Chance shopped 10 Day to most of the major and a few indie labels, expecting to sign a record deal. But while he considered offers, he sold out a 500-seat venue in Chicago and was invited on tour with Childish Gambino. He figured a decision could wait. He knew he wouldn’t need a label to produce and distribute his second album, Acid Rap (“I recorded it while on acid,” he explains simply). The month he made the mixtape available for free, he went on tour opening for Mac Miller in “midsize rooms outside the Midwest.” “The kids knew all the words to my songs,” says Chance. By then he had connected with his manager, Pat Corcoran, 26, a white North Sider with a hang-loose vibe who had been setting up shows for Kids These Days while at DePaul University. “We discovered going with a label wasn’t for us,” says Corcoran.
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Chance has earned money not from 99-cent downloads but from tours, merchandise, meet-and-greets and his deals with Apple and other companies — like Bud Light and Citibank, sponsors of his upcoming Magnificent Coloring Day festival — eager to reach his many young, savvy fans. (Coloring Book also expanded to Spotify and other streaming services after the Apple Music exclusive.) “It’s not about the music being free. It’s about how it is displayed and made accessible and about artistic power,” explains Chance. “It was always about the artist-to-fan relationship.” On a recent Saturday night, Chance tweeted to his 1.9 million followers that he would be making an announcement the following morning. It turned out to be a surprise show at a Chicago club, and on Sunday he updated fans on where they could buy pairs of tickets-(including at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria and a Harold’s Chicken). The treasure hunt ended at 2 p.m., when the venue sold out. “This is exactly why I keep my @chancetherapper Twitter notifications on,” one fan tweeted with a photo of his tickets.
The Magnificent Coloring Day festival, which Chance will headline as part of his current tour, showcases his ambition and hometown love, with Alicia Keys, John Legend, Lil Wayne, Skrillex, Young Thug and 2 Chainz joining him at U.S. Cellular Field, home of baseball’s White Sox, for whom he designed a line of specialty caps. The festival has broken the ballpark’s attendance record, selling more than 50,000 tickets. “It’s bigger than me f—ing with the Sox and bigger than me being a rapper,” says Chance of organizing the festival, noting that it will create jobs and attract tourist dollars. And, he says, “I think the city needs some happy moments.”
Around 2:30 a.m., at the Near North Side studio, Chance is finally ready to start recording. He stands at the mic, the room dark but for a flickering screen showing Ali fights. (“I’m a method engineer,” says Lane.) Chance shuts his eyes, listening to the opening bars of a traipsing piano and the horn that follows. Then he sings, “Steady hold, I’ve grown weary and old.” After Drake, every rapper wants to be a singer, and Chance uses the rough physicality of his voice to convey emotion, landing hard on Ali’s famous superlatives — “Ain’t no one prettier/Ain’t no one wiser/Ain’t no one better! better! better!” The song, says Chance, is about spiritual redemption, about Ali finding God, with a hook made lush by Woods: “I was a rock/I was a rock and roller/But now I’m just a rock.”
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The Ali tribute, like a lot of music that Chance has been writing lately, veers into gospel. On Coloring Book, he samples praise music and employs worship star Kirk Franklin. Chance attends the South Side’s Covenant Faith Church of God, meets with his pastor and is conversant enough with scripture to pack his songs with surprising Biblical allusions. “Sunday Candy,” from the Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment album Surf, is an exuberant hymn to Chance’s grandmother. The tune is a romp, but the pleasures described are that of his family’s black church. “You look so good with that hat on, had to match with the shoes/Came and dressed in the satin, I came and sat in your pew.”