The 2017 Best New Artist Grammy nominees aren’t all new faces. While the Recording Academy selects a batch of the past year’s breakout artists for the category, critics may be quick to point out that a few of the 2017 nominees weren’t strangers to mainstream music prior to 2016, or even 2015. Among the contenders are two hip-hop artists who have enjoyed fruitful careers long before the Grammy attention: Los Angeles rapper/singer/musician Anderson .Paak and Chicago MC Chance The Rapper.
Before .Paak became Dr. Dre’s protegee, the Oxnard, Calif. native released music under the name Breezy LoveJoy before flipping it to Anderson .Paak (he was born Brandon Anderson Paak). Scour SoundCloud and you’ll find his 2012 mixtape O.B.E. Vol. 1, home to the standout “P.Y.P.” At that point, .Paak was trying to stack cash to provide for his wife and son, Soul, by helping manage a marijuana farm in Santa Barbara. After losing his job, he became a drummer for American Idol contestant Hailey Reinhart. He then concentrated on his solo career, rolling out his wavy 2014 debut Venice, a fusion of house music, hip-hop, R&B and soul with contributions from SiR, Tokimonsta among others; it was indicative of .Paak’s exploratory style.
A call from an Aftermath A&R rep in spring 2015 asking .Paak to sing for an unnamed Dr. Dre project (it would eventually turn into Compton, the companion album to the blockbuster N.W.A film Straight Outta Compton) would catapult .Paak’s underground status into hip-hop darling. He scored six songs on the producer’s third studio effort including “All In a Day’s Work” alongside Marsha Ambrosius and Kendrick Lamar, “Issues” co-starring Ice Cube and Dem Jointz, as well as “Medicine Man” with Eminem and Candice Pillay.
Like .Paak, Chance’s musical journey also launched in 2012, when the West Chatham rep (real name Chancellor Bennett) released his 10 Day mixtape, inspired by a 10-day suspension during his senior year in high school for bringing marijuana on-campus. 2013’s extremely popular Acid Rap mixtape followed (the project featured then-bubbling acts like Vic Mensa, BJ The Chicago Kid and Ab-Soul) and cemented Chance’s lyrical prowess, even landing a nod for Best Mixtape at the BET Hip Hop Awards that year. The hip-hop star — who has since remained label-free — would later receive co-signs from the likes of Justin Bieber, Childish Gambino and Kanye West (who later recruited him for his 2016 album The Life of Pablo, also nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2017 Grammys).
Four years later, the two artists released landmark albums: .Paak unleashed his soulful, motivational sophomore effort Malibu (via Steel Wool/OBE/Art Club/Empire) as Chance dropped the streaming-exclusive project Coloring Book. For Malibu, .Paak maintained the same brand of funk with his band The Free Nationals and secured groovy numbers with ScHoolboy Q (“Am I Wrong”), Rapsody (“Without You”) and Talib Kweli (“The Dreamer”). Chance The Rapper fused gospel with hip-hop for his studio effort (released exclusively through Apple Music in May), an opus decorated with a VIP guest list of features including the aforementioned West and Bieber as well as 2 Chainz, Lil Wayne and Future.
Visibility wasn’t a problem for the nominees in 2016, either: .Paak’s ScHoolboy Q-assisted track “Am I Wrong” was plucked for Google’s Pixel phone ad, he landed a pair of NBA commercials to promote tip-off on TNT, and released another acclaimed album, Yes Lawd!, as one half of the duo NxWorries. Chance’s catchy Kit Kat commercials, cleverly featuring the real-life artist meeting Chance The Wrapper, gets frequent mileage on small screens. He also partnered up with New Era, modeled for a Kenzo x H&M collaboration and helped soundtrack several NBA spots.
‘Best New Artist’ may seem like an inadequate title for .Paak and Chance given the vast experience both artists have (for comparison, their category mates Kelsea Ballerini and The Chainsmokers emerged within the past few years, though Maren Morris did release some music as a teenager a decade ago), but it doesn’t look like either feels slighted by the recognition from the Recording Academy. Earlier this year, Chance won the trophy for Best New Artist at the Soul Train Awards and offered a simple thank you speech on Twitter. “I won best new artist at the #SoulTrainAwards tonight,” he posted in November. “I’m with the best friends anyone could ask for and my family is healthy #nocomplaints.”