The story of Wiz Khalifa’s poor record sales is not an unfamiliar one. This story is actually common place amongst indie hip hop artists wishing to make it to the big leagues. Nicki Minaj and Wale accumulated their fans from a succession of commemorated mix tapes. When a promising opportunity arose to release an album with a major label, they signed and compromised their sound, resulting in a disappointing “water-downed” record. Are they delicate ears of Americans not ready for a raw hip hop record? Do major labels need to filter and contort the regional sounds of hip hop artists? Are they halting the growth of an art form? Wale was originally known for performing his hip hop rendition of Go-Go music, a sub-genre of funk music that spawned from his Washington D.C. area. Nicki Minaj was a female rapper originating from Queens, NY with an aggressive street style reminiscent of Lil’ Kim. Regardless of their special styles, both artists rearranged their sound for their albums. Pitchfork Magazine‘s illustrates the mainstream transformation undergone by Nicki Minaj in a review of her debut album, Pink Friday. ”Minaj will get praise for her depth of skills, but this album isn’t about showing off a range of talents– it’s about leaning on the ones that have worked in the marketplace.” Pitchfork believes “this generation of pop starlets is content to play outsized personalities at awards shows, photo shoots, and videos, yet stay within a sleepy comfort zone on record.”
Indie hip hop artists do not have follow the invisible rules of the mainstream hip hop industry. If artists stay independent longer, build an even stronger fan base, the labels will be forced to give in to their demands. They may not see their videos on MTV and BET from the beginning, but their time will come, with their artistic integrity intact. Supreme examples of a committed indie route to success are OddFuture and Currensy. Currensy, a rapper from New Orleans known for jumping from label to label, released an independent record last November. The album sold 14,276 copies in its first week. Oddfuture is a hip hop collective based in Los Angeles that started their own record label to keep complete creative control over their music. The group’s leader, Tyler, The Creator, debut album sold 50,249 copies in its first week. Yet, somehow, hip hop phenomenon Soulja Boy‘s third album sold an embarrassing 13,000 copies in its first week. Two years prior, Soulja’s debut album sold 117,000 copies in the first week with the lead single, “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” reaching the number one seat on Billboard‘s Hot 100 list . The moral of this story is, you do not need a major label to get major success. Artists must not fall to the temptations of major labels, in order to fight this corrupt industry. Oddfuture and Currensy succeeded and will continue to flourish, but they will need the help of everyone if they want to fight the majors. How much of the responsibility is on us as an audience? Are we fueling a artistic movement or halting it?