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A CHANCE ENCOUNTER

When Chance the Rapper takes the stage on Saturday Night Live this weekend, he’ll be making history—the first unsigned artist ever to be the featured musical guest in the 40-year run of the show. So how did a 22-year-old indie act from Chicago get this kind of look?

The old fashioned way: He earned it.

Although he’s been releasing mixtapes since 2011, it was 2013’s break out Acid Rap that put Chance on the national stage.  Released independently and for free via DatPiff.com, it’s since been certified “Diamond” on the site for being downloaded over a million times.  A few months after its release, the mixtape even debuted on the R&B/Hip Hop sales charts, due to bootlegs on iTunes and Amazon not even affiliated with the rapper—it was that hot. Acid Rap made several year-end best of lists, including those of Pitchfork, NPR, Complex and Rolling Stone.

Team Chance— which includes support network the Save Money Crew, and his affiliated creative collective The Social Experiment, is simple: a manager (Pat Corcoran), a publicist (Dan Weiner) and superstar booker Cara Lewis (formerly of CAA), who handpicked Chance to her roster after one meeting.

After taking meetings with every major label following the buzz on Acid Rap, in the end they decided to stay independent. Chance built his following though steady grassroots campaigning—one show at a time, one school at a time, igniting a loyal fan base both virally through social media and by being involved in Chicago’s embattled youth community, where Chance stays active to this day.

His bond with his audience is real. Glancing through social media comments preceding his history-making performance this weekend, it’s not filled with the typical trolling —on the contrary, it shines with comment after comment saying, “I’m proud of you,” “Salute” and “keep up the good work!”

And that level of savvy runs deep in the family.

Chance The Rapper grew up Chancelor Bennett in the middle-class neighborhood of West Chatham in Chicago’s South side. He’s prep-school educated, the son of a political operative in the city government—his father Ken once worked for then-Sen. Barack Obama, and currently serves as the deputy chief of staff for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which hints at how Chance may have learned to do such powerful grassroots campaigning. 

SNL is not a random accident—it’s shrewd and informed talent booking.  Last year Chance was named to the XXL Freshman Class alongside Ty Dolla $ign, Rich Homie Quan, Vic Mensa and August Alsina, among others, and this year, was listed by Forbes as one of their “30 Under 30,” a roster that included superstars Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Meghan Trainor, Big Sean, FKA Twigs, and A$AP Rocky.  At the end of October he performed for Stephen Colbert on NBC’s The Late Show, debuting a new song called “Angels,” which been streamed 5.5m times since.

And we’ll get more new music after Saturday Night Live, too—Chance has already put that out there in a tweet promising a #thirdmixtape.  This artist is a talent for the ages. Can’t wait to hear what’s next. 

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