On Dec. 6, 2016, the 26-year-old manager of Chance the Rapper awoke to news that his client, who has never signed to a major label nor sold a physical album, had nabbed seven Grammy nominations, including best new artist and best rap album for his third record, Coloring Book.
“I texted Chance, ‘OMG six!’ And he goes, ‘Seven,’ ” remembers Pat Corcoran a few weeks later, one soggy afternoon at a Los Angeles honky-tonk. Corcoran, who lives in Chicago but is in Malibu for a few days, looks comfy in an oatmeal-colored pullover, his crimped, strawberry-blond hair tied back. “I had no idea. I was so nervous that we were going to be overlooked. I just don’t know how those types of things work.”
If Chance — an independent rapper who has exclusively released streaming albums — is a highly unlikely Grammy nominee, Corcoran’s an equally unlikely manager of a superstar. After studying to be a psychologist and dabbling in concert promotion, where he met Chance, he dropped out of college in 2012 to manage the rapper full time at the behest of Chance’s father, Ken Bennett. Right away, says Corcoran, he told a friend, “I’m going to work for Chance until we’re headlining festivals and winning Grammys — or until I get fired.”
Corcoran and Chance may seem like an odd couple: Chance ebullient, Corcoran serene; Corcoran buttoned-up where Chance seems almost mystical. What they definitely share is a subtle but unmistakable ambition. Corcoran, who grew up in Chicago’s Sauganash Historic District and once wanted to be a pilot, remembers a wealthy friend of his father telling him, “It’s cooler to sit in the back of a private plane than the front.” “That stuck with me,” he says.
“Pat lives and breathes Chance, and is relentless when it comes to long-term goals,” says Cara Lewis, founder/president of Cara Lewis Group and Chance’s agent since late 2012. “Our first date paid 500 dollars. Now Chance is headlining all the major festivals and will embark on a 40-city arena tour.”
Corcoran’s entrepreneurial mind-set has been vital in the absence of major-label resources. In 2016, the Grammys changed its rules to make streaming-only projects eligible for awards. Corcoran positioned Chance for a nomination long before Coloring Book — but not by lobbying industry folks.
“There’s more transparency than ever via social media,” says Corcoran. “‘He took a pic with my little sister,’ or ‘I saw him at the VIP and he was so nice.’ People have a good understanding of artists these days. How you work with others, what your beliefs are. Lead that lifestyle and make good music, and you have to hope people care about you and root for your career.”
A Grammy campaign that’s pure of heart may sound too good to be true — but so does releasing music for free. “I don’t want to say [a win would make us] satisfied, because I don’t think Chance and I are ever satisfied,” says Corcoran. “But it would be gratifying.” And what exactly do the Grammys see in Chance the Rapper? “The future.”