This is a list of ten independent record labels, bringing you some of the best names in Undeground Hip Hop. While not all the labels are specific to only Hip Hop, they have played a big role in the shaping the music of the last decade.
At Brainfeeder, electronica meets jazz, r&b and soul for an unlikely fusion. Their wide array of artists includes Thundercat, George Clinton and Kamasi Washington. This LA-based label was founded by Flying Lotus in 2008 and has had stunning success across multiple genres since then.
In the short time it’s been around, Closed Sessions has become a top player in Chicago’s music scene. At Closed Sessions, they focus on up and coming artists from the city of Chicago, covering genres like Hip Hop, R&B and Alternative Pop. Their artist lineup includes Kweku Collins, WebsterX and Jamila Woods.
Deathbomb Arc is an indie label out of Los Angeles, and until 2014, its acting CEO was a cat named Leroy Brown. The label has a punk vibe to it, often releasing experimental takes on different genres. Some of their top artists include Death Grips, Julia Holter and JPEGMAFIA.
With artists ranging from Vacationer to Smino, Downtown Records has it all. While it’s main focus is Indie music, the label also has Hip Hop, Electronica and R&B as well. It has the operations and artist base to stand up to bigger label names, while keeping its independent status.
Tucson, AZ is home to Mello Music Group. Their goal is to provide “music for the soul, from the heart of American culture, opening the realm of the intelligent Hip hop experience through melodic evocations, beats that corroborate the truth, and voices that roar above the rising void and impose order on the terrible & triumphant moments of everyday life.” Their artists often follow a more spoken word or art rap style than mainstream Hip Hop. Highlights from the roster include Open Mike Eagle, Oddisee and Quelle Chris.
Ruby Yacht is the record label owned and operated by rapper/producer Milo. Often times, the music found on this label is more avant garde than most major releases, such as Kenny Segal’s expansive instrumental album, happy little trees.
Rhymesayers is a Minneapolis-based independent label focused on giving a voice to many unheard Minnesotan rappers. Notable artists from the label include Aesop Rock and Atmosphere. MF Doom’s Mm.. Food was also released under the label. In addition to releasing records, Rhymesayers also sponsors the annual Soundset Music Festival.
Founded in 1996 by Chris Manak (Peanut Butter Wolf), this label has spent the last two decades as a tastemaker in Underground Hip Hop. Stones Throw has been home to some of Hip Hop’s best and brightest, including Arabian Prince, Madlib, and J Dilla. The famous (or rather infamous) Madlib/MF Doom collaboration known as Madvillain, was released under Stones Throw.
Young Turks is a record label based in London, England. With artist like Sampha and FKA Twigs, their sound combines the best of electronica and R&B. The label is also home to talented producers like Jamie XX and Koreless.
Home to Joji, Rich Brian and Keith Ape, 88 Rising focuses on bringing Asian artists to a worldwide audience. Trying to focus on more than just being a label, 88 Rising is a media conglomerate, creating video content, and even throwing a music festival back in September 2018.