A 23-year-old rapper who refuses to sign a record deal is tearing up the hip-hop world all by himself

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Chance the Rapper is the most talented rapper of his generation and a pioneer in the music industry. His latest album, "Coloring Book," is one of the best-reviewed albums of the year and debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 list. It's the first streaming-only album to chart on Billboard's ranking.

And he got his due in the mainstream when he became a fixture (and a meme) at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards.

Now some people are surely wondering who Chance is.

He's already made awards history by helping to allow streaming-only albums for Grammy consideration. Many suspect "Coloring Book" will get a nomination at the next Grammys.

Miraculously, Chance (aka Chancelor Bennett) has done all of this without a label supporting him. He's turned down record deals from numerous labels, and depends on word of mouth and his Soundcloud account for distribution.

Meet the most successful fully independent musician of our era:

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Chance the Rapper calls his albums "mixtapes." He recorded his first one in his senior year of high school.

Chance the Rapper calls his albums "mixtapes." He recorded his first one in his senior year of high school.

He formally kicked off his career with the song "Windows." It got him some attention in Chicago's hip-hop scene, and Chance spent another eight months tinkering with the rest of the album. When "10 Day" was finally released in April 2012, the album got over 400,000 downloads on the music-sharing site DatPiff and got Chance a cult following.

In July that year, Childish Gambino raised Chance's profile even more by featuring him as a guest on his song "They Don't Like Me."

Chance instantly became a star with "Acid Rap."

Still label-free, Chance released "Acid Rap" in 2013. It got on a bunch of best-of-2013 lists and was downloaded more than a million times. The most popular song on the album on Soundcloud, "Favorite Song," features Childish Gambino.

Chance also collaborated with Vic Mensa, who's having a similar career trajectory, on "Cocoa Butter Kisses."

But Chance didn't keep doing the same thing over and over again. He joined a band and made uplifting Christian rock.

In 2015, Chance joined a band called Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment for a quirky album called "Surf." The Social Experiment is a collective of Chicago-based musicians.

The album is structured differently: The artist names aren't included in the track titles, and different songs appeared on the Soundcloud accounts of different musicians instead of being collected together in one place. It would have never happened at a commercially driven record label.

More importantly, the music was a stylistic departure for Chance. His vocal performance was still rap, but it's not really a rap album. The whole thing takes a jazzy and explicitly Christian tone. The highlight is a track called "Sunday Candy." Chance codirected the music video.

Performing on "Saturday Night Live" was a career landmark.

Performing on "Saturday Night Live" was a career landmark.

Chance performed "Sunday Candy" and "Paradise" from "Surf" on "Saturday Night Live" on December 15, 2015. He was the first unsigned artist to do so.

Then he made five tracks with Kanye West.

Then he made five tracks with Kanye West.

In 2014, Chance worked on five songs on Kanye West's 2016 album "The Life of Pablo." He provided guest vocals for "Ultralight Beam," rapping "I met Kanye West, I'm never going to fail/He said let's do a good ass 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."

Like he's done for many other artists, Kanye raised Chance's profile — and gave him the liberty to continue without a record label backing him. Chance made a second appearance on "SNL," performing "Ultralight Beam" with Kanye on the night "The Life of Pablo" dropped.

 

With "Coloring Book," he rapped about how much he hates record labels.

With "Coloring Book," he rapped about how much he hates record labels.

In May, Chance released "Coloring Book" on various streaming platforms. Kanye appears on the upbeat opening track, "All We Got," and Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Justin Bieber, and Future drop verses on other songs on the album. An artist signed with a record label would never be able to release an album like this for free, but Chance did.

His song "No Problem" is about how much Chance wants to keep record labels far, far away from his music. The album is widely considered to be one of the best of the year so far. And despite being streaming-only, it became a top-10 hit on the Billboard chart.

He also might snatch the Grammy.

He also might snatch the Grammy.

Now that he's good friends with Kanye and "Coloring Book" is a success, the music industry has to accept Chance whether they want to or not. The Grammys changed its rules to make streaming-only albums eligible. Chance the Rapper is only 23, and he's running out of barriers to break.

Everyone's finally getting to know him on TV.

Even before we will likely see him nominated at the Grammys, Chance made a big splash at the 2016 MTV VMAs, where he had his interviw with the network video-bombed by none other than Beyonce.

That's one way to make an entrace on live national TV.

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