Up until recently, there were very few success stories within the otherwise thriving sub-culture of independent hip hop. While things are starting to look up, we indie grinders still need to stick together if we have any hope of toppling the mainstream regime that keeps brilliant artists under it’s collective thumb.
It is with that sentiment in mind that we bring you Off The Grid, a monthly series celebrating underground hip hop and those making major moves despite having independent roots.
In this series we’ll spotlight five projects we’ve been listening to that we feel embody the independent spirit and we’ll tie it in with Indie Spotlight, our series in which we interview artists that are doing big things without the financial backbone of major labels.
To kick things off, here are five awesome projects from artists you’re probably not going to see performing the half-time show at the Super Bowl any time soon (although we hope we’re proven wrong). [Editor’s Note: Since we just started the series, we’ve included some releases from April as well that were just too good to not share with y’all.]
Standout Tracks: “They’ll Speak”, “Natural Resources”
Seattle native Raz Simone may have just been picked up by 300, the latest musical venture from Warner Brothers ex-pat Lyor Cohen, but his spirit is 100% independent. Operating under his own Black Umbrella imprint for years before getting the call from some forward-thinking heavy hitters, Raz’s heavy hearted lyrics and soulful voice offer a different perspective of life on the street and the journey to make it out.
Growing up, Raz didn’t actually listen to music, preferring spoken word instead. However, after putting some of his pieces of poetry over movie scores Raz discovered the effect music can have on the mind and soul, and realized his true fate was that of a rapper.
His latest effort, Cognitive Dissonance – also debut under the 300 imprint – is as haunting as it is beautiful, perfectly depicting the hardcore environment that spawned him without glorifying its more sinister aspects, also peppering in jewels of wisdom that will leave you scratching your head far after you’ve finished nodding it.
The fact that Raz has continued to build his own independent label Black Umbrella while being groomed by some of the most powerful people in the industry (and dropped his debut album with them as a pay-what-you-want download) show that the independent spirit in his heart is nowhere close to fleeting.
Don’t forget that you can catch Raz Simone on tour with Rittz on the OD Tour as well.
Standout Tracks: “Tolerated” (Feat. Waka Flocka Flame), “I Can Hear Sweat” (Feat. Jadakiss)
Y’all may recognize Freeway from his nearly decade-long stint with Roc-A-Fella records, the same label that gave us Jay Z, Kanye West, and a slew of other superstars.
What you might not know is that Freeway is now with Rhymesayers, and currently making arguably the best music of his career. Having recently linked up with mashup-king Girl Talk to release the Broken Ankles EP, Freeway’s lyrics are tight as ever and his independent grind is unwavering.
On this project, Girl Talk’s frenetic production perfectly compliments Freeway’s high-energy delivery and continuously dumps proverbial coals on the still raging fire in Philly Freezer’s belly.
In addition to top-notch production and lyrics, the project was released as a free download on DatPiff.com, which is about as independent as you can get.
Standout Tracks: “Chain Smoke”, “Route The Ruler”
Curren$y may be the most recognized member of his self-made Jet Life clique, but I’ll be damned if Young Roddy isn’t the most exciting prospect he’s got.
After bouncing around labels like No Limit, Cash Money, and even Roc-A-Fella, New Orleans spitter Curren$y decided to go the indie route and start his own imprint as Jet Life Recordings and quickly started recruiting talent.
Young Roddy, a fellow Louisiana native, is a large chunk of that talent. His unique sound and insatiable hunger to make it in the game make him the star of any track that he appears on.
Route The Ruler is Roddy’s most impressive release to date, one we would have gladly paid for had he not made it a free download on DatPiff.com. Laid back production provides the background for musings of a young man ready to make a splash in this crazy world we call hip hop, and if this release is any indication, he’ll have no problems doing just that.
Standout Tracks: “Keep It Gangsta” / “Pussy Got Slap” ft. E-40 & Cousin Fik
It’s no coincidence that Freddie Gibbs is appearing on this list while he’s touring the country with Tech N9ne.
Gibbs displays the same ferocious independent drive and never-ending energy that helped Tech become co-owner of the most successful independent Hip Hop label in the world, and he’s not slowing down any time soon.
Fresh off the release of his collaborative album with Madlib Pinata (which is already being hailed as one of the best albums of 2014), Gibbs linked up with Bay Area DJ The Worlds Freshest AKA DJ Fresh for an 8-track offering that serves as both another high quality notch in Freddie’s belt, and an homage to the West Coast G-Funk of yesteryear just begging to be replayed.
As the ESGN founder continues to gather momentum, we can’t think of anything short of a worldwide natural disaster that could hinder this dude’s ride to the top.
Can we please just say this? Pharoahe Monch is a fucking beast and even if every single hip hop head in the world had a picture of him hanging above their dining room table like some communist dictator, he’d still be underrated.
On his fourth studio album, Pharoahe is still spitting lyrics that rightfully have emcees like Eminem singing his praise, and in a musical and social atmosphere that needs them more than ever.
P.T.S.D. finds Pharoahe mulling over all-too-relevant topics like mental illness, a seemingly impending police state and much, much more all over beats that make you feel familiar in a way that doesn’t compromise any excitement.
Nearly 20 years in the game and Pharoahe is still pushing the envelope lyrically and musically, and he’s doing it all the independent way, making his brand of musical truth one of our favorites of all time.
So there you have it. This is the beginning of our monthly foray into the forever fruitful world of independent hip hop. We hope you enjoy at least one of these projects, if not all of them, and continue to check back with us for the latest in F.T.I.-style tunes.
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