Fresh off of the completion of Phase 1 of his World Domination Tour, Joey Bada$$ took to Twitter for a little reflection, and maybe a little boasting about the success of his debut album (perhaps in response to another NY rhymesayer's first week sales woes).
Impressive, of course, and especially so for an independent artist. There's no discrediting the above, Joey's been able to do what many artists only dream of. He came into the game with a disarming sense of maturity, much like the classic sound to which his style was attributed. Catching the eye of indie label Cinematic Music Group at the age of 15, he did not truly garner anything resembling notoriety until the release of "Survival Tactics" two years later. Since then, the Brooklynite has achieved a sizable fanbase for himself and his Pro Era crew and commercial success in a relatively short period of time. Still only 20-years-old, he can rightfully claim an album with first week sales north of 50,000, giving him a Billboard Top 5 album release under his belt (No. 1 in hip-hop), one that bested major label releases from established hip-hop artists (hello, Lupe) and countless others for the year, regardless of genre.
He went on to address his status in the game, boldly claiming his spot at the top of the Indie Rapper Pyramid.
Is he right? "Number one" may be a bit subjective when it comes to music and skill, but after clearly stating his earnings it's obvious this is about financial success. Joey's getting paid, calling out all those around him bathed in major label moola and firing shots since he's been able to retain creative control over his work. Even with the stats he's boasting, though, a few other names come to mind when the debate turns to who's truly number one independently.
What about Tech N9ne? Obviously, Tech's been active for well over a decade, still fully independent through the efforts of the label he founded, Strange Music. He's had some time to build up his own fanbase. In recent years, his label has surged with high profile collaborations and actual mainstream hits. His most recent album, Special Effects, debuted at number four on the Billboard Top 100, selling roughly 55,000 copies in its first week, besting the first week numbers of Joey's debut. And that's not counting Tech's other earnings through touring, merchandise and the rest of his label. If Bada$$ is citing those figures as the reason he's #1 (he did use the phrase "that makes me"), the simple, pure math says Tech is raking in significantly more profits.
And how about Lecrae? Chances are good you didn't think of him. Yes, he's a "Christian" rapper, but he's inarguably a "Hip Hop artist" like Joey. In case you were unaware, Anomaly was released last summer to 88,000 unit sales. That's more than anyone I've just named, and good enough for the number one album the week it was released. As the co-founder of his own label, Reach Records, Lecrae is also an independent. One could (wrongly) argue that the Gospel element might push Lecrae from "pure hip-hop" conversations, but if we're using first week sales as a benchmark than he's a contender that outpaced Joey by a good margin over the first seven days.
Many more names come to mind. Macklemore's singles were promoted through Warner Music Group's radio promotion, discount his independence as you will, but his success has been astronomical. Mac Miller may be signed to Warner Bros. now, but under indie label Rostrum he twice broke 100K in first week album sales. The Run The Jewels duo of El-P and Killer Mike may not have had the high first week sales as some names mentioned in this article, but they're making a huge impact and have certainly fashioned a wildly successful brand in their own right. Funk Volume is made up of several artists, but they're a "Hip Hop brand" and have several successful acts, too. Oh, and Chance The Rapper. It's harder to get a quantitative measure on Chance's success so far, seeing that he's never released a for-purchase solo album, but surely he has to be in the discusson.
Plus there's Troy Ave, who had this to say after apparently feeling slighted by Joey's series of Tweets.
If you use the Internet and enjoy hip-hop, you are most likely familiar with the slander Troy received once his first week sales went public. Seemingly calling out Joey for his lack of single success (valid), endorsements (presidential daughters don't count?) and party hosting cred (I didn't realize this was an indicator of success...), as well as an attempt at a knockout punch by calling him a #FakeIndependent. It's true that Joey is signed to Cinematic, and that they have a partnership with Sony RED. Despite the ownership by Sony though, Sony Red is an independent distribution company, you know, like Troy's Empire Distribution.
So lets use this as a chance to recognize Joey Bada$$ as one of the top independent hip-hop artists/brands out there, a young man who deserves praise. But after a wider view, there's just no way we can comfortably give him the crown. We do know one thing for certain though, it doesn't belong to Troy Ave. After that...let the debate begin.
[By Brendan Varan. He's actually an industry plant. Follow him on Twitter.]