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5 rappers who are truly redefining the independent lane

Years ago it was a rapper’s dream to be signed to a label. In fact, that was all that mattered. The dirty south was held up by Cash Money and LaFace Records. You had Bad Boy holding down the east coast and Death Row on the west coast. Not to mention Rocafella, Def Jam, and countless others.

But then it all changed. The digitizing of music, social media, and instantaneous information did a few things to the game of hip-hop. For one, it made a lot of your favorite rappers broke, but it also made the need for a label and all it’s services — like promotion for example — obsolete (alas the rise of Soulja Boy and internet rap).

Today it’s almost a source of pride to be independent (not singed to a label). I mean, these new school kids are even beefing over who is more independent, who would have thought?

Now that Independence is the game, let’s take a look at who is doing it the best.

Chance The Rapper

The 23- year-old rapper from the South Side of Chicago shows every sign of an artist signed to a major label. Chance already has multiple Saturday Night Live performances under his belt, Kit-Kat candy bar commercials, and even won a Grammy… for a mixtape.

Somehow, Chance has done all of this without a label supporting him. He’s turned down record deals from numerous labels, and relies on word-of-mouth and his SoundCloud account for distribution only. So does he take the cake?

Well, while Chance has not inked a deal, he has a platform that backs him — one worth $700 million.

Yup, thats right. Much like Drizzy’s reported $19 million deal with apple, Chance’s last two projects, both Coloring Book and last year’s Surf (with Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment) were released exclusively through Apple. So how independent is he really?

Troy Ave

The cocky New Yorker talks a big game, but has definitely backed it up, too. Besides his constant run-ins with law enforcement, the rapper has made a name for himself in the game, built primarily on his Brooklyn-made crab-in-a-barrel mentality.

Since being picked as part of the 2014 XXL Freshman Class, the MC has done everything but stop. He turned down several opportunities to sign to a major label and instead released his first LP, New York City: The Album, on his BSB Records, then dropped two mixtapes with his BSB crew.

The records “Your Style” and “All About The Money,” got him an endorsement deal with Sean John, which gave him the resources to start recording his second album and newest offering, Major Without A Deal, which was carried by the hit “Doo Doo.”

In his most recent interview with Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, he talks about having money way before rap and even when he got into the industry fronting himself on money, handing out CD’s and calling DJ’s personally. If that’s not independent I don’t know what is.

While he may not have had charting success, it’s safe to say Troy Ave’s success has been purely organic.

Joey BadA$$

the pro.cess | : @ashani

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After three albums in, his most recent being All-Amerikkkan Badada$$, it’s safe to say Joey Bada$$ has been backing up his claim as the number one independent artist in the world.

With the help of New York indie record label, Cinematic Music Group, the Pro Era captain has been able to spread his old school style for the entire world to hear.

His debut album, B4.Da.$$, debuted at number 5 on the Billboard 200, selling 53,990 copies in its first week; he’s performed on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show and went on a world tour, hitting up major cities in the US as well as Europe.

Because Joey is technically “signed” to an independent label, some may strip him of the independent title. But, how different really is it from Chance using Apple as a launching platform?


If you take a peek into Curren$y’s life you’ll probably never guess that he was a rapper. Between his lounge gear, consisting of sweatpants and t-shirts, his toy cars, and his legendary weed habit, you’d probably guess he was just a grown-ass couch potato.

But do not be fooled, this New Orleans rapper is far from a kid and his leisurely lifestyle is complimented by an independent hustle that propels a seemingly constant stream of new releases and has kept Spitta relevant in the rap game for decades.

Previously signed to huge labels No Limit and Cash Money, Curren$y decided the Bling-obsessed, violent pop rap these labels were pushing at the time wasn’t for him. Spitta set out to make his own music with his own style. Thus Jet Life Recordings was formed.

With a recipe of a soulful, jazzy production, mixed with a never-ending output, Curren$y has managed to grow an organic following, slowly building up his fan base. Now he’s reaping the rewards, all day, every day.

Tech 9nine

If you haven’t heard of him, it’s okay, because he has a loyal fanbase akin only to that of the Beyhive.

