Continuing our celebration of Black Music Month, a month dedicated to African-American musicians contributions. I decided to highlight some notable Black artists who managed to have lasting careers outside of mainstream record labels.
Since TheFreshCommittee was founded by independent artists creating a platform for others, I felt it was fitting to create this list of indie artists making noise in the industry.
This list isn’t exclusive to one genre, with some artists in Electronic music and R&B.
For this list the artists are not currently signed to any of the big three labels and are for the most part self releasing their music.
Some artists on this list previously have been signed to a major label while others have built careers on their own. However, artists signed to smaller labels such as Eone and Glassnote will also be considered.
10. Dom Kennedy
Label: OPM – Other People’s Money
Indie Since: 2008
Kicking off our list is the west coast ingenue, Dom Kennedy. Since 2008, the Leimert Park native has been consistently lacing us with summer anthems. Getting his start by putting out mixtapes before eventually graduating to albums.
Since his debut, Kennedy has received widespread acclaim and gathered a rather consistent following. He managed to build his following by releasing records like 2012’s “My Type of Party” geared specifically for the Los Angeles party scene.
Kennedy’s current release, Los Angeles is Not For Sale, has received critical acclaim from critics and fans alike. However, I personally recommend checking out his third album, 2013’s Get Home Safely.
Label: Planet 9
Indie Since: 2007
If you’re a kid of the 90’s, you may remember Mýa’s rise in ’98 as one of R&B’s women to watch. After collaborating with many hit-makers such as Sisqo, Missy Elliot, and Jay-Z, the singer went on to win a Grammy Award in 2002 for Lady Marmalade. However, after the leaking of her fourth album in 2007, Mýa decided to ditch her label and hustle for herself.
She went on to form the imprint Planet 9 and released two albums exclusively for Japan before focusing on the US. So far she has released four studio albums and three extended plays.
Recently Mýa has snagged another Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album for her Smoove Jones project, which also peaked at #30 on the Billboard R&B albums chart.
8. Freddie Gibbs
Indie Since: 2006
Repping for the Midwest, Freddie Gibbs initially got his start by signing to Interscope. After recording an album for the label, a different team took over and Gibbs was formally let go from the label. After the split with Interscope, Gibbs managed to release nine mixtapes before eventually releasing his studio debut album in 2013.
ESGN (Evil Seeds Grow Naturally) is the first release off of his label of the same name. The album drew much acclaim from critics, even securing spots on many year-end lists. Gibbs recently dropped his third project You Only Live 2wice.
7. Flatbush ZOMBiES
Label: The Glorious Dead
Indie Since: 2010
The Brooklyn-based trio Flatbush Zombies have been killing the New York hip-hop scene since 2010. Known for their hype shows and gutter music, the trio consisting of rappers Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and rapper/producer Erick Arc Elliot.
The group received wide-spread praise for their two mixtapes and collaborative EP with The Underachievers as Clockwork Indigo.
Their debut mixtape D.R.U.G.S. is chock-full of bangers, as well as its follow-up Better Off Dead. The group’s debut studio album, 3001: A Laced Odyssey, released via their own imprint The Glorious Dead, debut at #10 on the Billboard 200.
6. Nipsey Hussle
Label: All Money In
Indie Since: 2012
When you have “Hustle” as your last name you have to do a lot to live up to it. Nipsey Hussle embodies this in his everyday life. Originally signed to Epic Records, Hussle faced mistreatment under the label and did his best to leave.
He caught mainstream attention in 2013 by selling his eighth mixtape Crenshaw for $100 which led to Jay-Z buying 100 copies of the release from him. Initially selling 10,000 in its first week, Hussle managed to make a cool million. He’s also diversified his income by opening a store and launching a popular clothing line named The Marathon Clothing.
Crenshaw is arguably Hussle’s most known work, but a great place to start is with his 2011 tape, The Marathon Continues.
5. Dawn Richard
Label: Our Dawn Ent.
