Determined to do it their way, Los Angeles-based record label Funk Volume has figured out how to survive and thrive in hip-hop. Independent or die!
Words Tzvi Twersky
Images Tommy Garcia
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the October/November 2013 issue of XXL Magazine.
In January 2013 Las Vegas rapper Dizzy Wright won the “People’s Champ” poll on XXLMag.com and was named the 10th member of XXL’s 2013 Freshman Class. Dizzy didn’t come from a major hip-hop city, and he hadn’t yet garnered any mainstream love, but what he did have was much more important: a large and vocal fanbase, which he built as an artist signed to Funk Volume. The Los Angeles-based independent label was no stranger to the XXL Freshmen hubbub as Funk Volume’s founder, Hopsin, was a part of the Class Of 2012.
Since its inception five years ago, Funk Volume has not only had two of its artists become XXL Freshmen, the label has also built a significant hip-hop brand with a growing following thanks to the help of their roster, which also includes Jarren Benton, SwizZz, Kato, Rikio and DJ Hoppa. “Some [rappers] make it seem like they’re not human any more, like they’re not regular,” says Hopsin via phone this June. “We’re not about that. You might see us buying Now & Laters at the gas station or pissing in a McDonald’s bathroom. We’re just normal guys.”
That mentality might not exactly serve as a basis for Funk Volume’s success as they’ve gone from a label that only existed in Hopsin’s head in 2008 to a popular, forward-thinking small business with two Freshmen, two buzzing artists and lucrative national and international tours completed in 2013. It certainly is a major factor, though, as Funk Volume has proved that it’s a label hip-hop shouldn’t be sleeping on, one that seems to be just getting started.
Quick-witted lyricist Hopsin entered the industry in 2007 as an artist at the famed Ruthless Records, which was trying to make a comeback led by Eazy-E’s widow, label owner Tomica Wright.
Hopsin parted ways with Ruthless two years later in a messy split, angry over the delayed release and lack of promotion of his debut LP, 2009’s Gazing At The Moonlight. The previous year, during tense times with Ruthless, Hopsin began to focus on his own label, Funk Volume, so by the time of the split, he had his own project in motion. To this day Hopsin, still leery of his experience with Ruthless Records (which has been a target in several of his songs), is determined to keep Funk Volume independent so he can play by his own rules. He’s turned down major-label opportunities, even refusing to return calls from label heavyweights or
In 2008 Hopsin brought Damien “Dame” Ritter, who had recently been laid off from Deloitte Consulting in Chicago, on board as CEO and co-founder. He also signed the label’s first artist, SwizZz, Ritter’s younger brother who went to school with Hopsin. By 2010 Funk Volume had dropped Hopsin’s second album, Raw, the label’s first official release. Soon Funk Volume was touring around the country and Hopsin was getting known for his energetic, crowd-pleasing performances. “When I saw the fans and how they responded to Hop, I was like, ‘Goddamn,’” says Dizzy Wright, who Ritter first spotted online then signed in early 2012. “I had never seen anyone put on a show how they put on, just really working with each other. I think that is what kind’ve sealed the deal.”