Regarded by many as the number one independent hip-hop artist in the game, Tech 9nine is one of the very few artist not signed to a label to hit the Forbes annual “Hip-Hop Cash Kings” list, which regularly features names like Puff, Hov, Birdman, and Eminem.

Tech 9ine, along with business partner and CEO of his Strange Music label Travis O’Guin, have built up a powerful operation where they’re both commanding eight figures annually. Spreading their influence across music sales, long tours, and merchandise.

The key to their game is cutting out the middle mad and capitalizing on their large, but cult-like following. Tech and his crew are on a non-stop cycle of creating, distributing, booking, organizing, promoting, and marketing new music.

If you’re an up-and-coming artist, and want to stray from signing to a label, watch how these dudes move.

The mystique of Playboi Carti: Why you can’t mistake his movement

What do we know about Playboi Carti, really?

The 21-year old Atlanta native has a relatively modest 290k twitter followers, released his second ever complete project in an eponymous debut commercial mixtape on April 14, 2017, and has the clubs, festivals and any venue that dare play his songs, on SMASH.

Whether it’s DJ’s at Coachella, on stage with ASAP Rocky at Rolling Loud or even the Cavs during a routine lifting session, he has this infectious sound that makes you, no matter how hard you try, lose your fucking mind.

And the numbers reflect that, too. Playboi Carti debuted at number twelve on the US Billboard 200, with 28,000 album-equivalent units, of which 21,000 were streaming units and 7,000 were pure album sales. And two of the biggest songs from the project have debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart—”Magnolia” (obviously) at No. 91 and “wokeuplikethis*” featuring Lil Uzi Vert at 100.

That’s more than what the far more established Wale did with his recent release Shine, despite the fact Wale has the backing of MMG and 5.3 million twitter followers.

So, again, I think it’s fair to ask. Who is this Playboi Carti and where did he come from?

Well, I guess you can start with his first viral success, “Broke Boi” in 2014, which gained a fair amount of internet hype. The melodic tune made it way around house parties and social media, but I, like the rest of us, didn’t know we were dealing with a phenomenon.

The beauty of making good and authentic music is that you never know who may latch onto it and share it with others. In Carti’s case, his buzz in Atlanta caught the attention of fellow Atlanta native, promising fashion designer embattled ex-A$AP affiliate, and promising fashion designer Ian Conner. At SXSW in 2014, Ian introduced Carti to A$AP Rocky where he saw him perform, and a relationship grew from there.

Two years after “Boke Boi”, Carti signs a deal with Interscope and became the newest member of A$AP Mob. From there Rocky and Carti their synergy further, connecting on A$AP Mob’s debut studio album, Cozy Tapes Vol. 1: Friends, on the tracks “London Town” and “Telephone Calls”, the latter being released as the second single from the album.

Now here we are in mid-2017 and we can’t get enough of the kid.

Beyond his very small catalog and famous ass friends, Carti’s lack of public appearances and interviews also adds to his mystery.

As opposed to his “mumble rap” compatriots like Lil Yachty, 21 Savage, and Rich The Kid, Carti stays away from the limelight, only releasing music and performing shows. Carti doesn’t really have any social media presence, beyond vague and mysterious instagram posts, which only added to the hype gaining steam around him.

His recent sit-down with Hot 97’s Ebro In The Morning was his first interview in a couple of years.

In the interview, Carti speaks on his influences, which surprisingly included the likes of Curren$y, one of the most lyrically respected MC’s in the game. Real recognize real.

The crazy thing about Playboi Carti is that it’s hard to imagine what he’ll do next. He’s shown strong interest in fashion, even landing a spread in GQ, and has even spoken of interest in entering the film world. And judging off his movements thus far — both unpredictable and sporadic — who’s to say that he can’t make that happen?

What we can do for now is enjoy this gift Carti has given us. Even though it’s right up the alley of every other turn-up song that is the craze right now, it still somehow stands out. The way it captures crowds, when his producer Pierre Bourne’s drop first comes in, people can’t contain themselves and that’s something special.

What I learned from unicorns such as Playboi Carti is to not put too much pressure on what you want them to do. Just let them cook.

