The landscape of the music business has changed drastically. Artists no longer look to the major label system to thrive in music. Over the last few years, several artists free of the major label system have found their groove within the indies. SoulTrain.com breaks down ten of the top R&B/soul artists who’ve made a successful transition from major to indie.
The Boston-bred soul crooner named his debut album After My Time. So appropriate was the title because for Noel Gourdin, it definitely seemed that he entered the music business at a time after major labels began to lose their interest in adult R&B acts. Not losing his faith, Gourdin left Epic Records for greener pastures at the indie music powerhouse eOne Music for his sophomore offering Fresh: The Definition. It was during this time that Noel really came into himself as a recording artist and performer. This year Noel released his third studio album, City Heart, Southern Soul, as a more polished act. While some have looked at the indies as “minor leagues,” Noel Gourdin is flourishing as one of its star players.
My, oh my. Keke is the artist that we always want to see win. She has so much talent and so much character that you can’t help but be drawn in. Starting her career with MCA Records, Keke found trouble releasing the follow-up to her gold certified debut album Soul Sista. After leaving MCA, Wyatt signed with Cash Money Records and, later, the now defunct TVT Records. Nine years after her debut, Keke Wyatt released her sophomore project, Who Knew, on Shanachie Entertainment. She has since released two more critically acclaimed project as well as landing a prominent role on TV One’s hit reality show R&B Divas Atlanta.
Donell Jones may be the most slept on artist in this list. The majority of his catalog is from the major label system, however Donell made a seamless transition into the world of indies with the release of his Lyrics album. His vocals, stage presence, and lyrics are just as strong as ever and has earned him a spot as one of the most consistent artists of the last 20 years.
The enigma of soul music, there’s something about Bilal that made you wait faithfully from his major label debut 1st Born Second. Bilal stayed on the minds and ears of music enthusiasts for over 9 years. The mystery that surrounded him had both majors and indies alike clamoring for his signature on their dotted lines. Bilal emerged in 2010 with Airtight’s Revenge to major fanfare. Seeing the trend of the music business shift to a system that suited him more, Bilal made an immediate impact as an independent artist. He followed up his rise as an indie artists with 2013’s A Love Surreal.
It’s still hard for some people to believe that Kelly Price has been an independent artist for the last two albums. Her “Kelly” album earned the soul singer a top 25 R&B hit, and a Grammy nomination. The former cast member of TV One’s R&B Divas LA has been making her own way sans a major recording company for quite some time now, and with a new reality series Too Fat For Fame coming, she shows no sign of slowing down.
While Dwele may not win Mr. Popularity in terms of mainstream exposure, he does carry the title of the most diverse musician on the list. The singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has the type of connection with fans that has to be uninterrupted by a middle man like a major label. Dwele prides himself on his interaction with the people who buy his music. It makes the music bond stronger. In the past he has hinted in releasing a project with no label help at all. Dwele just may be one of the only ones on this list that can pull off such a feat.
As an independent artist, the former First Lady of Bad Boy has earned herself 3 top 20 R&B albums, a Grammy nomination, and executive producer credit for 2 hit reality shows with the Atlanta and LA versions of R&B Divas. As a former cast member of Divas, Faith was a part of a wave of reality television that helped revitalize R&B music among adults. Set to release her sixth studio album this year, Faith Evans continues to show there is life for soul music after the majors.
It must be good to be Eric Benet. While everyone is chasing after the top of the pop charts, Benet has been focused on what he does best: making timeless music. Eric Benet made the decision to open his Jordan House label to provide an outlet for himself and other artists to make music the way it should be made: with freedom. Rather than concentrating on keeping up with the Joneses (or Carters), Benet has strengthened his core fan base and grown with each project. His visibility stays high by being an award show staple for tributes and tours constantly. In addition to releasing a new album this year, Benet will also release a new studio album by Calvin Richardson.
Syleena Johnson is arguably the most business savvy cast member of the R&B Divas. Since the shows inception, the daughter of legendary bluesman Syl Johnson has released several projects including an acoustic EP, reggae album with Musiq Soulchild, and a pending fitness DVD. All of these accomplishments were sans a major deal. It was actually her sister/manager Dr. Syleecia Thompson who coined the now famous phrase “Indie Is The New Major,” and that’s the creed Syleena has thrived by.
When Joe released his 7th studio album Joe Thomas: New Man, many wrote him off as being at the end of his storied musical run. One of the more consistent artists of the 90s and 2000s, some felt that Joe would meet the same fate as some of his counterparts. What they didn’t expect was an independent run that would rival his major one. Joe has released 5 albums as an independent, all of which have debuted in the top 5 on the R&B charts. He has sold over half a million records as an independent, raked in tons of awards, and scored a distribution deal with BMG/RED for his own label. Somehow I don’t think he misses the majors.
Nick Eden is a singer/songwriter/R&B junkie based out of Atlanta, GA. He is a winner of the Steve Harvey New Star Project and appeared on Season 1 of BET/Centric’s Apollo Live. Follow him on Twitter @nickeden and on Facebook.