In today’s article, we are going to preview some of the most prominent independent artists in the game who became and are still mega successes despite not having the backing of major record labels like most artists do.
What comes to mind when you hear the word, independent artist?
An independent artist is a musician or musical group not under contract with a record label.
When it comes to bands, those that release their own material on self-published CDs or those that primarily exist to perform at concerts can be considered unsigned bands.
In this era and age, there are more independent artists than ever before breaking into the mainstream without the support of a label partly due to Digital music distribution, Streaming platforms, social media, online marketing tools, and technological advancements which have changed the way artist release music and reach their targeted audience (fans).
Many independent artists of the current and of past generations have acclaimed major success without signing with record labels and we are going to have a look at some of them in no particular order – if your favorite independent artist misses out, don’t worry this is not the last article!
Who is the most successful independent artist?
The most successful independent artist is Chance the Rapper. He has been able to change the game—and make a ton of money doing it. He has emerged as the poster boy for independent rappers and in the year 2012, he turned down offers from labels on the advice of his father. He is Chicago Mag’s 2015 ‘Chicagoan of the Year’ and began gaining the industry’s attention in 2013 following the release of his second mixtape, “Acid Rap”
He does it without the help of a major label, which means that all of his music is produced independently. He doesn’t have to answer to anyone, and he can do what he wants with his music, how he wants it done. That’s why he’s so successful—because he makes music that people want to hear and buy.
15 Successful Independent Artists of all time.
Frank Ocean is an American singer, songwriter, rapper, and photographer.
Ocean started his career back in 2007 when he was approached by an artist who became impressed with his songwriting skills. In the following years, he worked with a range of artists and singers such as John Legend and Justin Bieber. He gradually began to make a name for himself during this time, which helped him join Odd Future Records.
In 2012, he released his debut album Channel Orange. This album topped the hip-hop chart on Billboard and eventually won him a Grammy Award for the best urban contemporary album.
Two albums followed; Endless (2016) and Blond (2016). Despite the fact that endLess was only available on Apple Music at its initial release date while Blond was only available in independent record stores, both albums were commercially successful and received good ratings from critics worldwide.
Like waves through the ocean, Frank has gone on to sweep 2 Grammy Awards, Brit Award, and was honored by Time Magazine as “Most Influential People” in 2013. He epitomizes greatness in its human form!
Chance the Rapper
Chancelor Johnathan Bennet who goes by the stage name Chance the Rapper is the most independent artist, rapper, and record producer born on April 16, 1993.
Bennett is known for his nostalgic flow, lovable personality, and positive advocacy for the youth — especially when it comes to education for those living in impoverished neighborhoods like the one he grew up in on Chicago’s South Side.
He was the recipient of 3 Grammy Awards following his 2016 Mixtape “Coloring Book” which scooped the “Best Rap Album” Award.
It was the only streaming-only album to also win an award, peaked at #8 on Billboard 200.
To show for his hard work and authenticity he has won numerous accolades including 3 BET awards, 2 BET Hip Hop Awards, 2 iHeartradio Music Awards and a Soul Train Music Award.
Aaron Dontez Yates who goes by his stage name Tech N9ne (pronounced “tech nine”) is an independent American rapper and singer and a Kansas City Legend who co-founded the record label ‘Strange Music’.
He has released over 18 studio albums and sold over 2 million albums and some of his tracks have been featured in films, television, and video games.
His versatility on the mic and his high-octane, fast-rhyming chopper-style resonate with his rap name “Tech N9ne”.
Tech N9ne scooped the “Left Field Woodie Award” in 2009 at the MTVU Woodie Awards and he has featured prominent acts in the game such as Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, T-Pain, Eminem, Wiz Khalifa, The Game, E-40, Ice Cube, Logic, 2 Chainz, and T.I., Snoop Dogg, and Logic on his albums which he sold in millions, breaking streaming records in the process!
You don’t joke with a man nicknamed after a military submachine gun!
One of the successful independent artists of the 2000s Mýa Marie Harrison is an independent multi-talented American singer, songwriter, dancer and actress. She first emerged to the scene with her monumentally critical and successful debut album in 1998 with singles from the album topping the music charts in sensational ways. She won her first Grammy Award in 2002 following the global disruption of her rendition of Labelle’s 1975 popular hit “Lady Marmalade”. Following the commercial success of her hit song “My Love Is Like…Wo” from her 3rd studio album, the track was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
She started her own record label “Planet 9” and has continued to release endearing and certified hits with the same intensity she was the recipient of a Grammy nomination following her 2016 7th studio album “Smoove Jones” and as of 2009, Billboard Hot 100 has honored her as the “Artist of the 2000s”. She has sold staggeringly over 3.2 million albums in the U.S.A alone and over 7 million albums on a global scale.
