Every day this month we're rolling out a new feature on XLR8R's Labels We Love of 2009. Whether it's the eye-catching aesthetics of Type or the model-for-the-future approach of Interdependent Media, these cut-making selections of the best in underground electronic, indie, hip-hop, and experimental imprints punch way above their weight. Feast your eyes on the features and then download many of the labels' related podcasts here.
Three Oakland-based hip-hop industry heads band together for a new kind of conglomerate.
Detroit rapper Finale’s highly praised A Pipe Dream and a Promise dropped in April. Yet, only a few months out, his record label keeps getting asked, “Well, what’s he got going on now?” The response: “He just dropped a dope fucking record. What do you want—a sex tape?” asks Ian “ID” Davis, co-founder of Oakland-based Interdependent Media. “No one wants to build an artist anymore.”
With cats dropping new mixtapes each week (*cough* Charles Hamilton) and artists uploading viral videos of themselves dancing like jackasses for Big Macs in Paris (looking at you, Pharrell), it’s refreshing to see a label that takes the time to push quality product and let the music speak for itself. Rather than focusing on dollars and first-week sales, Davis and partners Evan Phillips and Dominic Del Bene merged minds in 2006 to create a gimmick-free, artist-driven label.
The founders themselves have paid more than their fair share of dues within the industry. Davis is responsible for bringing then-unknown Little Brother to ABB Records and executive-producing the group’s acclaimed debut, The Listening, while working as an A&R for the label. Del Bene previously ran Loud Minority Records, releasing Tanya Morgan’s 2006 debut, Moonlighting, before partnering with Phillips, an artist himself who performs under the moniker Truthlive. Phillips comes from a family background in the organic food industry, and he approaches his business with the same logic: “The organic food culture did things with integrity and collaboration. It provided a healthy alternative to the shopper, and we do the same thing with music,” he says.
“To a fault, we’re a little bit ahead of the curve,” Del Bene adds. Prime example: they released So Cal electro-soul duo J*Davey’s acclaimed double EP The Beauty in Disortion/Land of the Lost last July. Their video for “Slooow” didn’t make mtvU’s Freshmen pick until April of this year.
But even successes like that don’t necessarily translate to sales. “Finale can get a 90/100 review on OkayPlayer, but unless he’s having beef with Dipset or punching Charles Hamilton in the face, it’s not newsworthy,” says Del Bene. “Our label, and hip-hop fans, have had their perspectives shaped by great music, and now great music means dick to radio, buyers, and [other industry types].”
While noted for their recent hip-hop releases, IM isn’t bound to a single genre. “We consider ourselves a lifestyle label,” Phillips says. “It speaks more to a type of person than a type of music.” Studying their small but growing catalog, this type of person needs to have very eclectic tastes, as their diverse releases have so far run from African folk-hop (K’Naan) to electro-soul (J*Davey) to boom-bap rap (Tanya Morgan) to deep house (Windimoto).
The label’s also clever with its marketing. For NY trio Tanya Morgan’s summer smash, Brooklynati, they created a fictional virtual city where fans could even apply for a Brooklynati driver’s license. And to promote Finale’s record, they made “Super Finale,” a Mario Bros.-themed online game where players can unlock an 8-bit version of a song off the album.
In the end, the label heads just want respect and recognition for their artists. “We have actual CDs, not digital files for your recycle bin,” Davis says. “The biggest compliment is to not see our CDs in the used bin… and I don’t.”