Independence Day: Top Independent Artists in the Game

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    Independence Day: Top 30 Independent Acts in the Game
    While some consider the major label world to be the big leagues of the music industry, that doesn’t make independent artists minor leaguers or amateurs. For as long as there has been hip-hop there have been indie artists hustling to get their music directly to the people without the big budgets or fancy distribution deals. Some rappers use the independent space as a stepping stone to major label glory. Others have carved themselves a comfortable niche within the indie world and often manage longer, sometimes happier careers than their major-label counterparts. With our nation’s Independence Day in mind, we wanted to celebrate those who are getting theirs on their own. Here is <em>XXL</em>’s Top 30 Independent Acts in the game.—<em>Calvin Stovall</em>
  • #dom
    30. Dom Kennedy
    The Leimert Park, Los Angles MC has released six superb mixtapes since 2008 including <em>From the Westside, With Love II</em>, which dropped last Tuesday.
  • freeewayindie
    30. Freeway
    Freeway’s done well for himself in his post Roc-A-Fella career. In 2009 the Philly MC released <em>Philadelphia Freeway 2</em> via Real Talk Entertainment. He followed up with collaborative LPs with producer Jake One (<em>The Stimulus Package</em>) and Beanie Sigel (<em>The Roc Boys</em>) on Rhymesayers Entertainment and, respectively, the next year. Free released <em>Statik-Free</em>, an EP recorded live on’s Ustream channel earlier this year.
  • skyzoo_interview
    29. Skyzoo
    Despite being only 28 years old, this BK MC is the epitome of a throwback. With a nostalgic flow and penchant for picking soulful beats to rhyme over, the Duck Down spitter has become an underground favorite thanks to quality releases like 2010 <em>Live From the Tape Deck</em>, a collaboration with producer Illmind.
  • Mistah-FAB-2
    28. Mistah FAB
    The Oakland MC’s eccentric style and prolific output have made him one of the most successful independent artists of the past decade. Beloved in the Bay and respected for his freestyle skills, F.A.B. plans to add on to his already stacked catalog of solo albums, compilations and mixtapes with the release of his fourth studio album, <em>Da Yellow Bus Rydah</em>, later this year.
  • jeangraeindie
    27. Jean Grae
    Quiet as kept, Jean Grae has put together a lengthy and acclaimed career without any major label ties. From her early days as a member of Natural Resource (when she went by the name What? What?) to her acclaimed <em>Jeanius</em> album with 9th Wonder to her recent mixtape, <em>Cookies or Comas</em>, Jean Grae stays on your best female rapper—and rappers, period—lists.
  • freddiegibbs
    26. Freddie Gibbs
    The former <em>XXL</em> Freshman has released two stellar EPs since 2010 including last month’s <em>Lord Giveth, Lord Taketh Away</em> with Statik Selektah which they recorded live on via UStream. Now formally aligned with Young Jeezy’s CTE, the Gary, IN native is currently prepping his debut album, <em>Baby-Faced Killa,</em> for a 2011 release.
  • ForiegnExchange
    25. Foreign Exchange
    Comprised of former Little Brother-MC Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay, this duo has created three genre-bending albums since emerging in 2004 with <em>Connected</em> and are prepping their fourth, <em>Dear Friends: an Evening with the Foreign Exchange</em>, for a 2011 release.
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  • BlackMilk
    24. Black Milk
    Detroit’s own Black Milk is one of the most talented producer/MCs in the game today. His soulful, drum heavy sound and throwback flow have made him a staple among underground hip-hop heads since 2007’s <em>Popular Demand</em>. In June, he released Random Axe with Sean Price and Guilty Simpson.
  • VonPea
    23. Von Pea
    Hailing from Brooklyn, Von Pea made a name for himself as a member of indie hip-hop favorite Tanya Morgan. With the group on a hiatus, the producer/MC solidified himself as one of the indie game’s most talented voices with 2010’s <em>Pea's Gotta Have It.</em>
  • stat3
    22. Statik Selektah
    The Massachusetts DJ/Producer has built up an incredible catalog of albums, mixtapes and production credits in his 11-year career. Collaborators include Nas, Q-Tip and Freddie Gibbs, with whom the DJ recorded <em>Lord Giveth, Lord Taketh Away</em>, an EP done live on via UStream.
  • Fashawn
    21. Fashawn
