When Jay-Z quipped, "I don't wear jerseys, I'm 30 plus", the landscape of urban fashion changed before he finished the verse. But you knew that already. Hov's latest revelation? "I will never have a 'record deal' again", he Twittered last week after news broke about his plan for releasing Blueprint 3. After Friday's debut of the album's street single, "Death Of Autotune", Jay-Z further explained himself in an interview with Hot 97. "I just wanted to be totally independent and free in what I want to do," he stated. Coming from a guy who prides himself on setting trends, we're expecting to see every rapper following in his footsteps in the coming months. Or at least trying to.
See, deciding you don't need a record deal anymore isn't as easy as storing away your throwbacks in the attic. But luckily, there are some other big names who have decided to go the "independent" route whose struggle we can learn from. Take a moment to look back at some of the independent superstars who paved the way for Jay-Z...
Independent Since: 1996
Prince initially signed with Warner Bros. in the late '70s because they were the only label willing to give him creative control of his music. But by the mid '90s, tensions with WB were at all-time high. The Purple One changed his name to the unpronounceable Love Symbol and even went as far to write "SLAVE" on his face during performances. Prince's main gripe with the label was their insistence that he release albums less often, which he felt limited his artistic freedom, and Warner's poor marketing of the Love Symbol album only fueled the fire. Prince finally achieved independence in 1996 before returning to the majors for stints with Arista, Columbia, and Universal earlier this decade. Nowadays, he's back to releasing music independently under his NPG imprint.
NINE INCH NAILS
Independent Since: 2007
Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails' front man and only official member, has been critical of record labels since he first signed with TVT two decades ago. Reznor even resorted to secretly recording under pseudonyms as a coping mechanism for record label conflicts early in his career. Nine Inch Nails' signing with Interscope only led to more disputes that came to a head in 2007. Reznor was pissed at Universal (Interscope's parent company) for a pricing and distribution structure for NIN's Year Zero album that he deemed "absurd" in a highly publicized blog post. Reznor maintained that true fans were getting ripped off and encouraged them to "steal" his music during live shows. Nine Inch Nails became free agents with no contractual ties to any record labels later that year. The band has been touring and releasing music independently ever since.
Independent Since: 2004
Everyone knows the story of Radiohead's shift to releasing music independently, but that doesn't make it any less significant. After fulfilling contractual obligations with EMI, the band went on a four year hiatus before announcing (10 days before its release) a new album, In Rainbows, that fans could purchase for whatever amount they desired. The album was successful digitally and physically, receiving millions of downloads but also charting at #1 in the US and UK. Radiohead's decision to release music independently was less about label strife and more about abandoning a "decaying business model." As put by Thom Yorke: "I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one." Good point.
Independent Since: 2000
Garth Brooks may not get a lot of play around the office, but we can still acknowledge a G move when we see one. The country music icon retired in 2000 with no plans to tour or record new material until his youngest daughter graduates high school in 2015. But instead of letting Capitol Nashville cake off his catalog for another decade, Garth, who owns all of his masters, left the label and inked an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart in 2005. The deal made Wal-Mart the only retailer with the rights to sell his back catalog and allowed Garth to earn profits with no record label interference. We getting Wal-Mart money!
Independent Since: 2007
After the disappointing sales of his self-titled Def Jam debut, Jersey's most emotional MC made the mistake of having a lyrical battle with Jay-Z, the man who would soon become his boss. When his follow-up, The Growth, subsequently slid to the bottom of Def Jam's priority list, the rapper started throwing jabs at his label in songs and interviews. Both parties agreed to part ways, and Joey quickly signed with burgeoning internet-centric indie label Amalgam Digital (after which his sophomore album was delayed for 3 more years. D'oh!). Okay, so maybe Joey didn't exactly choose to go independent, but he does deserve credit for being one of the first rappers who chose to go with a non-traditional label after being dropped.