indie tortuga

The most unique artists are efficiently promoting themselves and creating independent success.” – Shawn Gary, music enthusiast

Everyone now wants to be heard, even when they have nothing to say. Sometimes this turns into quick but short lived fame. It can also generate big profit but the players are easily replaceable.” – Funkworm,

It all started when musicians and producers created their own labels instead of trying to get picked up by one of the Big Four: Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI Group. Once these independent labels were established and signed new artists, the rappers and singers became known as independent or “indie” artists. So literally, an indie hip hop artist would be one who is signed with an independent label or unsigned altogether.

Side note: For the record, there is a difference between “indie” and “underground” hip hop. Both are used to describe a group of musicians who are either signed to an independent record label or unsigned. While underground refers to non-commercial music, characterized by politically and socially-conscious lyrics, indie hip hop is characterized by the artists rather than the music itself. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to blanket both under the term “indie”.

But over time, the term has come to mean more than who an artist is signed with. It’s become more of an abstract idea chased by music enthusiasts who are looking for tunes beyond commercial, top 40 hits. Indie artists have a specific sound. It’s the same no matter the genre because it appeals to music lovers of all kinds. For example, Belong steadily streams artists like Bon Iver and Active Child from her Macbook. I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoy independent hip hop.

Let it be said that some artists, even after gaining popularity and moving to major labels, are still respected as independent artists because of their beginnings and success.

To me, indie refers to an aura or essence of an artist. It relates to the sound produced. Indie artists might have a large fan-base and tour across the country, but they generally serve as openers to larger acts and perform in smaller venues and music festivals.

When you focus on the idea that an indie artist has to come from an independent label, things get a little complicated. Many artists, while not signed to one of the Big Four, are signed to subsidiaries or labels owned by the Big Four. I think what it comes down to, after labels have been determined, is the figurative, abstract idea of an indie artist.

For example, Freddie Gibbs is a rapper who’s been around more more than a decade. He’s not played on the radio, has put out at least ten mixtapes and performs at venues with other smaller-name rapper (The Cool Kids, Chip the Ripper, Big K.R.I.T.). He’s signed to a label called CTE (Corporate Thugz Entertainment), started by Young Jeezy and owned by Def Jam, a sub-label of Universal Music Group. But I have him pegged as an indie artist. He has that sound. He’s not all bells and whistles, not all synthesizers and autotune. He’s a straight rapper, reminiscent of Juicy J of Three 6 Mafia.

Tech N9ne was listed as an indie artist on Wikipedia (I know, it’s Wikipedia). After a little research, I found he belongs his own label (he’s the vice president) called Strange Music. It’s tied to RED Distribution, which is a subsidiary of Universal. That paired with his long-lasting career (25+ years) might speak “mainstream” but considering his lyrical content and lack of headlining major national tours, he’s pretty indie.

Backtracking a little to Freddie Gibbs, I mentioned how he put out several mixtapes. It is said that mixtapes are a sign of an indie artist, but MC Man says mixtapes are really the backbone of hip hop in general. (To get some yourself, register at

So when it came down to writing this post—an inevitable topic—I had a hard time really honing in on the point I was trying to make. I’m still not sure if I really made that clear, but I’ll end this with a slice of how I started my research—iTunes. Please note, this list was created before any research and still no research took part in deciding which artists to post, it is purely based on my instinct. Warning: probably NSFW.

10 artists I thought might be considered “indie” in my iTunes:

1. Afroman

2. Flypside

3. Wale (and Miguel, featured in this video)

4. Frank Ocean

5. Iggy Azalea

6. Murs

7. Nappy Roots

8. Pigeon John

9. The Weeknd

10. Kendrick Lamar


DJ tortuga

Standing high on his pedestal, the music magician weaves beats and verses in and out, around and within each other. The expansive crowd before him is grinding, shaking, twirling and swaying to the time of his jerks and scratches. Nevermind that the sounds are all computer generated and mesh with each other at the touch of a button and switch tunes with a shuffle command. The dancers don’t care. They come to hear remixed, mashed-up, collaborative versions of their favorite top 40s jams, move to the rhythm and forget their own names. A fog machine activates suddenly, releasing grey smoke into the air, allowing the crowd to feel lost and carefree for a moment until it clears. But even as their vision returns and the smell of muted chemicals hangs in the air, they groove on, feeling weightless. The DJ has done his job well.

At any given time or place, music has the ability to transfix people, to alter their state of mind and to let them live in the moment. This time, I’m talking about in any old club with a sound system and DJ platform. Dancing for hours is one of my favorite pastimes. I know the good places to go in downtown St. Petersburg, which place has the best music playing, which bar has the noisiest DJ, DJs that will let you get on stage with them…etc. Perhaps the most useful information I have though, is knowing which DJs are more receptive to requests. See, even if a DJ isn’t the best at shuffling through his music library, at the very least he could play the songs you want to hear, right? My favorite DJ in the area plays at a barely-lit bar with a very slippery floor (how many times I’ve fallen there, I can only estimate). The reason he’s my favorite DJ is because my friend and I have found the way to his little heart that beats to the rhythm of old school, underrated music. He is our DJ soulmate. But let me show you how it’s done.

How to request a song from the DJ

The technique has been used many times and has never failed.

For insight as to what annoys DJs, check out this handy site I came across the other day:

Now for the fun part.