    This Cali rapper’s remarkable debut album, 2009’s <em>Boy Meets World</em>, earned him a spot on our 2010 Freshmen list. He’s since used standout guest verses and a steady output of mixtapes (including last year’s <em>Ode To Illmatic</em>) to keep himself buzzing as he preps his follow-up, <em>The Ecology</em>.
  • Roc-Marciano-Alexander-Richter
    20. Roc Marciano
    The former Flipmode Squad MC laid low after the release of the slept on <em>UN or U Out</em> album with Long Island reppers the UN in 2004. Roc Marci stormed back in 2010 with <em>Marcberg</em>, a boom-bap heavy endeavor, produced by himself no less, that had heads reminiscing of hip-hop’s golden age and wanting to hear more of his hard body raps. Roc Marciano is working on the follow up to <em>Marcberg</em> with names like the Alchemist and Q-Tip.
  • Blu
    19. Blu
    This former <em>XXL</em> Freshman is considered by many to be one of the most skilled lyricists in hip-hop. While his elevated subject matter and eclectic aesthetic make him difficult to market commercially, he’s carved out a reliable fan base thanks to his undeniable talent and work ethic that includes a gang of acclaimed collaborative albums included <em>The Piece Talks</em> (with Ta’Raach), <em>Below the Heavens</em> (with Exile) and <em>Johnson & Jonson</em> (with Mainframe).
  • BrotherAli
    18. Brother Ali
  • sagefrancis
    17. Sage Francis
    The man born Paul Francis has been putting in work since before winning the Scribble Jam MC battle in 2000. Having had the distinction of being the first MC signed to storied, indie rock label Epitaph, the Rhode Island drew critical acclaim for his 2010 album <em>Li(f)e</em> on Anti-Records, which showcases his skills for complex lyricism and witty wordplay.
  • Saigon-Rapper
    16. Saigon
    Earlier this year, the Brownsville representative defied all odds and successfully released his debut studio album <em>The Greatest Story Never Told</em> via Cali-based independent label Suburban Noize. The album had suffered a four-year delay thanks to issues with former label Atlantic Records but nevertheless received critical praise upon its release.
  • Joell-Ortiz
    15. Joell Ortiz
    Though signed to major label Shady Records as a member of the group Slaughterhouse, the Puerto Rican MC is indie as a solo artist. A former Aftermath Records signee, February’s <em>Free Agent</em> was his first album in four years but the punchline specialist has kept his name ringing through his work with Slaughterhouse and a constant onslaught of quality mixtapes.
  • MURS_1
    14. MURS
    A 14-year veteran, the eclectic Los Angeles MC has built his underground rep by making consistent, quality hip-hop. MURS, a member of the Living Legends rap crew, gained critical acclaim for the four collaborative albums he did with producer 9th Wonder as well as his solo work (2008’s <em>Murs for President</em>).
  • Pastor-Troy-Photo-3
    13. Pastor Troy
    Georgia Boy and crunk legend Pastor Troy has been releasing a steady stream of southern heaters for the past 12 years. His prolific output (He’s released nine albums since 2009, with another one set to drop this August) and contagious energy on the mic make Troy a fan favorite and has earned him the respect of his peers.
  • joe-budden
    12. Joe Budden
    While it’s hard to deny Joey’s skills on the mic, he hasn’t had the best luck with major labels. Since parting ways with Def Jam after nearly six years in major label purgatory, the Slaughterhouse MC has satisfied fans with a steady output of mixtapes and digital albums including last year’s superb <em>Mood Muzik 4: A Turn 4 The Worst.</em>
  • trae_slice_1
    11. Trae Tha Truth
    Persistence in the face of adversity is a necessary trait for any artist in the indie game. No MC can attest to that more than Houston’s Trae Tha Truth, who’s succeeded not only without the support of a major label, but also in spite of his local radio station. As if it weren’t hard enough for indie artists to get spins, a beef with DJs at Houston’s KBXX "97.9 The Box" got Trae blacklisted from the station, causing him to file a lawsuit against “The Box” last year citing damages to his career. Never one to give up, Trae has continued releasing mixtapes and collaborations with Screwed Up Click partner Z-RO as he preps his next album, <em>Street King</em>, due later this year.
  • sean-price
    10. Sean Price
