How Russ is Dominating the Independent Hip-Hop Space

Releasing eleven projects before he finally blew up, Russ is a symbol of independence in the hip-hop industry.

BYCaleb Hardy
Day N Night

Russ's refusal to cave into a major label record deal has supported the paradigm shift of the hip-hop industry over the past decade. Once a given that a successful MC would quickly dart to one of the major labels, it's now become standard practice for artists to really evaluate their options before signing a deal. Throughout this trend, pressure has been put on record labels to begin treating artists with a more concrete level of sincerity. The ability for labels to micromanage the creative process of artists is beginning to drift away.

However, staying independent is a daunting task for any artist. To this day, the stark reality is that the big-budget marketing behind artists gives them an exponentially greater chance to become global icons. It's a big reason why Olivia Rodrigo's debut album Sour immediately rose to the top of worldwide charts. In addition, many of the headaches associated with tour scheduling, marketing, and scheduling go out the window when a record company controls the business aspect of the artists' careers. However, this means that much of the artists' streaming revenue will return to the record label.

Russ Encourages Hip-Hop Artists Not To Sign A Deal

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 17: Rapper Russ performs onstage at 2017 Music Midtown at Piedmont Park on September 17, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/WireImage)

Amidst this debate, Russ has symbolized an artist whose very much in support of independence. He wrote on Twitter, "Artists: own your music and stop letting these labels take 15% distribution fees for pressing an upload button." He posted screenshots of his weekly payouts, occasionally eclipsing the $100,000 mark. The Atlanta-based rapper has been using Tunecore since his career began taking off in the early 2010s. Tunecore is an independent music distribution that independent artists can use to collect revenue from their art.

Russ has expanded on this issue throughout his career. Unfortunately, many successful artists continue to live paycheck to paycheck when signed to a label deal. Rather than receiving revenue from streams, artists who sign a deal tend to receive a flat check, while the label receives the streaming revenue. AIM Chief Paul Pacifico stated, "If you're defining success as organically building a sustainable business, territory by territory, and really adding the personal touch, then an independent label may be a really, really good option. If what you're looking to do is to hit global scale very, very quickly, then a global apparatus and a huge global marketing spend may be what you need."

He Briefly Signed With Colombia Records

Russ initially blew up off of his 2017 hip-hop album, There's Really a Wolf. Tracks such as "Losin Control" and "What They Want" blossomed into nationwide sensations, solidifying Russ as a name to watch. Since then, he's become known as a DIY pioneer, controlling aspects of the process from producing to publishing his music. His music began garnering some attention all the way back in 2014 when he describes beginning to earn over $1,000 a month on music. "During that little spike, I was kind of like, 'Oh, you can actually make money off of this.' Like real money, you know?" The 21-year-old realized that he could rely on himself rather than a label.

However, Russ wasn't always an independent artist. Back in 2017, he signed a multi-million-dollar record deal with Colombia Records. He explained to host DJ Akademiks, "I made sure that I built up leverage. I was selling out shows. I was doing all of this s**t. So, how much of me did I actually sign to you." It's an approach that's become more commonplace over the past decade, as artists have waited to become successful independent artists before willingly signing over their royalties to labels. However, Russ's deal with Colombia Records didn't last very long. After releasing the deluxe version of SHAKE THE SNOW GLOBE, he had satisfied his obligation rights to the label. After three years, he realized that doing it himself was easier than relying on others.

He Founded Diemon Entertainment in 2022

In 2022, Russ would go on to expand his "artist-friendly" label, Diemon Entertainment, along with hip-hop artist Bugus. The two have a relationship that travels back to when Russ was still making beats in his parents' house as a 20-year-old. In fact, Diemon Entertainment was created all the way back in 2011. Recently, he's decided to turn Diemon from a creative collective into a fully-fledged record label. In an interview with Variety, Russ stated, "It's just a super artist-friendly situation, where we're here to provide resources and mentorship to artists that we believe in."

Russ's success as an independent hip-hop artist sets the stage for ownership as an artist. Of course, he's not the only one to shift the conversation about signing a record deal. Artists such as Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper, and Macklemore have all proven that success can be achieved without a label. Russ's individualistic approach made things more challenging in the early stages of his career. However, Russ's eventual success has made him a symbol of patience and individuality.

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