For the first time, a streaming-only album could win a Grammy

Somewhere in paradise.
Somewhere in paradise.
Image: Photo by Michael Zorn/Invision/AP
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Nominations for next February’s 59th Annual Grammy Awards are out. Among all your standard yawn-inducing safe bets—Beyoncé, Adele, Drake—is a wild card: Chance the Rapper, and his album Coloring Book.

Calling Coloring Book an album in the first place might be stretching the word’s definition; the hip hop artist’s latest project is a collaborative, label-free, genre-defying mixtape, and, more importantly, its May 12 drop was exclusively done on the streaming service Apple Music.

It lived there for two weeks before being released to other streaming services, but never came out as a physical album or digital download. That means the record climbed to the top of the charts without selling a single copy.

Grammy rules previously only allowed music distributed via label, retail, or internet sales to be considered for award nominations—yet the the Recording Academy changed its tune this summer after streaming became the biggest revenue-driver for the US music industry. Now, the Grammys will consider any album released on “applicable streaming services” (a definition that still, as a spokesman for the organization hastened to note, excludes “the 12-year-old singing a Beyoncé cover into her comb”).

Chance’s seven Grammy nominations this year are a testament to that shift. Coloring Book is up against much bigger productions like Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo and Drake’s Views for Best Rap Album, yet the self-released, un-purchasable nature of the record has drawn a flurry of cult enthusiasm.

“This guy is the future,” Apple Music’s hip-hop and R&B head Carl Chery said to Billboard earlier this year. If the streaming-only Coloring Book wins, that would ring all the more true.