In the meanwhile, I’ll be riding the wave. Wherever it takes me.

Is AAU ruining basketball? How this generation of NBA stars is different

The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) has been around since 1888 and has been a pipeline for young and talented athletes to display their game, competing against elite talent in their region since the Union’s inception.

Players like Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, and LeBron James all came up in the program, which has been more than instrumental in providing a spotlight on players who, without the system would only be stars in their oftentimes humble neighborhoods.

AAU programs offer kids from 12-17 years old around the country an opportunity to be a part of a team, play in weekend basketball tournaments, participate in fundraisers and get exposure to coaches and recruiters.

However, the league has been under harsh criticism, even from its alumni, saying that the fast-paced style has taken the meaning out of winning and the importance of team ball.

One of the harshest critics of the league is current San Francisco Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr who is a former AAU coach himself.

“What troubled me was how much winning is devalued in the AAU structure,” Steve Kerr wrote back in 2012 for “Teams play game after game after game, sometimes winning or losing four times in one day.”

Kerr spoke on the lack of loyalty as well.

“Certain players play for one team in the morning and another one in the afternoon. If mom and dad aren’t happy with their son’s playing time, they switch club teams and stick him on a different one the following week. The process of growing as a team basketball player — learning how to become part of a whole, how to fit into something bigger than oneself — becomes completely lost within the AAU fabric.”

Earl Watson, NBA veteran and current head coach of the Phoenix Suns, differs. He has spent more than a decade giving back to the game, offering guidance to the younger generations, through his AAU program, Earl Watson Elite.

“For me,” Watson said to Bright Side, “it’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve done, outside of myself, in my entire life, is being involved in grassroots basketball.”

He contends that his AAU program has helped over 200 kids move on to college in just the last six years alone.

“We have three guys at Harvard, five or six guys in the Ivy League. We have banquets for those players with over 4.0 GPAs, and sometimes those guys will play on the Elite team and sometimes we play against other academic players. We kind of mix and match.”

In contrast to other under-18 feeder systems, like baseball, for example, basketball depends heavily on the player’s performance as a unit. The back-to-back weekend games playing tournament after tournament and switching teams all the time promotes a culture that lacks emphasis on winning and losing.

In baseball, it’s all about getting in front of the right coaches and scouts to see what you can do, whether that’s showing off your skills with the glove, throwing arm, or hitting one out of the park. Basketball, however, is heavily predicated on spacing, making the extra pass, cuts etc. The more the team knows one another, the better — but continuity can be hard to establish in the AAU system.

Then there’s the case for a lack of fundamentals. Many coaches and players have been on record heavily criticizing the AAU and how the league’s lack of emphasis on the core basics of the game has translated to the NBA. Kobe is one of these detractors.

Kobe’s first criticisms of the AAU came back in 2015 following a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and their extremely versatile (European) center Marc Gasol saying:

“Teach players the game at an early age and stop treating them like cash cows for everyone to profit off of,” he said. “That’s how you do that. You have to teach them the game. Give them instruction.”

Then again in 2016, in his final season after a loss to the Portland Trailblazers, the Mamba blasted the under-18 league, saying:

“I hate it because it doesn’t teach our players how to play the right way, how to think the game, how to play in combinations of threes….. I think that is just by luck in the generation that I grew up in,” he said. “My generation is when AAU basketball really started becoming s—. I got lucky because I grew up in Europe and everything there was still fundamental, so I learned all the basics.”

Fast forward to 2017 and the retired five-time champion has taken matters into his own hands, coming up with what he is naming the Mamba League, a collaboration with Nike and the L.A. Boys and Girls Club, that aims to teach young athletes the value of fundamentals and playing good team basketball.

But one has to ask, how much blame can you put on AAU? High school basketball still exists, and by large players that participate in the summer tournament league still get their coaching from the same high school and college coaches they always have.

Basketball thought leaders have suggested that it’s the NBA’s age limit that has led to the game’s lack of fundamentals and not solely AAU. Coming into the league at the tender age of 19 with unqualified high school coaches and only one required year of college ball, or a league abroad may have had more of an effect on the league.

