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?
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.
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.
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.