Let me start this off by saying that I didn’t actually watch the Grammys last night. Rather than sit through an awards ceremony that is 75% snoozefest, I scrolled through Twitter and Instagram every hour or so to see who won what or watch a performance. By “watch a performance”, I pretty much only mean Chance the Rapper and A Tribe Called Quest. There’s not much the Grammys could do nowadays to get me to watch live when everything is posted online within two hours.
Regardless, as I opened Twitter to see that Chance had won his first award for Best Rap Performance, I immediately felt a sense of joy and accomplishment, which is weird because I have nothing to do with his success. Yet it’s one of the reasons so many love him: his independent and organic approach to the music industry is so refreshingly appealing that we, as true fans of the art, feel some sort of achievement along with him. It wasn’t until later, however, when he accepted his award for Best New Artist, that I would truly understand the scope of his victorious night.
After literally rewriting their policies on acceptable nominations, the Recording Academy gifted a totally indepedent artist multiple awards, forcing us to rethink the importance of labels in an industry so inundated with business executives and complicated contractual agreements. Chance, who has never let that side of it effect his musicial ambition, is paving the way for artists who strive for artistic freedom.
In his acceptance speech for the award, he made a bold statement about what it means to be an independent artist: “I know people think independence means you do it yourself, but independence means freedom“.
That’s freedom to create and release your own way: “I used to pass out music/I still pass out music“. Freedom to establish yourself and leave your stamp on the culture in your own terms: “This is my part, nobody else speak“. Freedom to be yourself as an artist. It’s not about excluding yourself from those in the industry, but allowing yourself to have the leverage and choices to do what you want, when you want. You have to assimilate in while still maintaining your grasp on yourself, letting everyone else recognize your vision and allowing it to prosper on your terms.
As Chance declared his victory in the name of the Lord, I couldn’t help but imagine him as some sort of new-age, musical savior. Just as Jesus’ death tore the temple veil and allowed every man to talk to God in the Jewish temple, Chance has torn the veil that has for so long kept independent artists from becoming major industry figures. The floodgates are open! For crying out loud, the man has more Grammys than he does albums sold! His passage has let others know it is possible and forced the industry to reflect on itself and how it does business. No longer will there be a major label stranglehold on awards; everyone will have open access and opportunity to shine, just like Chance is doing now. He’s basking in the glow of everything he’s created and accomplished, yet we can trust that while he continues to push down barriers for those who follow behind him, he’ll remain humble and give the glory to the one above who blessed him with such a divine moment. After all, he is just Lil Chano from 79th.