So maybe it’s a case of raising the NBA age limit and requiring more attention placed both on fundamentals and the understanding of the game, rather than solely playing AAU ball.

Clearly, something has to be done. When guys like Phil Jackson and Dr. J — pillars in the NBA game — are saying the game lacks fundamentals (see video below) there has to be a finger pointed somewhere. Whether it’s the NBA age limit or the lack of focus in AAU, the basics of the game have seemingly taken a hit.

With Kobe’s new league, which has a creed of centering on the fundamentals, is more established we’ll have a case study to see just how different the product will be.

Until then the “problem” that many NBA legends see exist will still exist. I guess only time will tell.

8 Jay Z quotes that show how to move like a boss

Jay-Z’s name always seems to be used as a measuring stick for success. But at this point, what else do you expect?

Jay came from the Marcy projects of Brooklyn and somehow transitioned from a big time drug dealer (once losing 92 bricks) to hip-hop artist who is regarded by many as the best to ever do it.

Everything about Jay-Z exemplifies greatness. In every step of his life, too.

I mean, before he even dropped an album he was thinking steps ahead. Jay teamed up with his friends Damon Dash and Kareem Briggs and founded Roc-A-Fella Records which released his first project in ’96.

Then, as if having his own record label wasn’t enough, Hov finessed that into a distribution deal with Def Jam by ’97, which he followed up by becoming the label’s president in ’04. Levels.

Between 12 platinum studio albums and having the hottest chick in the game (still) wearing his chain, I’d say the Marcy native was synonymous with success as well.

And that’s just music. That’s not touching his business acumen outside of the industry. Like owning his own music streaming service in Tidal, or sports agency in Roc Nation Sports or, as recent as this year launching a new venture capital firm, dubbed Arrive.

And trust me, I’m not scratching the surface. I guess that’s why he’s the third richest man in hip-hop only falling behind Dr. Dre and Diddy, who, because of major moves in merch (Beats by Dre) and streaming platforms, were able to edge him out.

With an estimated net worth of $610 million as of 2016, according to Forbes, it’s important to peel back the curtain and analyze Hov’s lyrics closely. Let’s take a look.

For me, the key to this quote is that he found it genius not to give up. I’ve heard ‘not giving up’ characterized in many different ways: tough, hard, that it’s a resilient quality. But Sean Carter says its genius.

This illuminates the importance of perseverance. It’s a pretty simple concept, but just straight up continuing in the face of adversity is a truly powerful message.

You will face odds that give justifiable reasons to quit. No one is disputing the unfairness or the unprovoked circumstances that will be thrown your way. But as Jay says if you just keep going, despite these things, you will find success in your life.

I really enjoy this quote because change and projected growth are often misinterpreted. Claiming “I’ll never switch up” and accusing people of “changing” just shows how we associate growth as synonymous with betrayal. But this quote from Jay- Z puts all of that into perspective.

Instead of making it part of your personal brand to be stuck in your old ways, embrace change and progression. We should welcome change and challenge each other to meet our commitment to bettering ourselves.

There is an epic picture that shows a group of runners in a sprint. The leader is focused ahead, running with all his might to the mark. The runner in close second has his head turned looking at the racer in the lane beside him. The runner whose eyes were set on the finish fine cleared the tape first.

Worrying about anyone else other than yourself in your race, whichever race that may be, is the first mistake you can make when on your journey to greatness.

Jay-Z never followed trends. He could have gotten caught up in fads, getting caught up in autotune or the trendy trap sound of the south, but he stayed true to his own sound and made himself the benchmark.

When you focus on others you’ll find yourself subconsciously adopting their methods and you’ll lose yourself in the process. When we know that we all have something distinctive, and when we work on honing that individuality, it will be enough to help us reach our greatest potential.

A loss is not the end of the world. A fall doesn’t mean you have to stay down. Ask anyone successful and they’ll tell you how many no’s they faced before hearing a yes. Hov speaks to this very well.

Instead of seeing L’s as losses, Hov see L’s as lessons. Challenge yourself to learn from the mistake of each folly and use that as fuel to tackle your next endeavor.Jay-Z lost 92 bricks, bruh.