    Always a premier lyricist, the Duck Down legend and one-half of the duo Heltah Skeltah has become a solo star in the indie game in the past few years. Though he hasn’t released a solo album since 2007’s <em>Jesus Price Supastar</em>, P has kept his name buzzing on the streets and the blogosphere with steady servings of freestyles, collaborative projects (Random Axe) and features as the game eagerly awaits his upcoming <em>Mic Tyson</em> project.
  • e-40-5
    9. E-40
    The Bay-Area legend and slang pioneer has used the independent game to set an unmatched example of longevity in hip-hop. Through his Sick Wid It label, The Ambassador of the Bay has slung music to fans nationwide since 1987. He released double albums in each of the past two years (From his <em>Revenue Retrievin’</em> series) and is currently working with fellow Bay originator Too $hort on The History Channel which is slated to drop later this year.
  • oddfuture
    8. OFWGKTA
    It’s no surprise that the anti-establishment LA-based collective known as Odd Future has for now chosen to forgo the major label system and do the independent thing. While front man Tyler, the Creator gets most of the attention, members Frank Ocean, Hodgy Beats and Earl Sweatshirt have all contributed to the crew’s current stranglehold on popular culture’s consciousness with quality music and rebellious energy.
  • lilb
    7. Lil B
    The Based God’s recent behavior has shown that he has no qualms about being an individual. His unique style, puzzling lyrics and controversial decision to name his album <em>I’m Gay</em> have all solidified B as an independent thinker. His tireless Internet grind and charismatic personality have made the <em>XXL</em> Freshman one of the most recognizable figures in hip-hop today, despite not being signed to a major.
  • TalibKweli
    6. Talib Kweli
    The Black Star member and Rawkus Records legend is one of the most respected MCs in the game. Though his mainstream success has been stunted by inconsistent output and media pigeon-holing, he reminded everyone of his undeniable skills with the pen last February with the long-awaited release of his superb <em>Gutter Rainbows</em> LP.
  • killermike_main_giant
    5. Killer Mike
    The ATL rapper first got our attention in the early 2000s, lacing some of our favorite OutKast classics with his clever bars and domineering flow. In the years since, he’s split from his fellow ATLiens and established his own Grind Time label where he’s released four solo albums, including <em>PL3DGE</em> this past May.
  • 121522-raekwon
    4. Raekwon
    Wu-Tang’s chef has laid the blueprint for rap legends looking to give their careers new life. After the lackluster follow-ups to his classic debut <em>Only Built 4 Cuban Linx</em>…, Rae left the major-label game and consigned EMI Records to push his Ice Water Records projects. He’s since released two stellar albums (2009’s <em>Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Part II</em> and 2011’s <em>Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang</em>) independently and continues to build on his legacy as one of hip-hop’s greatest ever.
  • mf-doom-11-800x532
    4. DOOM
    The artist formerly known as MF DOOM (and Zev Love X) has been an underground favorite since establishing himself as rap’s super villain on 1999’s <em>Operation Doomsday</em>. Though not always acknowledged in the mainstream, the man also known as Metal Face, Viktor Vaughn and King Geedorah’s influence on the game is undeniable. Mos Def calls himself DOOM’s no. 1 fan and you need your ears checked if you’re not reminded of his gravelly voice and unorthodox flow when listening to Odd Future ringleader Tyler, the Creator.
  • Atmosphere
    2. Atmosphere
    The Minneapolis-based duo has been on the independent grind since the late 1980s and have enjoyed one of the longest, most successful indie careers in hip-hop history. Members Slug and Ant released a double EP last year (<em>To All My Friends</em>, <em>Blood Makes The Blade Holy: The Atmosphere</em> EP's) which hit no. 2 on iTunes charts, and their 2011 album <em>The Family Sign</em> reached no. 13 on the Billboard 200 this past April.
  • TechN9ne
    1. Tech N9ne
    The co-founder and star of Kansas City-based independent giant Strange Music, Tech Nina has sold over one million records without the help of a major label. In June, he dropped his twelfth studio album, <em>All 6’s and 7’s</em>, which featuring the likes of Lil Wayne, B.o.B and Snoop Dogg, and debuted at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 chart with over 55,000 units sold its first week in stores.

