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As hip-hop evolves, more and more artists are acquiring an independent spirit. Essex-bred Ian Mattingly has taken heed of these circumstances and has been grinding accordingly. Known locally and globally as E Major, this MC has seen the best and worst of both worlds of the music industry: major and independent distribution. As a kid inspired by Run-DMC and LL Cool J, E Major started writing rhymes in the mid-‘90s, during the golden era of New York hip-hop. And you can tell it when you listen to his music, as he blends the boom-bap of that period in rap with the plentiful samples of today. Disappointed with being treated like a second-rate artist by the big record companies, Major started Under Sound Music with his partners, Ashante “Zen” Saunders and Aaron “Zu_keeny” Keeny, and has been extremely successful in the marketplace. Using the Internet as their tool, the label released Majority Rules and has even attracted other artists to come aboard, including Rawkus recording artist Hezekiah. As he finishes up his third music video and plans to release his label’s second compilation record, E Major discusses the business of making music, and how there is no price tag on creative freedom.
What is your situation as an artist right now?
I’m an independent artist. [Under Sound Music] has had national distribution for projects in the past, although they weren’t always the best deals for us. We’ve released my current album completely by ourselves. We have been relying heavily on the Internet and when I do shows to sell records.
What do you think separates you from the other MCs in Baltimore?
When we started out, we always thought bigger than Baltimore, and we also thought quality over quantity. I’m not necessarily an artist that’s gonna do 85 mixtapes this year, but the one mixtape or album you get from me is going to be solid. It’s gonna have great production on it, and it’s gonna sound like it was recorded at Baseline [studios in New York City]. It’s going to have artwork done by a professional designer, and it’s going to be mastered by a professional engineer. Any major label that’s out there, we do everything on the same level.
As an artist who has dealt with a major record label, how does that compare to being an enterprising, independent artist?
Major [labels] are a double-edged sword, because dealing with them gets you quick exposure, it gets you a lot more money put towards your project and it gives you an amount of validity I think that your everyday rapper on MySpace doesn’t have. But you get shackled. I think being an independent artist, nobody is going to tell you how to handle your project. I think it’s really great when you’re making good product and you get enough people interested in it where they can support you. Percentage-wise, you’re making way more per album than you would I you were selling through a major.
How important is the Internet in this day and age for an independent artist?
Right now it’s paramount. It is the driving force behind independent music. [The Internet] also is a double-edged sword because it gives good artists a venue to reach a large audience from all over the world that can appreciate your work. It also gives crappy artists the same venue. So, it makes the consumer a little more skeptical when they’re getting 25 messages a day about new artists they’ve never heard of, and 24 of them aren’t any good. What’s going to make them check out the 25th one that’s actually good? The Internet is amazing — it’s a phenomenal tool — but it also can flood the information super highway with a lot of garbage too.
E Major is opening for The Beatnuts on Saturday at the Ottobar. For more info on E Major, visit www.myspace.com/emajorthegeneral.