Indie Since: 2012
Dawn was once a part of the Bad Boy machine as the lead singer of the short-lived girl group Danity Kane; and once again as a member of Diddy-Dirty Money. Since the conclusion of Dirty Money, Richard involved herself into crafting one of the most interesting DIY indie brands.
Known for her elaborate stage performances and larger-than-life vocals, Richard managed to headline three tours and is currently touring in Europe.
Marrying the likes of music and technology by collaborating with emerging digital artists and electronic music ingenues Machinedrum and Kingdom, Richard could possibly be one of the few artists to survive the “Bad Boy curse”.
Since leaving Bad Boy in 2012, Richard formed the indie label Our Dawn Entertainment. Releasing a trilogy series of albums called the “Heart Trilogy” (the latest being Redemption) and three EPs most notably the Kingdom collab, Infrared.
4. Tech N9NE
Label: Strange Music
Indie Since: 1996
Tech N9NE has been doing his thing for over twenty years with conscious lyrics, spit-fire flow, and awesome stage presence. Forming his own record label Strange Music in 1999, Tech has received widespread acclaim for just about every release. This helped him cultivate a loyal following that has led to consistent success over the years.
He gained popularity by mixing hip-hop with “horrorcore” aesthetics to create genuine, hardcore rap music.
It’s rare that an artist can maintain a two-year career let alone one lasting for 18 years. Almost twenty releases later and no plans of slowing down, Tech N9NE is carefully reinventing the indie hip-hop blueprint.
Out of Tech’s extensive discography I would highly recommend his 2009 album, K.O.D (King of Darkness), which is a heavy blend of horrorcore and gangsta rap. It is one of the most aggressive albums of that decade. His 17th album, The Storm,was released late last year and is definitely worth checking out.
Label: Mello Music Group
Indie Since: 2005
Oddisee has crafted a unique brand of down-to-earth hip-hop that’s relatable to the average music listener in comparison to the facade portrayed by major stars of today.
The DC Rapper has continued to drop heat for the last 12 years, building his fanbase off of steady releases of mixtapes and albums. His unique style managed to help him stand out from all of his peers, securing him gigs at major festivals and even national headline tours.
Oddisee recently dropped the album The Iceberg to critical acclaim, scoring an average score of 80% from critics.
2. Run The Jewels
Label: Run The Jewels Inc./Mass Appeal
Indie Since: 2013
Run the Jewels is the union of Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and Brooklyn rapper/producer El-P. They molded the supergroup of RTJ after collaborating on Killer Mike’s 2011 album R.A.P Music.
They’ve since gone on to release three self-titled albums, each receiving critical acclaim. Their debut managed to sell 12,000 copies its first week. The duo went on to have a successful Kickstarter project to fund the remix album Meow The Jewels.
This has lead to the twosome being featured on many prominent festivals, having their music licensed in several hit T.V. shows, and selling out tours across the globe.
Their debut album was my initial introduction to RTJ, but their third album released this past December is also worth a listen. They even got their signature fist and gun logo recreated on several Marvel comic variant covers.
Jessie Boykins III
1. Chance The Rapper
Label: Chance the Rapper, LLC
Indie Since: 2011
Over the last 6 years, Chance the Rapper has built one of the most prolific music careers, changing the game of music marketing forever. Most known for encouraging music to be consumed for free, Chance managed to go from rap obscurity to its leading mogul.
His hustle got him recognition from big time players in the industry. Many respect him for his outspoken views on the dirty politics in the music industry. His second mixtape, Acid Rap, garnered mass acclaim, propelling the Chicago rapper to stardom.
Coloring Book is Chance’s third mixtape and his most acclaimed to date. It earned him his first Grammy Award and three in total. This is the first streaming-only album to receive Grammy’s. Another project titled Surf with his band Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment is definitely worth checking out.
Didn’t see your favorite indie artist on the list? Let us know in the comments.