*Hip Hop has grown up from the gritty streets of New York into a worldwide phenomenon with sales that make up a billion-dollar industry, mostly reaped by major record labels—until now. Underground Hip Hop has remained true to its core but is now an organized movement that runs outside of the commercial canon. It is comprised of independent artists, many of whom, are a part of, or run their own labels.
Indies such as Chance the Rapper, the first artist to win a Grammy without selling physical copies of his music, and the late MF Doom; illustrate rappers with dedicated fan bases who utilized the digital era or forged their way without signing a traditional recording deal.
Traditional labels are increasingly being avoided by artists who prefer the control of direct uploading to fans via a multitude of platforms. Money from streaming can be lucrative, yet with a traditional label contract, only a fraction of what is earned is seen by the musicians. If those labels pay only around 20% royalties, an artist getting $8 million a song may only see $2 million after advances.
With the DIY method of self-released tracks— whether uploaded to CD Baby, YouTube, Spotify, or services like TuneCore; artists are able to maintain copyright ownership, creative say-so, and all of their marketing direction. With streaming revenues reaching $14.2 billion in 2020, since the pandemic, with homebound artists and increases in social media users, independent labels over-performed the market with a streaming share of nearly 31.5% of the take.
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To get an inside look, EURWEB virtually visited the place where Hip Hop originated. We spoke with Bronx-based producer Puzzlebeats who curates a show offering that gritty NYC underground, on Public Enemy founder Chuck D’s Rapstation Internetwork. As a producer, and head of LNF Music Inc., his connection to indie artists on the rise gives a unique insight into the independent movement.
Without a major label’s budget, and as an indie artist, is it difficult to wear so many hats creatively and manage administrative needs?
Difficult sometimes but very necessary all the time. I find that I do just as much administrating as I do producing. I have even written on some of my albums but never because I had to. I’ve been lucky enough to have artists with an extensive pen game, so when I write it’s because I’m in a rush or I just have a vision the artist might not see yet. As for wearing other hats… yes indeed. I’m everything. I’m CEO of my own Label, LNF Music Inc. I handle all my marketing and promotions creating video snippets and promos, and even mastering my own music. I also do all my own artwork. I’m nosey about business so I want know everything.
What do you look for when collecting that gritty NYC sound for your music podcast?
Originality and content. It’s not easy because most of the submissions I receive are artist that are trying to sound like somebody else. I also go to their artist profile on any streaming sites and check out some of their other music. I like artists that go against the grain and those are the ones I feel need to be heard the most.
Who are some of the new emerging artists found in the NYC Hip Hop underground?
Illa Ghee, I’ve been working with for many years. He’s about his craft and when I need that gritty hood feel with top-notch wordplay for one of my tracks, he never fails. Blitz Bundy is another. If I give him the beat, I can let him run with it and know it’s gonna be bananas. I see the raw talent in Chachi Bunker & Mel Murda (both Borough Gang representatives) and also ThattKiddee is a female rap artist I’ve had on my projects that has a sound for the new generation. Crisco you can hear on the song UNPHUCKWITABLE is another artist to watch out for as well. Presh Xoxo is another female artist I featured on the Diamond Grenade album. All these artists give that variety that is a must for me on all my projects and rep that underground sound.
When it comes to producing in this live stream era, what are the differences between how music was made and sold say, a decade ago, as opposed to today—particularly for you as a producer in terms of sales, fanbase building, and distribution?
In my opinion, music has become more cookie-cutter. It’s like one formula and everybody is chasing whatever that is no matter if it compromises their originality. Even though there are a lot of hot songs coming out of this generation, I think the desire to stand out is not the same as ’90s and even 2000’s Hip Hop. As a producer, I think our importance has been reduced due to YouTube beat sellers pushing beats for forty bucks, and radio playing those songs all day letting certain subpar production become the norm. I also feel music is not loved as much as a decade ago. Seems a lot of people become fans of the artist’s lifestyle or “swag” instead of their music. If we are talking sales as in streams vs downloads or hard copies there is pros & cons to both.
Your promo ads are often funny, or striking visually; how important is that sort of ad creation and promotion for pushing up numbers in both sales and fanbase followers?
It’s very important because truthfully, this world is visual before anything. If the ad’s visuals grab them, it holds their interest enough to get to hear the song. I do a lot of promotion on google & Instagram and even Twitter. In Google, you get a certain amount of seconds before the viewer can hit SKIP AD and if they don’t watch for a certain amount of seconds, your retention drops and you fall lower in the YouTube feed.
Is there a downside to using social media platforms for promotion over other paid advertisements for indies?
Depends on if you’re using a paid advertisement on social media platform. If you mean free social media platform advertising then, yes, indeed it falls short compared to other advertising methods. Unless you have over a million followers, then using social media platforms can never hold a candle to paid advertisement. Social media platforms are like advertising to only your friends.
Is the album-making process any different in this single-heavy, streaming market era?
I wouldn’t say it’s different it’s just more involved because an album has to flow. My aim when producing an album is for the listener to be able to press play and hit fast forward as little as possible. I also aim for my skits to make my albums more like movies. Anything less is a waste to me. I have learned that this new generation of listeners are all about the single. I never understood how a fan can love a single and not go seek out the album to hear what else the artist has to offer. I’ve had a guy send me proof that he listened to my song Red Light Green Light with Blitz Bundy over 40 times in a day but he never listened to anything else. He didn’t even know it was off of a full-length album with 14 other songs.
What final advice would you give aspiring talent who would like to stay independent but successfully maneuver as one?
Best advice I can give is do not chase a label. Put a little money behind your craft and all your time into your talent. Also, do not think you can put out music without marketing and promotion. If you knew just how many artists are coming out daily you would understand why it’s so important to master those two areas. And make sure you always ask yourself what about you and your music will make you stand out in this oversaturated market. Last advice is that you learn the business of music— publishing and copyright is major! Too many artist don’t know much about either.
Puzzlebeats’ next album project is set to release by April 2022 and his music podcasts airs weekdays Monday-Friday from the Rapstation Network app (download from any app store or RSTV.Com) and via Live365 on Anthem Tongue Radio.
On all platforms under Puzzlebeats_otb and on his website: puzzlebeatslnf.com.