Chance the Rapper on Staying Independent: 'It's a Dead Industry'

'I'm kind of a mainstream artist now. Not by choice'

Chance The Rapper
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Chance the Rapper
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It’s been a great year for Chance the Rapper. The 20-year-old Chicago MC (born Chancellor Bennett) dropped one of the year’s most consistently pleasing hip-hop mixtapes with April’s Acid Rap, a psychedelic, jazzy set that’s made fans of Lil Wayne and Big Boi and sent him out on tours with Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

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While he was on a rare break from the road, Rolling Stone caught up with the rapper we recently named 2013’s "Hot MC" over a steaming plate of chicken and waffles at a Chicago IHOP. We grilled him on his meteoric rise, a raucous Lollapalooza homecoming performance and when to expect an Acid Rap follow-up.

You’ve been touring more or less nonstop since dropping Acid Rap. This must be a nice break in the action.
Yeah, we've been chilling super hard. We did the Black Dynamite thing yesterday. That was actually the hardest I've laughed in so long. That shit was so goddamn funny.

Come again?
I did a voice-over for [the Adult Swim animated series] Black Dynamite. I played Bob Marley in an episode. I had to go in the studio yesterday at Soundscape and record from the script and do the reading. I had to play Bob Marley and I planned on doing this research, and I did not. I came unprepared. It's going to be funny watching this episode because I'm going to be able to remember every line I did, each take, and I'm gonna just laugh at each one they pick. [Sings] "'Cause every little thing . . . gonna be all right." I can't wait until the voiceover people that are professionals hear this and laugh at me, like, "Oh, this guy's such an amateur!"

Does it feel like an eternity since Acid Rap?
It feels way shorter. Every day is a workday. It's hard to explain. When you're working on shit every day and it comes back full circle three months later, it doesn't hit you the same way. 'Cause it's something I knew I was working on.

Can you gauge your increasing fame?
Definitely. I do recognize it all the time. But it's not like . . . I don't necessarily feed into the whole newfound-fame type shit, or feeling like a different person. If anything, it makes me realize how fleeting and unreal it all is. It's all just about perspective. I just feel like it's not real. It's real, but only in the way it affects those around you. Fame or perceived success – it all comes from groupthink.

You’ve been in Europe a lot lately, performing solo gigs, opening arena shows for Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, and now touring with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
Yeah, it's a weird thing, 'cause I had never been over there before.

What was your experience navigating Europe?
We were traveling on very little money. No money at one point: I lost my debit card and I lost my phone while I was out there. Motherfuckers were sick while we were out there. It's a grimy grind. Just shit that people wouldn't expect. Whatever you thought you knew goes out of the window when you're in a new country, a new continent. It was a really crazy experience.

 "You Song," one of the hottest cuts off Lil Wayne’s Dedication 5 mixtape, features one of your most killer verses. When did you find out that was going down?
We had just got back in [Chicago] the day before from Europe, and this was supposed to be our one day off between touring the States and coming back from Europe. That morning I woke up. The first thing I saw was a text from [my manager] Pat in the morning: "Wayne wants a song for Dedication 5. He needs it in two days." You can imagine all the stress that I instantly felt on my head, to not only do a perfect song for Wayne, but to have it done that one day, 'cause we were leaving the next day.

So how did you approach it?
I was a little bit scatterbrained. I was just stressed out, 'cause I was like, "I don't know what the fuck I'm about do." So I hit Pat back like, "What beat does he want?" And Pat's like, "I'll check for you right now." He hits me right back: "He says it could be whatever beat you want." That just made it so much more stressful. What beat do I pick for Lil Wayne's Dedication 5 mixtape? I'm thinking instantly I gotta pick some Chicago street shit. I was gonna do, like, Z Money "Bitches Want My Money' or a [Chief] Keef record, or just some Chicago shit. I figured it made sense. I wanted to rap about some Dedication 5-ass shit: what was going on, the shit that I recently got. Tell my story all over again.

That wasn’t your first run-in with Cash Money. You met Mannie Fresh back at SXSW in 2012.
Mannie Fresh got me drunk as hell. He had a bottle of Belvedere that I swear to God had to be at least four feet tall. I'm so for real. He was sitting down on the couch and the top of the bottle was like up here [points at the top of his head]. He was picking it up like this and pouring shots from the bottle while telling stories. It was crazy.

Tell me about your Lollapalooza homecoming performance in August.
When you're a Chicago artist, to play Lollapalooza, that's not a normal thing. It's artists on a path to a certain place that do that. Chief Keef did it; Kids These Days did it; Cool Kids did it. And I'm the next Cool-Kids-Chief, if you will. [Laughs] I used Lollapalooza as a checkpoint for my whole year. It's the reason I was able to wake up every day and keep touring. It was like, "All I gotta do is not die or break my legs before Lollapalooza."

Have you thought about signing with a label?
There's no reason to. It's a dead industry.

Is it also because you like maintaining direct control over your career?
I don't really have control over my direct impression on people anymore. I used to be the person putting my CD in people's hands. But I'm kind of a mainstream artist now. Not by choice. Not by what I make or anything. But just by that ripple-effect shit.

When will we get an Acid Rap follow-up?
The whole point of Acid Rap was just to ask people a question: does the music business side of this dictate what type of project this is? If it's all original music and it's got this much emotion around it and it connects this way with this many people, is it a mixtape? What's an album these days, anyways? 'Cause I didn't sell it, does that mean it's not an official release? So I might not ever drop a for-sale project. Maybe I'll just make my money touring.

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