for one of the most notable songs off of The Life of Pablo, sprinkling the opening track “Ultralight Beam” with a verse that teased his latest project.
With Coloring Book’s release in May 2016, Chance firmly established his voice as one of hip-hop’s most jubilant forces, accentuating his horn-powered tunes with guest appearances from Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Justin Bieber and Future, among others. It’s been full force ever since: Chance threw his inaugural Magnificent Coloring Day Festival in Chicago in late September in confluence with his Magnificent Coloring World Tour, which kicked off in San Diego and is slated to touch down in Europe and Australia in the coming months. His one-day festival also set an attendance record for White Sox’s Cellular One Field with upwards of 47,000 concertgoers. Though Chance feels fresh and just at the beginning of his career, he’s a working testament to the independent hustle: work hard, play hard and ride the wave.
The Evolution of an Artist series is presented by Apple.