He is the rapper everyone loves to hate and the only independent rapper in history with two # 1 singles thanks in part to his unique single distribution deal with Warner Brothers; Benjamin Hammond Haggerty better known by his stage name Macklemore is an independent American rapper hailing from Seattle, Washington.
He first began working on music more than 20 years ago, releasing his first EP in 2000 while he was a teenager living in Seattle. He released his first full-length album “The Language of My World” in 2005.
His impressive catalog boats of one Mixtape, 3 EPs and 4 albums. His single with Lewis “Thrift Shop” featuring Wanz cruised at #1 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 2013 and was indeed the first song to top the Hot 100 chart without the backing of a major record label. The music video for this track has amassed over 1.6 billion views on YouTube as of today.
“Can’t Hold Us” which was the 2nd single peaked at #1 on the Hot 100 chart and his debut album “The Heist” topped at #2 on US Billboard 200. He has gone on to win 4 Grammy Awards together with his music protégé Lewis.
The rap scene is his favorite stomping ground and he proved without a doubt that just as his accomplices enjoying the backing of record labels, independent acts too can make it huge.
We have all heard about this South Korean band who came with a bang and disrupted the entire music scene and their popularity rose from Tik Tok all the way to the mainstream in the industry breaking every other record they found in their wake.
Their debut album “Wings” sold over 1 million copies in South Korea alone.
They earned a certification from RIAA for their hit single “Mic Drop” – the first Korean group to win such an accolade! They remain the first-ever Korean group to top the US Billboard 200 following the release of their 2018 studio album “Love Yourself: Tear”.
In another recording-breaking moment, they earned four #1 albums in less than 2 years, a fit only achieved by legendary groups such as The Beatles.
Their Grammy-nominated hit single “Dynamite” reached #1 on Billboard Global 200. This indescribably ingenious group has gone on to amass 5 US #1 since the one and only legendary Michael Jackson!
They hold the record for best-selling group in South Korean history boasting over 32 million album sales!
As if that is not enough they are the first and only Asian and non-English speaking act to headline and sell out Wembley Stadium in the UK and Rose Bowl Stadium in the USA.
Records seem to follow them and so far they have not shown any signs of slowing down – we are experiencing a South Korean takeover!
Earl Tywone Stevens Sr. is better known by his stage name E-40 is an independent American rapper and founder of ‘Sick Wid It Records’ which was founded in 1989.
He has released 28 studio albums to date, appeared on numerous movie soundtracks, and has also done guest appearances on a host of other rap albums.
In 2006, he signed a 2-album joint deal with Warner Brothers that helped popularize his Magnum Opus “My Ghetto Report Card” and has successfully marketed his own line of alcohol products.
“Function” his hit single from the album “The Block Brochure album” which he featured YG was a chart-topping commercially successful that went on to break stream numbers and goes down as one of his most successful singles in years. He has sold over a million copies and became a platinum recording artist.
E-40’s career has spanned over thirty years and is still ongoing.
Tinashe needs no introduction and her debut single “2 On” which she featured guest artist Schoolboy Q which I’m sure you have at one point interacted with was her defining certified hit which quickly picked at #1 on the Rhythmic airplay chart and reached #24 on the Billboard hot 100.
She received nominations from BET and Soul Train Awards for her stunningly innovative 2014 debut album “Aquaris”.
Her 3rd studio album was even more successful topping at #58 on Billboard 200 chart and #6 on the UK R&B Albums chart. She went on to independently release her 4th and 5th studio albums which have been nothing short of successful, cementing her place as one of the baddest R&B/Pop queens.
Tyler, The Creator
Tyler Gregory Okonma (born March 6, 1991) is an American rapper, record producer, and music video director. Okonma is the leader and co-founder of the alternative hip hop collective Odd Future and has rapped on and produced songs for nearly every Odd Future release.
On his four studio albums, he has explored a variety of genres including hip hop, punk rock, cloud rap, alternative hip hop, neo-soul, and baroque pop.
Tyler’s lyrics often touch upon themes of sexuality and mental health problems as well as his relationships with women.
His music videos have been described by some critics as “surrealist”, “eccentric” or “expressive”. He has won a 2 Grammy Award: for Best Rap Album for Igor (2019) and Best Rap Album for “Call Me If You Get Lost”
I don’t know if it is a good or a bad thing that when her quadruple-platinum hit single “Ooouuu” was released Tik Tok wasn’t there for I’m not sure the world would have survived the #ooouuu challenge!
Such was the scale of this track that made the industry pay attention to such show-stopping freestyle that this young, versatile, and lyrically gifted displayed with gusto and charisma!
This single went on to break into the top 20 of Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #19 and as we speak the music video for the same has garnered over 380 million YouTube Views!
This track saw her get nominations for BET and MTV “Artist of the Year” and “Female Hip-Hop Artist of the Year” respectively!
Following that critical acclaim and commercial success, her face began appearing in popular magazines and she even got to be featured in ad campaigns for global brands such as Beats by Dre, Google Pixel 2, and Pandora just to mention but a few!