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  • @itsdabidnessyo

    And P.O.S. isn’t on this list because…..?

  • Ch*l*z

    Me thinks ……..both Sykzoo n Fashawn must go “major” 2 garner that mainstream audience.

    Just my thoughts………Don’t bite my head off!!!!

  • jmc

    Of course El-P is number 3, which is missing, right?

  • chris

    sleepin on Immortal Technique

    • tony

      He definitely deserves top 10 on here

  • Taylor

    Mac Miller?

    • tech n9ne 89

      gtfo with that bull shyza.

  • wyatt

    taylor right mac miller got major buzz now

  • PAT

    lil b are u fukin kiding me



    • Niels From Amsterdam

      Guys! I had love for this list until I see no Papoose. What’s going on?!?

  • creamGetTheMoney

    the fact that you got OFWKTA and faggot lil b in the top 10 and immortal technique and other greats are lower on the list than them makes me lose all faith in any credibility that this magazine may have once had. FUCK YOU XXL. you dont know shit about hip hop

    • Dead President

      too true .

  • Tru Talk

    woow lol some people on this list is a muthafuckin joke

  • G Money

    where is papoose immortal technique

  • RandomRaphead

    From all the MC’s that could have been put on this list like:
    Royce, Elzhi, Guilty Simpson, Celph Titled, Apathy, Vinnie Paz, Immortal Technique, Diabolic, Esoteric, Chino XL, Crooked I, Guru, Termanology, Reks etc.

    ….you picked LIL B.

    XXL, you should be deeply achaimed.




      SHOULD BE NO.1

  • CJ

    Are you serious, y’all crazy 75% of this last wack, how the fuck y’all gonna put Lil B above Budden, Lil B should be left out all together and where’s Crooked? Who ever wrote this list is mentally challenged,

  • Vert

    um Mac Miller…Tha Joker?

  • brand-new

    i completely agree with randomraphead up top,snubing army of the pharoh’s and jedi mind tricks is just blasphemous, get your head out of your ass xxl, you fell off badly.

  • eric

    how the fuck is immortal technique not on this list

  • TechStudents

    Where the fuck is Aesop Rock on this list? Not including him is just wrong.

  • t

    Are you kidding XXL Lil B ahead of forty water stop it. Whoever came up with this list is feelin hard and probably should get his credentials removed.

  • Dan

    this list is a joke without immortal technique

  • Zak

    So, who’s number 3?

  • the surfer

    youtube/dottygrind “no bass” this guy is on the independent scene wit songs and production!!! if ur into new music tht dont sound like evryone else check him out im sure ur like it!!!

  • Rap Fan

    Agree with all who said that El-p and Immortal Technique deserve a position. I also think that some need to be higher up. For example, Lil B is higher than Brother Ali? What a joke. And I’d say, although Tech N9ne is great, DOOM, Brother Ali, and a few others are better than him.

    • CP

      Tech N9ne >>>>>>>>>>Brother Ali and DOOM when comparing overall talent. But that isnt even what this all about. Tech N9ne has been on the hardest grind of ANYONE on ANY level of the game for the last 12+ years! Indy is a lot about grindin hard, and you know Tech be gettin them independent dollas. STRANGE!

