At the 59th Annual Grammy Awards this past Sunday, unsigned artist Chance the Rapper won awards for Best New Artist, Best Rap Performance, and Best Rap Album. With the 2016 album “Coloring Book”, his third mixtape release, he became the first ever streaming-only artist to be nominated for and even win for Best Rap Album. All these achievements, Chance made without choosing to sign to any record label.
Look back at the beginning of this year and you will find an artist who received his own sort of success through similar means, an internet personality known more for his outrageous characters and absurdist humor than his music.
One of the first albums released in 2017 was PINK SEASON, the second full-length album released by YouTube personality Filthy Frank, released on Jan. 4. Upon its release, it topped iTunes US Album Charts at #2 and remained within the top 100 for two weeks after that. As for its success on the US Billboard 200, it reached #70 at its peak and #9 in the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums subcategory.
PINK SEASON is about as ridiculous and purposefully offensive an album as you can get outside of a Neo-Nazi Nu-Metal album. In fact, his song “White is Right” does nothing to hide its blatant criticisms of racist white folk with lines about hating minorities, getting out of trouble with the law, and incest.
There are many songs on the album meant to satirize what Filthy Frank sees as overdone genre tropes.
“High School Blink193” replicates the feeling of an early-2000’s Blink 182-esque song about grown men whining about high school problems over a generic electric guitar chord progression.
“Club Banger 3000” is an overly ridiculous parody of the heavily-sampled and unoriginal club dance music of the 2010’s, complete with unnecessary loops of “YUH!”, nasty buzzing bass, and unbelievably fast-paced, annoying hi-hat hits.
“Be Inspired” pokes fun at the heavy-handedness of hip-hop artists trying to make a song with a message, specifically The Black-Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?”, repeating verses from that song while overlapping the end of each verse with depressive rambling.
Filthy Frank does not shy away from politically-charged anthems either, attacking Donald Trump and his supporters in an overtly-grotesque song titled “Gays 4 Donald”. In it, he plays a stereotypical hillbilly Trump supporter which starts the song off by listing the types of people he hates and goes onto a tangent the rest of the way about how he has a strong sexual attraction to Donald Trump, listing off the many acts he wishes to perform.
Based solely off these descriptions, it’s hard to imagine any of these songs selling beyond a few hundred copies, let alone charting on the Billboard 200 and opening #2 on iTunes, but it seems Filthy Frank struck a chord in a large portion of his over 4 million YouTube subscribers. Even more surprising, the full album was released free to listen on his main YouTube channel in full and individually by song on his side channel.
So does this mean the internet is going to become a rival for record companies in the same way it has been for television stations in recent years? It’s impossible to say this early in the game, but it is because of artists like Chance the Rapper making waves, winning awards that there are now alternative routes to be commercially successful in the music industry.
With acts like Filthy Frank on the niche side of the independent music scene becoming such a success in his own right, other up-and-comers, unsigned, and small-time musicians have a chance of becoming successes without giving up their creative visions in favor of “selling out” for a record label.