During the past two decades or so, as owning and managing your own business has become a realistic and easily attainable goal, many musicians and managers have decided to start their own boutique record labels and explore their artists' creativity, instead of it being stifled by the major label system. For bigger artists, it usually makes sense to partner with a major that can distribute and market to a wider audience, but keeping control through your own entity is really an appealing aspect of running your own label.

Fittingly, execs and musicians who were once bound by the old rules have taken notice, and have built mini-empires by putting out consistently solid music and creating a collaborative atmosphere where the label's (typically like-minded) artists are keen to work with one another. This creative freedom and positive environment allows artists to be micro-managed and guided by a smaller team that is fully devoted to them, and gives them the space to try different styles and sounds as they develop their artistic identity.

Looking back at our five Freshman covers, it's clear to us that some of these smaller boutique labels are doing the right thing. From Puff's historic Bad Boy Records to newer brands like Pittsburgh's Rostrum Records to the Brooklyn-based electronic/hip-hop label Fool's Gold, these specific boutique labels have a keen ear for different types of artists and sounds that have made them true experts in their niche. Here's a walk-through to labels who have had more than one of their artists featured as an XXL Freshman, along with a breakdown of some of their notable artists/releases, as well as what they have coming up. —Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho) and Dan Buyanovsky