On Sunday, Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, also known by his stage name, Chance the Rapper, made history by becoming the first artist to win a Grammy without selling any physical copies of his album, Coloring Book. His Grammy wins were allowed due to a recent change in the rule book. Previously, artists who released their work solely on streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music were ineligible for the awards.
Chance’s three Grammy wins are impressive not only for their historic timing. They are also impressive due to the way in which he went about winning them.
Much of the modern music scene revolves around blatant self-aggrandizement. Artists will use their social clout to stir up news about themselves, thereby creating noise to further their own personal brands. Chance eschews this mold by focusing less on himself and more on his music and those who listen to it.
While many artists gripe about the income losses caused by the advent of streaming services, Chance states that he cares little “about the music being free. It’s about how it’s displayed and made accessible and about artistic power.” Chance’s desire to control his words has prevented him from ever signing with a label, preferring to go forward with the advice of his friends and common sense.
Chance’s obsession with the purity of his music shines through the finished product. Coloring Book is a gospel album for those lost in the aforementioned white noise of self-aggrandizement. It offers a message about the positive effects of accepting Christ and the blessings that come along with that acceptance.
When most people think of Christian rap, they think of heavy-handed testimonials and shoddy lyricism. Chance is part of a new movement which is finding new and creative ways to bring God back into the limelight.
Artists like Chance, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West have found creative ways to incorporate the gospel into their music. The inclusion of Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West may come as a shock to some, but don’t forget that Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city offers a compelling story of his conversion to Christianity, drawing comparisons to St. Augustine’s Confessions. In his song “How Much a Dollar Cost” off his latest complete album, To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick released a damning depiction of himself refusing to lend a dollar to Jesus Christ, who is portrayed as a modern homeless man. Kanye West was also nominated for several gospel Stellar Awards with the creation of “Jesus Walks,” and his latest creation, The Life of Pablo, was named after the Apostle Paul. Kanye has repeatedly found innovative ways to combine gospel music with his own unique flair, and his relationship with Chance has directly influenced Chance’s own productions. These artists have formed a new trinity (pardon the sacrilege) and are finding ways to create light in a genre that has yet to democratize the gospel message, and they’re finding success along with it.
By refusing to hide his light under a bushel, Chance the Rapper has found a way to be both humble and popular, and perhaps lift our culture’s attention to the sacred. His dedication to his faith as well as his music offers today’s generation a truly virtuous role model in a man who cares more about his community than he does for himself. If his success continues, I hope that his message will turn into a new thirst for morality, something that would be welcome in a time characterized by self-love, pride, and secularism.