Underground hip hop
Underground hip hop is an umbrella term for hip hop music outside the general commercial canon. It is typically associated with independent artists, signed to independent labels or no label at all. Underground hip hop is often characterized by socially conscious, positive, or anti-commercial lyrics. However, there is no unifying or universal theme – Allmusic suggests that it "has no sonic signifiers". "The Underground" also refers to the community of musicians, fans and others that support non-commercial, or independent music. Music scenes with strong ties to underground hip hop include alternative hip hop and horrorcore. Many artists who are considered "underground" today, were not always so, and may have previously broken the Billboard charts.
Underground hip-hop encompasses several different styles of music, though it is often politically themed and socially conscious. Numerous acts in the book How to Rap are described as being both underground and politically or socially aware, these include –  Little Brother, Brother Ali, Mr. Lif, Murs, Immortal Technique, Binary Star, People Under the Stairs, Lifesavas, Zion I.
Underground artists often have high levels of critical acclaim – acts who have been specifically noted as being both underground and having numerous critically acclaimed albums include Jurassic 5, Aesop Rock, Ugly Duckling, Little Brother, Brother Ali, El Da Sensei, Dilated Peoples, Non Phixion, Freestyle Fellowship, Binary Star, Planet Asia, People Under the Stairs, Cannibal Ox and Zion I.
Additionally, many underground artists are said to have "intelligent", "intricate", or "complex" lyrics, these include Akir, Ugly Duckling, Brother Ali, E-Dubyah!, Aaron Gonzalez,Cage, Immortal Technique, El Da Sensei, Blackalicious, NCKF99, Mr. Lif, Murs, Binary Star, Planet Asia, Lifesavas, Sage Francis,, Zion I, The Even Keel,Skidzz, Omega Jackson, Yasiin Bey, MF Doom, Talib Kweli, Yak Ballz, Eyedea & Abilities, Aesop Rock and Tajai Massey.
Some underground artists produce music that celebrates the fundamental elements or pillars of hip hop culture, such as People Under the Stairs, Apathy, and Blacastan whose music "recalls hip-hop's golden age".
Mixtapes are the medium of the underground artist. They are often composed of original material, and are distributed via the internet or in person at one of any number of regional distribution services. Mixtapes depend on word of mouth and hand to hand exchanges for promotion.
In hip hop's formative years, the vast majority of the genre was underground music, by definition. Although the Sugarhill Gang gained commercial success in 1979, most artists did not share such prominence until the mid-1980s. Ultramagnetic MCs debut album Critical Beatdown is seen as one of the earliest examples of "underground hip hop". It was described that the album was characteristic of what would later be known as "underground hip hop". New York underground rapper Kool Keith received notable success with his album Dr. Octagonecologyst, gaining more attention than any contemporary independent hip hop album "in quite a while".
Detroit underground hip hop label Reel Life Productions had its highest charting success with the Dayton Family member Bootleg's solo release Hated By Many Loved By Few, which peaked at #174 on the Billboard 200, #6 on Independent Albums, and #38 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Esham's Tongues, which peaked at #195 on the Billboard 200, #7 on Independent Albums, #46 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and #14 on Top Heatseekers. Another Detroit underground label, Psychopathic Records, had its highest success with Insane Clown Posse's albums The Amazing Jeckel Brothers and later Bang! Pow! Boom!, as well as The Mighty Death Pop! Binary Star's Masters of the Universe was described as a "refreshing alternative from the mainstream of rap". Tech N9ne and Strange Music achieved their biggest success with the album All 6's and 7's.
Indie hip hop 
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The term "underground hip hop" has been used to describe both indie hip hop (which is defined by its artists being unsigned or signed to independent record labels, rather than major record labels) as well as alternative hip hop (which is defined by music that diverges from mainstream hip hop music such as gangsta rap). As the term "indie hip hop" is indicative of the artists making the music rather than the music itself, it is not strictly a genre, but rather covers a range of styles with clearly discernable hip hop characteristics.
Like indie rock artists, many indie hip hop artists place a premium on maintaining complete control of their music and careers, releasing albums on independent record labels (sometimes their own) and relying on touring, word-of-mouth and air play on independent or college radio stations for promotion. Some of its more popular artists, however, may end up moving to major labels, though often on favorable terms won by their prior independent success.
Independent hip hop labels include Strange Famous Records, Alpha Pup Records, Fake Four Inc, Anticon, Rhymesayers Entertainment, Definitive Jux, Rawkus Records, Nature Sounds, Quannum Projects, Babygrande Records, 301Studios, QN5 Music, Strange Music, Duck Down Records, Psychopathic Records, Reel Life Productions, Funk Volume and Stones Throw. Notable indie hip hop artists include Hopsin, 7L & Esoteric, Blackalicious, The Visionaries, Madlib, Tonedeff, Cage, Mr. Lif, Shabazz Palaces, The Perceptionists, Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, Fashawn, Sole, Sage Francis, B. Dolan, Busdriver, Lord Jamar, Jedi Mind Tricks, Immortal Technique, Tech N9ne, Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun, Insane Clown Posse, Bronze Nazareth, The Weeknd, Outerspace, the artists of Boot Camp Clik, Termanology, Macklemore and Esham. Danger Mouse, although now signed with Parlophone, built his career as an indie hip hop artist.
See also 
- Cheryl L. Keyes (March 2004). Rap Music and Street Consciousness. University of Illinois Press. p. 336. ISBN 0-252-07201-4.
- How to Rap, p. 342.
- Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 316.
- How to Rap, p. 317.
- How to Rap, p. 325.
- How to Rap, p. 326.
- How to Rap, p. 332.
- How to Rap, p. 333.
- How to Rap, p. 334.
- How to Rap, p. 315.
- How to Rap, p. 316.
- How to Rap, p. 321.
- How to Rap, p. 322.
- How to Rap, p. 323.
- How to Rap, p. 327.
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- How to Rap, p. 318.
- How to Rap, p. 400.
- Price, E “Hip hop culture”, ABC-CLIO, 2006. p.295
- Huey, Steve. "Review of Dr. Octagonecologyst". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
- "Hated By Many Loved By Few Charts". Allmusic. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
- "Charts & Awards for Tongues". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-07-19.
- "Insane Clown Posse Makes "Amazing" Top Five Debut". MTV. June 3, 1999. Retrieved 2008-05-04.
- "Insane Clown Posse Artist Chart History: Albums". Billboard. Retrieved 2010-06-05.
- "Charts and awards for Twiztid". Billboard. Retrieved 2009-03-28.
- "Tech N9ne's 'All 6's and 7's' debuts No. 4 on Billboard 200". The Boombox. June 15, 2011. Retrieved 24 June 2011.
Further reading 
- Independent Hip Hop
- Unsigned Rap Music Network
- Underground Hip Hop - WeLiveThis
- Hip Hip Linguistics
- Single R Records - We Mix, We Master, We Distribute
- Indie hip hop
- Duck Down Records