Sometimes independent artists just need a gentle reminder of how far others have gone starting from the same position. The following ten famous independent artists have defeated the age-old idea of an artist being successful only if signed by a major record label. Heck, most of them started their own record labels and went to have stellar careers. Granted, you won’t see them as often in Page Six as Cardi B but be assured, they’re laughing to the bank while enjoying their much more private lives.
Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas first started off as a signed artist having been discovered as a teenager by her own mother while she was refusing to turn off the radio singing along to Mary J. Blige. Her mom assumed the manager role and went around looking for a deal. Subsequently, her daughter first got with Jive, then with Sony. The singer had tremendous success and even wrote for Jennifer Lopez. By the end of 2010 however, Ashanti started her own record label, Written Entertainment with eOne Music, as soon as she got out of her record deal. The R&B singer then took a four-year hiatus coming back in 2014 with Braveheart, always staying independent.
Mýa Marie Harrison was first signed in 1996 to Interscope Records and the girl was an instant success. But as her career progressed, the R&B-Soul singer wanted to go independent so badly that she founded her own record label in between recording two whole albums in 2008 and 2011. The record label is called Planet 9 and is behind 13 studio projects of the singer. Her 7th studio album Smoove Jones actually earned the singer a Grammy nomination in 2017.
8. Chance The Rapper
Chancelor Johnathan Bennett released his first mixtape in 2012 then with his second, Acid Rap, he got that real momentum being featured in a commercial for MySpace as part of their relaunch in 2013. Although he’s never been signed, he got accused repeatedly of being an industry plant. That mostly came about when in In 2016, Apple Music gave the rapper half a million, two commercials, and prime placement on the streaming service in exchange for two weeks of exclusivity for his Grammy Award-winning album, Coloring Book. Here’s where we agree to disagree though. That’s a smart business move. He leveraged his independence to lock in half a million dollars. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. The point of being independent is not to starve. But to make a lot of money and to keep it mostly in YOUR pockets.
Although not the most famous, he’s our favorite independent artist. Marcus Jamal Hopson got signed to Ruthless Records in 2007. For those of you who are too young, the record label belonged to the famous Eazy-E from NWA. It was, as a matter of fact, the rapper’s wife who signed Hopsin. Hopsin had a nasty fallout with her and the label and started Funk Volume in 2009. That went up in flames as well but not before launching multiple highly successful indie projects. The beef with Tyler The Creator brought plenty of attention to Hopsin, and him being the savvy business man he is, converted those eyeballs into permanent fans. He went to establish Undercover Prodigy in 2016 and has been blessing his fans with almost constant material.
Thrift Shop is a classic and y’all know it. What you may not know is that he’s always been independent. Benjamin Hammond Haggerty’s Thrift Shop single was dubbed by Billboard as the first song since 1994 to top the Hot 100 chart without the support of a major record label. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won a whole 4 Grammys in 2014 for projects released independently through Macklemore’s own label, Macklemore LLC. Although in the more recent years he’s faded out of pop culture attention, the rapper is repeatedly pulling in numbers and having a very successful career.
Tinashe Jorgensen Kachingwe began her career more as an actress than a music artist, famously appearing in Two and a Half Men a couple of times. Then the young singer got signed by RCA Records in 2012 and we all had the marvelous jam 2 On as a result of her deal. Things went south though with Tinashe repeatedly complaining about the label focusing on other artists and she parted ways with them in 2019. She’s stayed independent since and her only affiliation with a record label seems to be a managerial deal with Roc Nation.
4. Tech N9ne
Ask any rap aficionado about Strange Music and they’ll tell you in a heartbeat that they’re the true game changers out there. The geniuses behind the indie label are rapper Tech N9ne and his business partner Travis O’Guin. Aaron Dontez Yates, the rapper’s actual name, had a handful of tries at being signed but all of them turned out to be dead ends so the man took his career into his own hands in 2000. He’s currently working on his 21st studio album and has been featured in plenty of movies, TV shows, videogames, commercials.
The Iranian-Dutch singer founded her own record label, Twisted Elegance, in 2014 as she wanted full control over her artistry. Her life story is out of this world and it shows in her music and visuals. She was born in Tehran, Iran, but then moved with her family to the Netherlands at the age of five only for her to leave her home at age 15 to pursue a basketball scholarship (the woman is 180cm). She’s not someone you’ll find on pop culture dedicated websites but she is someone YouTube will often recommend with a total of 80+ million views.
2. FKA Twigs
FKA Twigs is signed to Young, previously known as Young Turks. The label is independent as is the singer’s style and approach. It is not for nothing they call her the genre-bending queen. The woman first worked in the music industry as a backup dancer but then wanted to be in the frontline herself. Tahliah Debrett Barnett self-released her music debut, EP1 (also called “twigs”), on Bandcamp in December 2012. She posted a video for each song on her YouTube channel and garnered a loyal fanbase that then prompted to her ever-increasing notoriety.
1. Frank Ocean
The one, the only, the legend, Frank Ocean. He’s largely considered an Alternative R&B artist having revitalized Jazz, Funk, and Experimental Soul. He is such an in-demand and phenomenal ghostwriter that not a single soul in this business will ever say a single bad word about him. He was signed to Def Jam whom he worked only to fulfill the contractual obligations and leave them. His self-released project, Blonde, debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 and was certified platinum by the RIAA. We only got one word popping in our mind right now and that is… GOALS! The guy won TWO Grammy awards and was even featured in Forbes 30 Under 30.
Did you know you can significantly help upcoming artists by donating your time? You read that right. By streaming the playlist below you will be helping a good 40 highly determined and ambitious artists that we’ve hand-picked from across the world. And their music is actually phenomenal.