When you struggle and don’t come from much it’s easy to find contentment with “just enough” but Hov is addressing that status quo and is saying surviving is not enough.

This is the kind of mentality that made him push for his own label, then his own distribution deal, then becoming president of that very label. This is what drives him to venture into different businesses even after already attaining success. Why not? Why settle for just good enough?

What this bar does for me is make me look in the mirror and reassess what I think is success, and to challenge myself to raise the bar. Do more than survive.

Once Jay got one crack at success (dating back to his first winnings as a street gangster) he started seeing everything as an opportunity. That’s when he eliminated the idea of limits from his subconscious.

From luxury cars, Roc-A-Fella chains to the multiple estates, Jay-Z sees the unattainable as attainable. This mentality almost makes it impossible to be satisfied with anything else.

I don’t know what it is but sometimes we think we don’t deserve the finer things in life. A feeling of guilt tends to apprehend us from going after the things we crave. Jay-Z, a boss, is here to tell you to discard that mindset. Live it to the limit.

Newness is inspiring. You know the feeling of unwrapping a gift, or the puppy stage in a relationship, or that new car smell?

The endorphins and euphoric feeling you get after receiving something for the first time is unshakable. Jay-Z somehow is suggesting that you harness that feeling and carry it throughout every venture.

This is important because it preserves your inspiration. It gives you longevity. And for someone who has been in the game for multiple eras in hip-hop, it’s clear this mindset helped Jay continue to thrive.

We cannot get ‘bored’ when we are in the middle of the road. We have to seek that newness at all times. It’s how we make it through.

You’re going to have enemies with a target on your back and it would be naive to say you’ll ever take a loss. Jay-Z has sparred with Dame Dash, Nas, even Lil Wayne. Yet he’s still here standing.

To be a boss you have to learn to be fearless in battle. You cannot be afraid to take a hit on the jaw, as long as you get back up and keep swinging.


The top 5 rappers who produce their own tracks in the game today

Hip-hop is pop culture. Let’s just face it and call it what it is. It’s grown to the point where every facet of the genre is becoming a point of interest to everyone. We literally cannot get enough, obsessed with the genre’s minutiae and the work behind the scenes of the most interesting hip-hop artists.

In the past, we knew of  DJ’s and producers but they hadn’t reached the level of star power as the people behind the scenes like they are today.

Producers are coming out with solo projects, DJ’s are valued independently of the artists they work with, and even labels heads like Top Dawg’s Anthony Tiffith have their own personas. Whereas before I couldn’t tell you about anyone other than the person spitting the bars.

I loved Outkast, but until the Art of Organized Noize documentary on Netflix I didn’t understand or appreciate the genius behind their sound.

Similarly, the trap movement that started with T.I, Jeezy and Gucci didn’t really have us clamoring to know who made those beats. But now, Zaytoven, the organist who’s provided the melodies for the Trap God for over a decade, is now a part of a culture that has led him to unveil a debut album.

That’s the beauty of this era — we want to put everyone who’s contributing the culture in the spotlight.

In the past, your Metro Boomin’s, Dj Esco’s and Mike Will’s would not have the platform and public attention they do.

So how about the artists who have their hands in both pots? The dudes who spit bars and produce? Where’s their shine?

In the past, we’ve had the likes of J.Dilla, Pharrell, Swizz Beats, Ryan Leslie and even Diddy who’ve seen some success from being on both sides of the creative process. But in today’s era where accolades and kudos are being handed out for production credits, I think it’s time we take a look at the most amphibious artists in the game. These are my top five.

Chief Keef

Yes, you’re seeing correctly. This isn’t a typo. Chief Keef. His cache has been tainted due to his treatment of gun violence, obsessive drug use and his penchant for finding legal trouble, but you cannot talk about influencers without mentioning Sosa’s name.

You know this entire wave coming out of Chicago? The one led by Chance The Rapper, followed by Noname Gypsy, Mick Jenkins, Saba and more? It all started with Keef and his mega 2011 run. (I still think “Love Sosa” should have won a Grammy.)