She has been a revelation to many upcoming independent artists, especially female artists and was even named on the “Forbes 30 under 30” in 2018.
Her masterpiece freestyles such as “Run it” and “I Get The Bag (Gucci Mane0” have amassed millions of streams and her 2017 single “Walk” has garnered over 25 million streams.
She exemplifies prodigious creative achievement and true to her lyrics in her single “Off the Yak” – “Time is money and if you don’t get it, You wastin’ my time (Wastin’ my time)”
A legend who lived among humans and whose deeds not only musically but on the community-human level will live for generations and generations to come.
Death robbed us of a true king and we will never see his make again! Nipsey Hussle was an independent American rapper emerging from the West Coast Hip Hop scene in the mid-2000s.
He independently and successfully made his first Mixtape “Slauson Boy Volume 1” which demanded hip-hop’s attention and in particular the legendary himself and most successful hip hop artist Jay Z who purchased 100 copies for $100 each.
His “Victory Lap” album was honored in the 61st Grammy Awards by being nominated for the “Best Rap Album” category. He also won two accolades in the 62nd Grammy Awards for his original singles “Racks in the Middle” and “Higher” which saw him recognized in the “Best Rap Performance” and “Best Rap/Sung Performance” categories respectively!
Nipsey Hassle was fatally shot on March 31, 2019, outside his store in South Los Angeles but his legacy lives through his music and dedication as a community activist. Long may he live!
If you want to leave the door open, best be guaranteed that Anderson .Paak is looming around and might sneak in!
Anderson .Paak is an independent American rapper, singer/songwriter, record producer, and drummer who has done it all in the game.
“Malibu” was his outstandingly disruptive album in 2016 which went on to receive a Grammy Nomination in the “Best Urban Contemporary Album” category! He went on to win his first-ever Grammy Award at the 61st Grammy Awards for “Best Rap Performance” for the song “Bubblin”. He did not stop there going on to win another Grammy Award in 2020 for “Best R&B Performance” for the single “Come Home” and also won on another category for his album “Ventura” scooping the “Best R&B Album” award.
Together with fellow artist, songwriter, and industry friend Bruno Mars, they formed the duo “Silk Sonic” in 2012 and their debut single “Leave the Door Open” broke the internet and music as a whole becoming the first single to peak at #1 on Billboard Hot 100. From here the success story gets even better (I’ll leave it for imagination!)
Gucci Mane is one of the most popular independent artists who, if he was still in prison, best believe the #FreeGucciMane or its equivalent would be trending at Twitter each and every day. He is a rap treasure who needs protecting and who happens to be one of the pioneers of the now-popular wave of trap music that has been infiltrated by each and every rapper!
His 4th studio “The State vs. Radric Davis” was his 1st gold-certified platinum and before that, he had released 3 other studio albums to commercial success. He really blew up with the single “Black Beatles”, a 2016 collaboration with rap duo Rae Sremmurd which became his first-ever #1 single on the US Billboard Hot 100. He boasts over 14 released studio albums and well over 71 Mixtapes and has worked with industrial titans including Drake, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Selena Gomez, Mariah Carey, Usher, Fifth Harmony, Usher and Bruno Mars.
Gucci Mane has influenced the likes of Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, Migos, 21 Savage and Lil Yatchy and has been referenced as an “avatar of East Atlanta” and the most distinguished underground rapper of the 2000s. “I Get the Bag” the popular hit single which he featured rap group Migos from his 11th studio album “Mr. Davis” reached #11 on Billboard Hot 100 to become his most successful single as a solo act to date. In this track, he flaunts and flexes his independent artistry rapping “JAY-Z couldn’t even co-sign for me, I do what I want, ‘cause I’m signed to me”
Can you be successful as an independent artist?
There’s no reason you can’t be a successful independent artist if you put your mind to it. With more and more artists finding success outside of the label system, the days of giving up your freedom in order to work with major labels are done.
You have options, and if you put in the effort, you can make a living as an independent artist. There’s no reason to give up control or become dependent on a major label when you can release your music on Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming services using platforms like TuneCore or Bandcamp. You’ll make even more money this way!
Can you make money as an independent artist?
Yes, as an independent artist, you can make a lot of money. But first, you must ask yourself: Are you willing to put in extra work?
The truth is that there are a lot of successful independent artists out there. Millions more, though, are barely scraping by or have given up on their art totally. The distinction between the two groups is their willingness to devote to a professional career as an artist.
This list makes some of the most successful independent artists in terms of achieving mainstream success and selling their copies (in terms of millions) worldwide without the backing of major record labels. They proved to the entire music industry that it can be done and they can get to be as successful as their counterparts who enjoyed the backing of record labels.
Thanking you for taking your time off your busy schedule to read through this weighty post and I hope it sheds some more insights as far as independent music artistry is concerned. See you in the next post!