We’re officially in the Golden Era for independent hip-hop music.
Ever since the accessibility of the internet increased exponentially, with the arrival of social media networks, website platforms and mobile devices; the barriers of entry into the rap game have lowered substantially.
Everything about the music industry can be learnt from the internet – provided you do your due diligence and verify everything you read.
Here are some lessons you can learn from successful independent hip hop artists.
1. Rapsody – Work ethic trumps everything
In 2017 the North Carolina independent rapper showed us just how far her work ethic would take her. After laying the foundation for her craft and brand over the past few years, under the guidance of 9th Wonder, Rapsody exploded in 2017, dropping the incredible Laila’s Wisdom.
Featuring guest appearances from major artists like Kendrick, Black Though, Busta Rhymes and more, the album was one of the best releases of the year and got nominated for two Grammy Awards. What a difference a few years make: from grinding it out to getting nominated for the most prestigious music award alongside Kendrick and Hov.
2. Oddisee – Build the lifestyle you want
What do you want to achieve as an independent artist? Ask yourself that question and be really honest with yourself with the answer.
Is it fame and fortune? Is it to be rich? Is it to be on the radio all day? Is it to tour and perform around the world? Is it to make a living from your music? Once you figure out what you’re trying to achieve with the music, then you can work on building the lifestyle to support that goal.
Oddisee’s goals are the same goals as Kanye’s – he doesn’t want to branch out into designing clothes or building hotels. Oddisee just wants to focus on creating a lifestyle that allows him to continue making music because that’s what he loves doing it.
3. Chance The Rapper – Respect your craft and value your art
For the past few years, Chance has been a champion of the independent music movement, preaching the value of your music and innovating new business models as a blueprint for up-and-coming artists.
Chance is cool with staying independent because he knows he has a loyal fanbase. All he has to do is keep building and cultivating his following so that whenever he goes on tour or sell merchandise, they’ll be there to support him.
4. Currensy – Believe in your music
Ever since he broke into the rap scene, Spitta continued to slowly build up his fanbase almost entirely from scratch; dropping projects like Pilot Talk, Covert Coup with The Alchemist and Verde Terrace to acclaim. Currensy’s business model is pretty much – drop a tape every few months and tour relentlessly – because he believes in his music as a product for the fans.
5. Tech N9ne – Touring is the most reliable source of income
If there’s anything that has remained consistent in this crazy rap game over the 20 plus years, it’s the fact that touring has always been an artist’s most reliable revenue stream.
Forbes estimated that Tech N9ne’s record label Strange Music pulls in approximately $20 million per year, which is split into:
- Touring – $7 million
- Music sales – $6.5 million
- Merchandise – $6 million
As you can see – music sales only makes up a third of Strange Music’s annual revenue. Even if Tech N9ne stopped making music altogether right now, he can still expect to make millions just by travelling the world, performing his catalogue and selling his products. That’s freedom.
6. Freddie Gibbs – Focus on building your fanbase
Freddie Gibbs is one of the prime examples in the independent scene who has built up his fanbase and is now able to make money by catering to them – through record sales, streaming, merchandise, festival touring and plenty more revenue streams.
7. Joey Bada$$ – Creative control is fundamental
For Joey Bada$$, staying independent means he has total control over his music and business. He can stop dropping new music and just tour for the rest of his career, he can roll out a surprise album with no singles or promotion, he can move to Europe and collaborate with artists over there – whatever he wants to do, he can do it.
8. Skyzoo – Set goals and count your wins
The independent grind is a long, tough, and often lonely one. If you want to be successful, every second of your waking moment will be dedicated to your music, whether it’s creating, distributing or promoting, you should be constantly working on it. This can often lead to you getting burnt out unless you set yourself goals.
Always have a goal to work towards. It forms part of the overall vision for your recording career and will help you keep focused while at the same time make you feel like you’re making more progress.
9. E-40 – Independent grinding lasts forever
Before there was Facebook, before there was Twitter, before there was DatPiff, before there was SoundCloud, before there was Snapchat, there was E-40.
As an independent rapper selling tapes locally and partnering up with regional distributors to push his music, E-40 was making a lot of money since he was bringing home a majority of the profits. He could sell a fraction of what major label artists at the time were selling and still be making the same amount of money, if not more.
Since his career beginnings, E-40 has released close to 30 projects to date – some of them independently, some of them with major labels like Jive, EMI and Warner Bros. Despite all the years he’s spent grinding in the rap game, E-40 hasn’t slowed down one bit.
10. Nipsey Hussle – Partnerships are more valuable than deals
With the upcoming release of his debut album Victory Lap, Nipsey Hussle is making major moves with his recent partnership with Atlantic Records.
For all the talk about major labels being made redundant in an age of free albums, streaming services and surprise projects, let’s not get it twisted, companies like Def Jam and Warner Bros. are still extremely powerful. With crucial distribution channels to retail stores, partnerships with music services and fat marketing budget, they can help boost an artist to the next level.
But that’s the key – major labels can only help push your brand and music further; they can’t build your brand from scratch, they can’t grow your fanbase from nothing. That’s all on you.