Apart from his influence on the Chicago scene and his non-stop work ethic, the 21-year-old has also been producing his own work, even dating back to 2012.

Receiving training from arguably the best drill producer in the game and his good friend Young Chop, Keef has been releasing his production over YouTube and Instagram, and has even dropped a complete project of beats.

His latest effort Two Zero One Seven has Lex Luger, Young Chop and of course Keef all producing. You should check out his skills if you doubt him. See just how good of a teacher Young Chop is.

Here’s a taste of what the Chicago southsider sounds like when he’s on the beat machine above.

J. Cole

J.Cole’s has grown to become one of the most distinguishable artists of his generation. While you have to pay close attention to other’s musicality (Wale) and content (Big Sean), it’s clear that Cole’s journey has been one of self-discovery and straight up talent.

From letting Nas down while searching for that major industry single, to bringing in acts like Trey Songz, Jay-Z and Missy Eliott on his projects, Cole has changed his approach he takes to albums, ditching the preconceived notions of his style on each project. His swag now? Well, you can call him Mr. ‘Platinum With No Features’.

But perhaps more impressive than generating compelling lyrics (written entirely by himself) is Cole’s ability to also produce his own work. In fact, some of his biggest hits have been crafted by Cole himself.

Think  “Work Out” (2011), “Crooked Smile” (2013) or “G.O.M.D” (2014).

Above he shows his creative process, breaking down how he came across the infectious sound of his classic “Power Trip”.

Big K.R.I.T.

With an ear for soul beats and a pen game that will go bar to bar with your favorite, one can only wonder why the Mississippi product doesn’t have a bigger name.

His discography is actually pretty flawless, too. All of his bodies of work have substance, diverse and compelling musical elements and a concentrated theme that many rappers dream to add to their bag of tricks.

Besides the gems he’s dropped on his own projects, K.R.I.T. has managed to also produce smooth joints such as DJ Khaled’s “They Ready” that had J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar and “Glass House” on Wiz’s classic Kush and OJ mixtape.

Travis Scott

I think this kid has up next when it comes to exceptional talent on both the producer and rapper tip.

Travis Scott, who started off as a producer, first made waves in the industry working on Kanye’s Yeezus , G.O.O.D Music’s compilation album Cruel Summer and even Jay- Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail. 

His unique employment of auto-tune and his signature ad-libs, combined with his stage presence and mix of turn-up emotional ballads make Scott a wildly diverse and exciting artist.

Like his mentors Kid Cudi and Kanye, Travis Scott has an ability to combine the talents and skills of others to make everyone the product greater than the sum of its parts.

Kanye West

Make no fucking mistake about it. When we’re talking about the duality of both spitting lyrics and making beats, Kanye is the GOAT.

Of late, feelings towards the G.O.O.D. music star have soured a little. Between unthinkable prices for what looks like homeless streetwear, to taking photos with Donald Trump, it’s understandable why.

But please, hold your tongue when you try to slander this man.

From making beats in his apartment for ten summers to sampling Chaka Khan, Yeezy has rightfully earned the genius label. His relentless will for greatness equally drives him to the edge of innovation and insanity and when you hear the process behind Ye’s greatest hits, you may understand why.

Who else puts Bon Iver on a track with Chief Keef? Who else can go from using Reason and Logic (both complex producing programs), to an analog beat machine, to live instrumentation? What’s even more incomprehensible (for lack of a better term) is Kanye’s ability to bring diverse talents together.

We’re not only talking sampling, or making a beat from scratch. We’re talking about taking very subtle elements of large bodies of sound, extracting them and compiling them together.

Watch Cyhi The Prince (ex G.O.O.D music signee) try to put into words the magic of “All of the Lights” above. Cyhi straight up reveling in amazement.

If you look at “Ultralight Beam”, the opening track off his latest effort, The Life of Pablo, Kanye shows how he can seamlessly take talent from all over and put it together, seamlessly combining elements of gospel and hip-hop. NO ONE ELSE IS DOING THIS.

I love how the culture continues to grow. We can only hope to see a more composer-type artists like Kanye.