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Ashanti To Frank Ocean: 9 Artists Who Claimed Their (Label) Independence

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Photo: Earl Gibson III/WireImage.com

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Ashanti To Frank Ocean: 9 Artists Who Claimed Their (Label) Independence

In honor of America's Independence Day, let's take a look at a firecracker pack of fiercely independent musicians

GRAMMYs/Jul 4, 2018 - 05:17 am

Building a successful music career isn't easy. It takes some magical combination of tireless sharpening of one's craft, key business relationships and more than a little good fortune to create - and monetize - any kind of artistic revolution, big or small.

Fortunately, there are more paths than ever to share music with the world, running the spectrum from DIY lemonade stand bootstrapping to new emerging models of artist development to artists applying their sweat and smarts to leverage never-before-seen major label deals. And while major labels remain one of the most effective ways for an artist to reach an audience, they are far from the only option for artists with something to say. All in all, there are as many paths to success as there are great artists.

In honor of our nation's Independence Day, we put together a list of nine artists who claimed their label independence and took the tricky business of music into their own hands.

Frank Ocean

The label life isn't for everyone, especially for artists with an independent spirit like Frank Ocean. The GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter took strong initiative in bringing to life his 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra and his breakthrough debut studio album, 2012's GRAMMY-winning Channel Orange. Following the success of these projects, in one of the most publicized declarations of independence, Ocean then dropped the 2016 visual album Endless to fulfill his major label obligations and quickly followed with Blonde, which he released through his own label, Boys Don't Cry, exclusively online. Blonde sold more than 275,000 million copies in its first week, proving that Ocean is a fierce spirit in complete control of his destiny. — Renée Fabian

Ani DiFranco

From the beginning, singer/songwriter and industry pioneer Ani DiFranco has been fearless as folk and heavy on chutzpah, opting to form her own independent label, the now-legendary Righteous Babe Records, instead of kowtowing to the confines of a major label deal. Her 1996 song "Napoleon" from Dilate encapsulated the industry's rapacious insatiability. When asked about what impact her legacy with Righteous Babe will have on future independent artists, DiFranco said "I think the age of the musical artist as indentured servant to a big record company is over, and I think I have something to do with that, which I'm proud of. … And I think that people will carry [that spirit] forward and reinvent [independence] in so many new ways that I will never even dream of." — Nate Hertweck

Cuco

Known more commonly as Cuco, Omar Banos is an independent up-and-coming artist. If you've never heard of him, the 20-year-old Chicano from Hawthorne, Calif. — a city just south of Los Angeles — is gaining fans for his romantic lyrics in both English and Spanish. His synthesized dream pop melodies in songs like "Lover Is A Day" and "Sunnyside" have attracted thousands of followers online, thousands of streams and a performance at Coachella this year, despite not belonging to a label. Since going viral in 2016 for his cover of Santo & Johnny's guitar instrumental "Sleep Walk," he has released two self-produced albums and his latest EP, Chiquito or "little one," in May. Where will all this success take Cuco? The artist told Billboard that he will remain independent for now. — Jennifer Velez

Mýa

In the late '90s and early '00s, Mýa scored such major label hits as "It's All About Me," "Case Of The Ex" and the her smash collaboration with Christina Aguilera, Pink and Lil' Kim, "Lady Marmalade." But when she broke ties with her label after 2008's Sugar & Spice, she was determined to blaze her own trail. The GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter started her own independent label, Planet 9, and has released three EPs, a mixtape and three new albums since, including TKO (The Knock Out), which dropped earlier this year. With a focus on maintaining artistic control and going directly to her fans, Mýa has inspired a generation of artists to take control their own success. — N.H.

Aloe Blacc

The uncompromising Aloe Blacc uniquely blends R&B with hip-hop over a wide stylistic range, including a collaboration with the late EDM artist Avicii. Blacc also is known for standing up for what he believes in. The singer/songwriter sat alongside Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow to defend copyright modernization during GRAMMY Week this year, before the New York field hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. Blacc's creative fulfillment took him to indie label Stones Throw Records for his first two albums, 2006's Shine Through and 2010's Good Things. Although Blacc moved on to working with Interscope for his 2013 album Lift Your Spirit, whichreceived a nomination for Best R&B Album at the 57th GRAMMY Awards, it was his success on an indie that put him in the driver's seat. — Philip Merrill

Ashanti

GRAMMY-winning R&B singer/songwriter Ashanti made a smart business move when she established her own record label, Written Entertainment with eOne Music back in 2011. After her previous record deal had reportedly "run its course," her independence allowed her to exert complete creative control in her career and has led to some stunning music. Most notably, Ashanti released her first independent record in 2014, BraveHeart, which included collaborations with French Montana, Jeremih and Rick Ross. The album debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200. Though she's been pretty quiet musically since, in November 2017, Ashanti released "Say Less" with Ty Dolla $ign, and rumors abound that a new album could be coming soon. — R.F.

