If 2016 was Chance The Rapper's year, the 2017 Grammys will be his victory lap. Despite being nominated for Best New Artist, however, he didn't just appear overnight. His exceptional year has been a long time coming, and he has the back catalog to prove it. The famously independent rapper wouldn't be where he is today without the buzz collected from Chance's album Acid Rap in 2013. The mixtape got critical acclaim from major music publications like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, but many fans may not even know where to listen to it as Acid Rap isn't available on Spotify.
But that doesn't mean that Chance The Rapper is trying to keep people from hearing it. Much like Coloring Book and all of Chance's other projects, Acid Rap is readily available for free. "It’s not about the music being free," Chance told Billboard about his willingness to release his music without a price. "It’s about how it is displayed and made accessible and about artistic power." While Spotify may have Chance's Grammy-nominated Coloring Book and other free releases, Acid Rap was never put on the streaming service. You also won't find the mixtape on iTunes.
However, Acid Rap is available to stream for free on Soundcloud (or you can listen to it below) or as a download from various mixtape websites. In fact, the mixtape's accessibility is exactly what helped launch Chance to stardom.
Despite widespread critical acclaim, including being Rolling Stone's best mixtape of 2013, Acid Rap stood no chance of landing a Grammy nomination. Because most mixtapes exist outside of the major record labels and don't get distribution or radio play, the only way most hip hop mixtapes today can reach audiences is through streaming. The only "mixtape" that's ever been nominated for a Grammy is Drake's If You're Reading This It's Too Late. Despite mixtapes being traditionally free, Drake sold his on iTunes while still insisting it is a "mixtape" and not an album.
Chance, on the other hand, has been adamant about not charging for his releases. On his iconic verse on Kanye West's "Ultralight Beam" that kicked off his stellar 2016, Chance told everyone that:
"[Kanye] said let's do a good *ss job with Chance Three
I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy
Let's make it so free and the bars so hard
That there ain't one gosh darn part you can't tweet"
So how did Coloring Book (rumored for a long time to be titled Chance Three) end up with three Grammy nominations? In June 2016, the Grammys announced a rule change that made any albums released only on "applicable" streaming platforms eligible for nomination, as reported by Billboard. Since, unlike Acid Rap, Coloring Book is available on Spotify, it was considered.
While Chance The Rapper has some stiff competition in his quest to "snatch the Grammy," he doesn't need a Best New Artist or Best Rap Album Grammy (both of which he's nominated for) to show that he's arrived. In fact, anyone who heard Acid Rap when it came out could tell that Chance was destined to be a big deal.
Coloring Book is a celebration of faith and an elegy of lost youth, while Acid Rap is a bold look at figuring out what person you're becoming, all the while living in a sometimes dangerous environment and feeling the need to numb yourself to get through it all.
It's clear that the Chance of Acid Rap did a lot of maturing before he made Coloring Book, but the talent and ingenuity was already there. Although it's not as convenient as having it right there on Spotify or iTunes, fans of Chance The Rapper or rap music in general should seek out Acid Rap. From the jubilant heights of "Chain Smoker" to the harsh reality of hidden track "Paranoia," Acid Rap is a testament to how Chance became your favorite rapper's favorite rapper, and managed to keep his music accessible along the way.