Throughout the years independent record labels have continued to evolve. Today independent is a term used to define any record label not owned or operated by any of the four major record companies (Sony, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and EMI). And while the independent game is thriving in 2010, it isn’t exactly a new concept for rap artists.

In the 1980’s Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin established Def Jam Records from their NYU dorm room, before signing to CBS in 1985 for $2 million dollars. Pioneers like Luther Campbell (Skyywalker Records), J. Prince (Rap-A-Lot Records) and Tony Draper (Suave House) continued the trend and defined their independence outside of New York. In more recent memory, labels like Master P’s No Limit and Bryan “Birdman” Willams’ Cash Money Records went from local indie labels to multi-million dollar rap powerhouses. Today we have notable rap indies like Strange Music, Duck Down Records, Rhymesayers and Stones Throw.

Whether platinum selling titles or critically acclaimed works, hip-hop has a rich collection of independent releases. Today, to celebrate America’s independence, XXLMag makes a list of 25 essential indie hip-hop albums that every fan should be familiar with. All we see is fireworks.

BDP Criminal Minded; B-Boy Records, 1987
It was his battle with the Juice Crew’s MC Shan that put KRS-One in the game, but it was his Boogie Down Productions group album Criminal Minded that cemented the Blastmaster’s place in hip-hop. Thanks to tracks like “Poetry” and the title track “Criminal Minded,” this album stands as one of rap’s defining works.

Eric B. & Rakim Paid In Full; 4th and B’way, 1987
While rap was still in its formative years and the rhyme schemes were still simplistic, Long Island MC Rakim offered higher vocabulary and complex bars. His first album with DJ Eric B. featured classic songs like “I Know You Got Soul” and “I Ain’t No Joke.”

N.W.A Straight Outta Compton; Ruthless/Priority, 1988
In 1988 N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton dropped like a bomb. Not only did the platinum-selling album establish West Coast rap dominance; its socio-political message drew attention from the F.B.I. who tried to shut the group down. Regardless songs like “Straight Outta Compton,” “Dopeman (remix)” and “Fuck tha Police” went on to influence gangsta rappers for years to come.