Russ the rapper – “DIY Pioneer” With a Blueprint for Indie Success
Sign to a major record label, rise to global stardom, sell out arenas, and live a flamboyant lifestyle—this has long been the stereotype of a successful music career. But take a look at modern reality, and you’ll realize that there is another path; one that’s less reliant on record labels—going indie.
For modern indie artists, technological advancements mean that they have more control over their music careers than ever before. With this kind of empowerment, signing to a music label is no longer seen as the be-all and end-all road to success.
According to an article by Forbes, “independent musicians are actually the fastest-growing segment of the global recorded music business.” Indie artists are finding ways to rally a rabid fan base, rake in big bucks, and live out their dreams without the aid of a label. This is courtesy of increased access to fans and the inspiration of influencers who’ve made it on their own.
One such ‘influencer’ who’s cracked the code to indie success is Russell “Russ” Vitale. The New Jersey-born, Atlanta-bred rapper, has often been dubbed the “DIY pioneer” due to the monumental success he has achieved writing, performing, producing, mixing, mastering, engineering, and publishing his own music. He is the textbook definition of a multi-hyphenate.
Perhaps more interestingly, Russ has made it his mission to unchain artists from the restraints of major labels—and help ‘hungry’ artists from any genre achieve their dreams without having to make compromises.
“There’s nothing you can do as a major label artist that you can’t do independently.”
So, who exactly is Russ? Read on for everything you need to know about the rapper—including Russ net worth, concerts, popular Russ songs, and more on his ownership genius.
Who is Russ? – The Rapper / Hip-Hop Star’s Bio
Russ is an Atlanta rapper who prides himself on his proven knack for defying the traditional path to music success and offering others a blueprint to follow.
He is a quintessential rags-to-riches story. Born in New Jersey on the 26th of September 1992 and coming from humble beginnings, the rapper moved around to support his father’s career before settling in Atlanta, Georgia. In his budding days as an aspiring artist, he recounts being the sole provider of his family.
The prolific rapper, songwriter, singer, and record producer got his start as an independent artist doing everything himself in his Atlanta basement—not by preference but by necessity. He wrote, produced, mixed, and mastered his tracks.
Russ took an interest in music at the age of 7 when he would write raps in a notebook. At 14, he was making beats, and at 19 (2011), he was actively pursuing a career as a rapper.
Right from the get-go, Russ’s winning formula in the industry seemed to be hinged on a seemingly unyielding determination, clear goals, and consistency in what he does. Before his breakthrough as a household name; before sitting on the throne of Billboard’s Hot 100; before landing a multi-million dollar partnership with Columbia Records; before even joining SoundCloud in 2014 as a relatively unknown artist, Russ had dropped 11 mix-tapes.
Russ’s songs started garnering attention on SoundCloud in 2015. In particular, his track “What They Want” still ranks as one of the most successful hits, with over 350 million views on YouTube. The Russ song was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Other popular Russ songs include:
- Losin Control
- Psycho, Pt. 2
- Ain’t Nobody Takin My Baby
- Pull the Trigger
- Missin You Crazy
- Do It Myself
- Best on Earth
- Civil War
- Me You
His unquestionable dedication gave him leverage in the industry, which opened an opportunity to seal a multimillion-dollar advance from Columbia. The deal saw him maintain ownership of his masters and bag a 50/50 profit split on future releases—something you don’t see all too often among music labels.
“His work ethic was top-notch, and due to his constant communication with his fans and his willingness to tour, he had built himself an army of rabid fans. Rarely do you have an artist who understands not only the artistry but also the business side of things. Russ has a very clear vision, and he knew exactly what he wanted and exactly where he wanted to go.”
— