There are few active hip-hop artists with a better understanding of the true meaning of independence than Talib Kweli.
After releasing his first three projects through the independent-before-it-was-cool Rawkus Records, Talib went on to start Blacksmith Records in 2005 and then eventually Javotti Media in 2011. Even when operating under partnerships with major labels, Talib rarely operated in the sects of hip-hop that tended to receive generous financial backing.
Talib’s entrepreneurial spirit and tireless work ethic allowed him to remain active and successful as an independent artist in an era before the internet made things like distribution and artist development a thing of the past. These days, everyone wants to be independent and even the major labels have woken up to the benefit of portraying secret signees as independent to reap the rewards of a perceived organic engagement.
Artists like Chance The Rapper, Tech N9ne and Curren$y have, over the years, made it look appealing and almost easy to be an independent artist, a testament to their acumen. In a recent interview with The Come Up Show, Talib had a reminder of the full weight of the reality of independence for those that might have a skewed perception of what it truly means to be independent:
"Life is frustrating, whether you’re a garbage man or whether you’re a rapper. It’s frustrating and everything is relative. While I’m privileged enough to recognize the perks in life, what I do is hard. It’s very hard to be your own man and entrepreneur. I would venture to say it’s harder to be an independent artist than it is to work for somebody. To work for somebody you have to take direction and instructions. It’s harder to say no and just be out here… and God bless artists and entrepreneurs, who take the chance. Most people choose to work for a corporation because it’s easier to do. It’s easier to be a drone. It’s easier to take instruction than to be who you are and just be free."
To be an independent artist in 2017 is to stand at the front lines of a drastically shifting music industry, often without the expertise of those that were around to see it shift. Depending on the artist and the team around them, that could end up being more of an advantage than a setback, but regardless, it makes for a shitload of work.
Navigating the decline in album sales, tour planning, conceptualizing projects and deciding how to feasibly and successfully release music given the current climate are all required an incredibly hands-on approach. Not being at the creative mercy of a corporate behemoth comes with a price, and that price is often working backward from what one does know, to seek out the answers to what they don’t.
Even with the support of a fantastic team like the one Talib Kweli has assembled at Javotti Media, the array of responsibilities and urgencies that befall an independent artist on a daily basis can be incredibly daunting, and those that are able to undertake that fate and make it work for them deserve praise and patience. Just like Talib says, “God bless artists and entrepreneurs, who take the chance.”
Talib’s statement succinctly conveys the true plight of the independent artist, and at the same time rustles up some across-the-board truths about the textbook definition of independence, which is “free from outside control.”
Photo Credit: Wilson