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Dart presents Indie Labels That Help Keep Hip Hop Alive

by Staff on January 4, 2010

I often complain about how major label Hip Hop is disappointing because the albums are full of forced collaborations and unnatural guest appearances or beats geared specifically to gain spins either on the radio, regional mixshows or in the club. This means that many songs are filler or throwaway tracks and several verses or entire songs are dumbed down in hopes they’ll catch on with a wider audience and become hits.

Typically, this leads major label Rap projects to sound like corporate earbleed pandering Rap rather than Hip Hop that’s coming from an authentic place. You can just hear the corporate stench all over the project.

Once Hip Hop/Rap entered the 00’s after taking over the charts & radio during and following the Teen Pop/Boy Band/Pop explosion of the late 90’s it continued with it’s practice of filler tracks and blatant attempts at making a hit. The problem is that once sales began declining these same labels would press more and more so the music sounded noticeably more and more corporate and watered down.

Major label Rap albums sound less and less like cohesive works of art as time passes, listeners are forced to settle and anticipate that at least a quarter of the project is crap from jump before it’s even played. That’s completely unacceptable to me.

I often have to explain to readers that aren’t already underground Hip Hop heads why on my end of year album lists so many major label albums are missing and it’s filled with independent project by a gang of emcees and groups “no one’s heard of”. It’s because when I hear an album from big name artists like Jadakiss, Fabolous, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, etc.

I know that multiple executives and A&R’s with differing agendas were all over that project trying to cover different bases rather than just let the artist make music that fits them naturally. The process of making hits is so unnatural that you don’t make hits naturally anymore, I guess. They need to be processed sort of like food is (seen “Fast Food Nation”, “King Corn” or “Food, Inc”. before?)

This brings me to my point: The overwhelming majority of the best Hip Hop albums of 2009 across the board were made by independent Hip Hop labels and in many cases multiple projects from a select few labels dominated these same “Best Of” lists.

I’m going to showcase quite a few that the majority of the Hip Hop/Rap listening audience aren’t aware of (but definitely need to be) in addition to well known labels like Duck Down, Stones Throw & Rhymesayers. Let’s begin:

A Side Worldwide

Roster: Buff1, 14KT, Athletic Mic League, Now On & Astronote

2009 Recap: 14KT “Nowalataz”, Athletic Mic League “Feel Good EP”, Buff1 “It’s A 1derful Life” & Astronote “The Astronote Remixes Vol. 1″

2010 Preview: New releases from Athletic Mic League, Now On, Buff1 & 14KT with production from Lab Techs & Astronote (Shouts to DJ Graffiti)

High Water Music

Roster: DJ Spinna, Fresh Daily, Sputnik Brown, Senor Kaos, John Robinson & P.CASSO

2009 Recap: DJ Spinna “Sonic Smash”, Fresh Daily “The Gorgeous Killer In: Crimes Of Passion”, numerous mixtapes & free DL’s

2010 Preview: Albums from Senor Kaos, Sputnik Brown, John Robinson & P.CASSO

Interdependent Media

Roster: Tanya Morgan (Von Pea, Donwill & Ilyas), Finale, K’Naan, J*Davey, Shaya, Sin & Canibus

2009 Recap: Tanya Morgan “Brookylnati”, Finale “A Pipe Dream & A Promise” & K’Naan “Troubadour”

2010 Preview: New music from Von Pea, Donwill, Ilyas, J*Davey, Shaya & Canibus

Mello Music Group

Roster: Diamond District (Oddisee, yU & X.O.), Oddisee, yU, Sareem Poems, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Dudley Perkins, Finale, Kenn Starr, Trek Life, Finale & UPS (Apollo Brown & Boog Brown)

2009 Recap: Diamond District “In The Ruff”, Oddisee “Mental Liberation”, Sareem Poems “Black & Read All Over” & Kenn Starr” It’s All Real”

2010 Preview: yU “Before Taxes”, Georgia Anne Muldrow & Declaime “Someothaship”, UPS (Apollo Brown & Boog Brown) “Brown Study” & a new Finale project

MYX Music Label

Roster: D.Black, Kam Moye, Jern Eye, Keelay & Zaire, Crown Royale (Buff1 & Rhettmatic) & One Be Lo

2009 Recap: D.Black “Ali’Yah”, Keelay & Zaire present Ridin’ High, Kam Moye “Splitting Image” & Jern Eye “Vision”

2010 Preview: New projects from Crown Royale and One Be Lo

Plug Research Music

Roster: Exile, Shafiq Husayn, Om’Mas Keith, Flying Lotus, Bilal, Daedelus, Ammon Contact, etc.

2009 Recap: Exile “Radio”, Shafiq Husayn “Shafiq En’ A-Free-Ka” and several digital EP’s & singles from the rosters artists

2010 Preview: New music from Flying Lotus, Om’Mas Keith, Bilal, Daedelus, Ammon Contact, etc.

Tres Records

Roster: Paten Locke, Big Tone, Lightheaded, Shawn Jackson, Giant Panda, Thes One, Co$$, Y Society, etc.

2009 Recap: Big Tone “The Art Of Ink” & Paten Locke “Super Ramen Rocketship”

2010 Preview: New music from Co$$, Lightheaded, Shawn Jackson, etc.

Also look out for: Duck Down Records, Stones Throw, Rhymesayers Entertainment, Amalgam Digital, Fat Beats Records, M1 Music, QN5 Music, Domination Recordings, Clear Label, Nature Sounds, Shaman Work, Babygrande, ShowOff Records, Uncommon Records, Backwoodz Studios & Feelin’ Music in 2010


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LA Times Music Blog Cites iM as a Reason to Optimistic about Hip-Hop in 2010
January 11, 2010 at 5:19 pm


JC Poppe January 4, 2010 at 10:23 am

Great article, and it really gives people who are trying to get onto a label an idea of who is out there.

I’d like to ad the label that I’m on, HiPNOTT Records…Cymarshall Law and K. Sparks are also on the label and I know that they have made some noise and continue to do so.

Hopefully if you revist this in 2011, they have established themselves as a label worthy of being included on a list like this.

Thanks Dart, again, for more writing worth reading.

Dirt E. Dutch January 4, 2010 at 11:31 am

You listed some perfect examples of those that put out ‘hip hop done right’. Looking forward to more from these labels in 2010, perhaps they gain even more ground this year. My feeling is they will.
I also want to mention Little Ax Media. is quietly putting out some amazing hip hop. Main artists are Breez Evahflowin and Antfarm Affiliates.

Anahuac January 5, 2010 at 1:07 pm

I would like to mention Qn5.


Eric January 11, 2010 at 1:25 pm

do you have a link for that? I’d love to see it

Eric January 11, 2010 at 1:35 pm

nevermind..found it..thank u

mello January 11, 2010 at 1:14 pm

good look – that they reposted in the la times. much appreciated!

Silvamore January 13, 2010 at 12:19 am

Good list. Decon is sure to drop some heaters this year too (already on a roll with Jay Elect’)

P. January 13, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Great article. Anytime I hear someone complain about the lack of quality hip hop out there, I point them to the stuff on those labels. I feel like we are in a renaissance of good, creative indie hip hop that actually sells a few copies.

Added bonus: indie labels don’t tend to put their signees in label purgatory. How many rappers have been signed to a major for years with no album? How many indie rappers have seen their projects shelved? a lot fewer.

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