St. Vincent

St. Vincent's body of work started as a sensation and has stayed at that level with unabashedly personal artistic statements. Like many an indie, the small label route was where it began, with Britain's 4AD, connected with Beggars Group and formerly Beggars Banquet. And though her 2012 collaboration Love This Giant with David Byrne was the last of her AD4 albums, she has carried on her independent spirit to her next, self-titled album, which won Best Alternative Music Album at the 57th GRAMMY Awards. — P.M.

Hanson

It's hard to imagine reaching the kind of success Hanson found out of the gate with their 1997 smash hits "MMMBop" and "Where's The Love" from the Middle Of Nowhere album they came from. But what goes up must come down, and when the band couldn't do the impossible and match the wild success of their freshman hits on their sophomore effort, the industry turned cold to the trio of brothers from Tulsa, Okla. Unbroken and undeterred, the brothers Hanson returned to the grindstone in 2001, writing more than 80 songs for their third album, Underneath. When none of the majors would get behind the project, Hanson released the album on their own label, 3CG Records, in 2004 and even scored a No. 2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Penny & Me." Most importantly, they retained the most loyal of their fanbase and regained control of their musical destiny instead of giving up when they were told the age-old, "I don't hear a single." — N.H.

Chance The Rapper

When you think of independent artists, Chance The Rapper is probably one of the first artists that comes to mind. Arguably the most well-known artist of the moment not to use a label as a pathway to commercial success in the music industry, Chance continues to declare musical independence. To him, independence is a realistic way to reach success; it just takes some patience. "I just wanna remain transparent. Folks out there without a deal need to know they're doing everything right just keep at it," he tweeted out after some push back on the authenticity of his independence. Before he released his 2016 album, Coloring Book, exclusively through Apple, his music was available online for free. During the 59th GRAMMY Awards, the first year streaming-only works were added in consideration for awards consideration, the rapper made history by winning three GRAMMYs, including Best New Artist. — J.V.

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Allen Hughes' "The Defiant Ones" Wins Best Music Film | 2018 GRAMMY

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Allen Hughes' "The Defiant Ones" Wins Best Music Film | 2018 GRAMMY

Director Allen Hughes' four-part documentary takes home Best Music Film honors for its portrayal of the unlikely partnership that changed the music business

GRAMMYs/Jan 29, 2018 - 02:09 am

The team behind The Defiant Ones celebrated a big win for Best Music Film at the 60th GRAMMY Awards. The crew awarded include director Allen Hughes and producers Sarah Anthony, Fritzi Horstman, Broderick Johnson, Gene Kirkwood, Andrew Kosove, Laura Lancaster, Michael Lombardo, Jerry Longarzo, Doug Pray & Steven Williams.

In a year rife with quality music documentaries and series, the bar has been set high for this dynamic category. The Defiant Ones is a four-part HBO documentary telling the story of an unlikely duo taking the music business by storm seems better suited for fantastical pages of a comic book, but for engineer-turned-mogul Jimmy Iovine and super-producer Dr. Dre, it's all truth.The Defiant Ones recounts their histories, their tribulations and their wild success. These include first-hand accounts from those who were there in Iovine's early days, such as Bruce Springsteen and U2's Bono, as well as those on board when Dre and Iovine joined forces, such as Snoop Dogg and Eminem.

The competition was stiff as the category was filled with compelling films such as One More Time With Feeling, Two Trains Runnin', Soundbreaking, and Long Strange Trip. 

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Portugal. The Man To Aida Cuevas: Backstage At The 2018 GRAMMYs

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Portugal. The Man To Aida Cuevas: Backstage At The 2018 GRAMMYs

Also see James Fauntleroy, Reba McIntire, Latroit, and more after they stepped off the GRAMMY stage

GRAMMYs/Jan 29, 2018 - 05:39 am

What do artists do the moment they walk off the GRAMMY stage from presenting, accepting an award or performing? Now, you can find out.

Take a peak at Album Of The Year GRAMMY winner Bruno Mars, 60th GRAMMY Awards Host James Cordon, Cardi B minutes before her electrifying performance of "Finesse," and more!

Also see Best Pop Duo/Group Performance GRAMMY winners Portugal. The Man posing with their first career GRAMMY Award, Best Roots Gospel Album GRAMMY winner Reba McIntire right after she walked offstage, Best R&B Song GRAMMY winner James Fauntleroy, Best Remixed Recording GRAMMY winner Latroit, and many more, with these photos from backstage during the 60th GRAMMY Awards.