My top five favorite songs to request:

  1. “Put You Hands Up” – Fat Man Scoop: I love The Save the Last Dance soundtrack in its entirety. If you haven’t seen that movie, check it out. Now.
  2. “Back That Ass Up” – Juvenile: My ultimate club request song with DJ Mon.
  3. “Shorty, Swing My Way” – Ghost Town DJs: The perfect song reflecting all the prowling that occurs in night clubs.
  4. “This is How We Do It” – Montell Jordan: Another go-to request song for me and DJ Mon.
  5. “She Ain’t Got That Boom” – Blaque: As seen on the napkin, Belong and I make this request and it usually gets played because most people wouldn’t expect to hear this jam at the club, if they even know it.

A few songs about those music magicians:

  • “Music” – Madonna: “Hey, Mr. DJ, put a record on. I wanna dance with my baby.”
  • “Go DJ” – Lil Wayne: “Say, ‘Go DJ,’ ‘cuz that’s my DJ.”
  • “Favorite DJ” – Clinton Sparks: “I’m gonna play for you tonight like it’s your birthday. Tonight I’m gonna be your favorite DJ.”
  • “DJ Play the Beat” – Estelle: “It’s the type of songs that the DJs play. Estelle in the party rocking rocking all day.”
  • “Outta Control” – Baby Bash: “I don’t need no love, all I need is the DJ.”
  • “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love” – Usher: “Baby, tonight, the DJ got us falling in love again. So dance, dance like it’s the last, last night of your life, life.”
  • “Play” – Jennifer Lopez: “Play. Come on, DJ, play that song. You that it turns me on. Just turn it up and turn me on.”
  • “I am a DJ” – David Bowie (Benny Benassi Remix): “I am a DJ. I am what I play. Can’t turn around. No, can’t turn around.”
  • “Something for the DJs” – Pit Bull: “Go DJ! Cut the scratch! Go DJ! Don’t stop!”
  • “Pon de Replay” – Rihanna: “Come, Mr. DJ, song pon de replay. 
    Come, Mr. DJ, won’t you turn the music up?”

tortuga truths

Welcome to tortugatunes, a blog about jammin’ out.

I am the main tortuga, which is turtle in Spanish (I have a healthy obsession with sea turtles, more on that later). I am a journalism student aspiring to be a designer at a national magazine and in the meantime waiting to hear back from graduate schools. As a designerd*, I keep a running list in my head of anything and everything that inspires me. Number one on this list? Music.

This blog will be a continuous stream of my thoughts about the music scene, particularly anything with a pounding beat or heartbreaking lyrics.

What does music mean to me? I can remember the first song I ever listened to and knew I was listening to something that would change my life. Say what you will, but it was, in fact, “Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears. I was 9 years old and my friend was writing a love note to a cute boy we knew and used the lyrics of that song (and then signed my name). Whatever. The point is that the memory did not stick with me because of my humiliation when the boy’s mom called my dad later or when I saw the boy at school the next day, but because of Britney Spears. She opened a whole new world for me that day.

Music is more than something to fill an awkward silence or a source of entertainment. Music surrounds my world, encompasses my very soul, knows everything about me and gets me through my very worst days and celebrates with me on my best.

It is everywhere. I sing with it in the shower and in the car. I bump it in my stereo speakers, my headphones, my earbuds. I have whole libraries on my ipod, my Mac, my PC and in my CD collection. I discover more every day through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pitchfork, Soundowl, Hype, SPIN Magazine, Rolling Stone… I can’t think of a time when music is not there. If you feel the same, welcome to tortugatunes. If you have no idea what I’m talking about but want to know, stick around. This blog is not for those who merely use the radio in their cars during their weekly commutes. This blog is for those who have a passion for music.

Pause here for a shout out to three people who have greatly influenced my taste of music, whether they know it or not. (I may refer to them in later posts): Monica (DJ Mon), Manny (MC Man) and Becca (Bax).

Side Note: The great thing about music is that, especially with today’s technology, it can be taken anywhere. I mentioned earlier that music is everywhere. Well, I have my preferences of which music I take with me places. When I’m in the car, I prefer songs I know all the words to so I can turn up the volume and belt them out. While ‘nerding out, I like to blast my headphones with old school hip hop and some dubstep covers. In the club, bring on the dubstep and top 40s, please!

That being said, to jump things off, I thought I’d share some intimate facts about the inner workings of something I call, “TMAC JAMS,” or, my iPod.

Number of songs: 4,249

#1 played on iTunes: “The Story of Us” – Taylor Swift, Speak Now

Last five artists downloaded:

  1. Elle Varner: Conversational Lush album – I heard of her from Miguel’s song, “All I Want Is You,” which has an Elle Varner Remix.
  2. Action Bronson: Dr. Lecter album (MC Man)
  3. Danny Brown: XXX album (MC Man)
  4. Jay Ellington: “Obstruction of Justice” – The song was sent to me via Facebook from Jay Ellington, an artist based out of Clearwater under the group Utmos, Inc.
  5. Iggy Azalea: Ignorant Art album (MC Man)

Favorite artist: There will always be a place in my heart for Lil Wayne.

Eight of nine Wayne albums I have

*designerd: one who finds pleasure in discussing fonts, tools in Illustrator and showing others how InDesign works.