Sunday night, the GRAMMY Awards aired and sucked up about four solid hours of my attention. Most of the broadcast was worth it. Other parts? More “WTF” than wow. I seem to end up writing about Beyoncé every GRAMMYs because she always gives me something to think on. But this year, my favorite spectacle and muse wasn’t Bey. It was a 23-year-old Chicago rapper who took a chance. Chance the Rapper stole the show–and my heart–by showing his. In his historic GRAMMY wins, I found three lessons that creatives can use to end up smiling as big as he did.
First off, I haven’t heard all of Coloring Book yet. I know, I know–I’m late, as usual. But I understand that Chance released the project without charging one red cent for it. All throughout 2016, I heard the mixtape highly praised for its unabashed spirituality, for its prioritizing of joy as a theme in hip-hop.
Did you see his performance last night? To be honest, I couldn’t hear much of it because the entire production was so…boisterous. I mean, I haven’t seen that many enthusiastic Black folks in one place since Barack Obama’s ’08 inauguration. Chance’s performance started out with a gospel singer bodying “How Great is Our God.” The spectacle had shining teeth and loud voices everywhere: Tamela Mann, who barely needs a mic, back by a gospel choir; Chance rapping; Kirk Franklin hype manning. I almost lost it when Kirk came bouncing across the stage like a ping-pong ball in a red night shirt and black leggings.
They were cacophonous and didn’t care. They shouted Jesus to the top of the dome and grinned from ear-to-ear. No matter what you thought of their God or their noisome praise-rap, you had to smile at their energy. This was Chance’s moment.
And in Chance’s three GRAMMY Awards, I found three lessons that any creative could take to heart.
1. Your vision, your creativity, make you unlike any other person in your field.
As a whole, Gospel rap gets a bad name. THE WORST. Gospel rappers get no respect, really. I can only name Lecrae and another Christian rapper, Mike G, from my home church back in Atlanta. Chance could have considered niche too narrow for him to fill. But he trips the line between sacred and secular. Someone could have tried to persuade him to make a completely different album, one more solidly in line with secular rap. Someone could have told Chance that releasing a secular album with overt Christian messages would not sell. Chance decided that being who he was brought infinitely more value.
Don’t believe in signing / I see dollar signs.
— Chance the Rapper
2. Don’t let anyone hamper the joy you have in your hustle.
What Chance the rapper lacks in label backing (he’s a dogmatically unsigned artist) he makes up for it in enthusiasm. Now he’s just unaffiliated to make a point. He could easily get a record deal–see point #1.
I don’t know if it’s his relative youth, but that dude’s smile is infectious. The video for his hit “No Problem” features him dancing with other rappers and being…happy? Another word for super geeked is the ever-dreaded “corny.” Can a Black man experience unbridled joy in his craft and his life without losing some cool points for it? Chance answered this question last night at the GRAMMYs. His performance wasn’t just a live rendition of a song–it was celebration he lives. We were merely invited to see it.
Man, I swear my life is perfect / I could merch it.
–Chance the Rapper
3. Your leap of faith will seem crazy to everyone but you. Jump anyway.
Chance the Rapper is the first artist to win a GRAMMY from a streaming record. Of course, that wouldn’t have been possible without the Recording Academy changing its rules to consider music published on established and paid streaming platforms. Coloring Book debuted for free last May, however, before the overhaul. Chance had been a critic of the barrier, quipping in Kanye’s “Famous,” “I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy.” You might speculate that his decision not to offer the album for sale actually influenced the Academy to bend. But then that would also mean his success was great enough to make them take notice.
I don’t make songs for free / I make ’em for freedom
–Chance the Rapper
Who offers art for free, anyway? (Don’t answer that). It’s the antithesis of many of our guiding principles: make art, and get paid for it so you can keep eating and making art. Creating art in a capitalist society means that giving it away becomes a subversive, artistic move in itself. A leap of faith. Put your sweat, blood, and energy out into the world and pray it comes back to you abundantly. No matter what your jump is, I can’t imagine us not hoping the same thing.
Congrats to Chance on his historic wins!
Who was your Grammy fave?