  • Fuck lil b

    Where the hell is immortal technique on this list?? and fuck lil b and his wack ass music!

  • escobar9300

    No Immortal Technique? Fail.

  • Introvert

    What about curren$y?

  • Money Mitch

    I know they’re looked at as a joke in hip hop but next to tech n9ne icp and they’re label are the best independent label ever! Icp went gold in 94′ independetly and host an annual festival that host some of the nations most mainstream and respected acts such as cube, scarface, and naughty by nature. and they make about 2 mill. in merchandise sales every year

  • YerMoM

    TECH tech N9NE n9ne!

  • Techn9cian no. 9

    Tech is the only AMAZING artist on this list….. and if your not a die hard fan since Anghellic. You wouldnt understand

  • nibs

    i wonder how much tech n9ne is paying XXL….

    • CP

      Are you kidding?! Numbers dont lie man, Tech runs the underground. 55k first week and #4 on Billboard 200.

  • rick

    r u 4real no bun b, b.g. slim thug ugk how u got all deez acts on heres wit a few southern acts when every1 knows wen it cums to independent grind da south always been da best at it

  • 6ix

    How do you not add Elzhi to the list when he possibly had so far the best mixtape I heard this year?

  • earl


  • CP

    This list is debatable, but they most definitely got the #1 spot right. Tech aint just the KOD any more he is the KOI!

  • kushington

    haha tech n9ne is number #1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! hahahahahaha

  • RECK

    TECH N9NE is str8 Changin The Game. REAL RECOGNIZE REAL.

  • bob

    why is lil b on this? seriously? and WHERE THE HELL IS IMMORTAL TECHNIQUE? listen to dancing with the devil and tell me he doesn’t deserve to be in the top 5.

  • chode

    kottonmouth kings? Insane Clown Posse? Hopsin? Twiztid?

  • F-O

    pretty decent list… I think Immortal Technique and Jedi Mind Tricks deserved a spot in there though

  • anthony

    where the fuck is kottonmouth kings and insaneclown posse icp have been in the game since 87 88 and kmk have been in the game since 97 both doing it big thier own way

  • mark

    They got number 1 right but immortal Tech and papoose should be on there and Murs should be higher you could put brotha lynch hung too

  • Chyeah

    Lil B is a fucking joke, but at least the KoD got the crown. Mac Miller is a dope lyricist regardless and deserved to be on here much more than half these motherfunkers.

    • >

      He’s allways had the crown

  • Lucid

    TECH N9NE! thats wtf im talkin bout!, but this list is missing ill bill, vinnie paz and necro, only for the fact that they got beef with XXL,they probably dont consider this hip hop, but were the fuck is ICP?, they have gone platinum multiple times!

  • OG_ROB_C

    Yall been ridin Techs dick for awhile now.Ithinks he needs the cover

  • >

    Tech N9ne is the no.1 independent outright and they can be no arguments over that , but immortal technique should be really high up on that list and a few ‘ artists ‘ (if u can even call em that0 shouldnt even be on the list

  • Alana Lenaye Lette

    where the fuck is icp on here? tech deserves number 1, icp deserves #2 point blank nobody has either of them beat

  • turdmaflurd

    i aint one to complain about top lists, but seriously no one be lo?

  • BigRob

    How the fuck is Rich the Factor not on here????

  • Randy

    Use your brains. This list isn’t necessarily about talent and ability, that’s too subjective. It’s probably based on sales, airplay, and fanbase. That being said, STRANGE MUSIC, ALL DAY, ALL NIGHT!

    • Randy

      And, even though I don’t much care for them, yeah, ICP should be on this list.

  • Keese

    BLU and DOOM need to be on top .

  • Diin

    Where the f** is Aesop Rock?

  • shootermcgavin

    wtf how is blu not #1? tech9? really? yo and how you gunna have lil b in the top ten and how is fashawn not up there either and who the hell is trae the truth? like c’mon


    ICP sold more then tech n9ne they went platuim like 3 times at least!

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