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, http://www.indiehiphop.net

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 datpiff.com).

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

tortuga, covered

My favorite thing to do, second only to downloading new music, is to download cover songs. There’s a lot of debate and out there about how a cover song is defined. Dictionary.com says it’s “a recording that was first recorded or made popular by somebody else.” I don’t think the song has to initially have been popular to reach cover status, but I do agree with the first part of the definition. Cover songs are created from originals previously recorded.

I think the artists who create good cover songs take an original tune and twist it to make it their own. Maybe it was sung acoustically, changed genres or the lyrics were sung in a different tone which changed the emotion of the song. The musician takes a song and makes it their own, while keeping an essence of the original.

If a musician is going to cover a song, whether it’s on YouTube or at a show or concert or whatever, the tell-tale sign that it’s a genuine cover is whether the artist is showcasing his or her own talents. If the song is obviously being done in a silly manner, like a parody, it doesn’t count. It also doesn’t count if just a clip of a song is used. Cover songs do not include mash ups or remixes and the lyrics have to be pretty close to the original version. As a side note, there are also many songs out there that have girl and boy versions (such as “Marvin’s Room,” the original by Drake and the reply by JoJo). I do not count these kinds of songs as covers.

There are several bands, groups and individuals known for their cover songs. The married couple that make up Karmin was made famous with their covers of “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj, “Look At Me Now” by Chris Brown and “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO. Mike Tompkins has several YouTube videos of his a cappella versions of Top 40s hits such as “Paradise” by Coldplay and “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry. Cover band Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine is known for its Disturbed cover, “Down With the Sickness,” which debuted in the 2004 movie, Dawn of the Dead.

I started noticing cover songs with the Punk Goes Crunk and Punk Goes Pop albums. Soon after, I discovered a band called Boyce Avenue. These sources became the basis for my iTunes Covers playlist.

I know there are several great songs out there that have been covered or that are covers and someone’s going to freak out because I didn’t mention them. However, as is, the playlist consists of 321 songs and would take 19 hours, 17 minutes and 51 seconds to listen to all the way through. The majority of these songs come from the 2000s and are Top 40s hits. I’ve complied a list of my favorite covers or at least ones I felt it is my duty to pass on. (The original artist of each song is in parentheses). And feel free to suggest your own covers you’ve come across.

The top 20 cover songs in my library:

  1. “Creep” – Afghan Whigs (TLC)
  2. “Whatever You Like” – Anya Marina (T.I.)*
  3. “Love In This Club” – Boyce Avenue (Usher)
  4. “Black and Yellow” – Cris Cab (Wiz Khalifa)*
  5. “Baby” – Drew Ryniewicz (Justin Bieber)*
  6. “Only Girl (In the World)” – Ellie Goulding (Rihanna)
  7. “Take Me Home Tonight” – Every Avenue (Eddie Money)*
  8. “Ride With Me” – I Call Shotgun (Nelly)
  9. “Gangsta’s Paradise” – In Fear and Faith (Coolio)
  10. “Pursuit of Happiness” – Lissie (Kid Cudi)
  11. “I Need Love” – Luka Bloom (LL Cool J)
  12. “Hold It Against Me” – Miquel (Britney Spears)
  13. “Fireflies” – Mike Tompkins (Owl City)
  14. “Lovefool” – The Morning Benders (The Cardigans)
  15. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” – Muse (Frankie Valli)*
  16. “My Body is a Cage” – Peter Gabriel (Arcade Fire)
  17. “Baby, I Got Your Money” – Say Anything (Ol’ Dirty Bastard)
  18. “Mrs. Jackson” – TV OFF (Outkast)
  19. “D.D. (Dirty Diana)” – The Weeknd (Michael Jackson)*
  20. “The Scientist” – Willie Nelson (Coldplay)

*Recommended or introduced to me by a friend, given credit on Facebook.