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Bruno Mars Wins Song Of The Year | 2018 GRAMMYs

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Bruno Mars Wins Song Of The Year | 2018 GRAMMYs

The Hawaiian native takes home Song Of The Year for "That's What I Like" at the 60th GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Jan 29, 2018 - 08:11 am

Feeling the 24K Magic, Bruno Mars' successful progress through the categories he's been nominated in at the 60th GRAMMY Awards picked up another one at Song Of The Year for "That's What I Like."


Christopher Brody Brown and Philip Lawrence co-write with Mars under the name Shampoo Press & Curl. The other winning songwriters for Mars' hit tonight in this category are James Fauntleroy and production team "The Sterotypes" — Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus and  Jonathan Yip.

For additional "Finesse" on stage at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, Mars was joined by Cardi B for a reprise of their 148-million-views hit remix.

The Album Of The Year GRAMMY Award wrapped up the night and wrapped up Bruno Mars' complete rampage through his six nominated categories — now six wins.

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Mariah Carey Tells Fans Fire Music Is Coming With New Album 'Caution'

Mariah Carey

Photo: David Crotty/Getty Images

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Mariah Carey Tells Fans Fire Music Is Coming With New Album 'Caution'

The sultry R&B/pop superstar has announced she will release her 15th studio album next month – what will she bring us this time around?

GRAMMYs/Oct 17, 2018 - 05:39 am

Never one to do things quietly, the GRAMMY-winning R&B/pop diva with the angelic voice Mariah Carey came boldly onto the scene in 1990 with her GRAMMY-nominated debut self-titled album. At the 33rd GRAMMY Awards she took home her first two wins: Best New Artist and for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for "Vision Of Love," which she performed on the GRAMMY stage. The song was the album's first single and Carey's first No. 1 song. Since taking center stage at the beginning of the '90s the star hasn't looked back, releasing 13 studio albums and plenty of hits over the years. Four years after the release of her last album, she has announced that her next one is a month away. What will she serve up on her 15th LP?

The star recently shared on Twitter that her latest album is called Caution and will be released on Nov. 16, 2018. We first got a hint of a new album on Sept. 13 when she announced an album was in the works and released the lead single, "GTFO." The album's second single, "With You," followed on Oct. 4.

On "GTFO" she confidently asks a soon-to-be-ex lover "How 'bout you get the f* out?" in breathy vocals over a slow, melodic beat by GRAMMY-winning producer Nineteen85. "With You" feels like a classic Carey R&B love song with her angelic vocals backed by snapping and a melodic slow jam groove produced by hip-hop beat maker DJ Mustard, who lets her voice shine on an uncharacteristically mellow track for him. These songs hint that her latest release will give us songs that not only showcase her incredible vocal range and versatility, but also give us both nostalgia-inducing tracks as well as radio-ready hits.

"GTFO" gives us a taste of some of the new flavor that she is bringing to her new album, singing the song's coy lyrics completely in more-understated breathy vocals without belting any big high notes, not even during the chorus. It's a catchy, playful breakup song, as she confidently sings "get the f* out/how 'bout you take your tings and be on your merry way?/Fly off with the wind, bye bye baby/How 'bout you scusami, Mimi'll call you a valet."

The song was co-written and co-produced by Jeff Jefferies aka Nineteen85, who is half of OVO R&B duo dvsn and is responsible for producing some of Drake's biggest hits, including the GRAMMY-winning mega-hit "Hotline Bling." On the Drake's song "Emotionless" from his latest album, Scorpion, he samples Carey's lyrics from remixed classic hit "Emotions." Hopefully Jefferies has some catchy hits up his sleeve for Carey, and maybe even brings in some OVO artist surprises.

Carey has released some great collabs over the years, a majority with R&B and hip-hop artists, including Boyz II Men on heartfelt slow jam "One Sweet Day" from 1995's Daydream and Jay-Z on the upbeat classic belter "Heartbreaker" from 1999's Rainbow. We can only hope that the new album will offer some new, soon-to-be-classic hits with some of our other favorite artists.

Her most recent album, Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, released in 2014, had more collab tracks than usual for her, which could perhaps point towards some hot features on Caution. The deluxe edition of the 2014 album had six songs with other artists, including rappers Nas, Fabolous, Wale and R. Kelly as well as R&B singers Miguel and Mary J. Blige. The  album's lead single, "Beautiful," has Miguel and Carey singing a soulful, feel-good duet, while "Dedicated" features a bounce-y, electronic-infused hip-hop beat with a verse from Nas. Seeing that she worked with big-time hip-hop producers on the new album's lead singles, we can only hope that they not only offered their production genus to more of the tracks, but perhaps brought some of their friends into the studio as well.

Fans only have to wait a month for the full dose of new music from Carey, but until then we will send our prayers to the music gods that the album will feature all of our dream collabs, perhaps some old and new friends, and offer up some new favorite songs, with some to slow dance to and others to belt out in the shower.

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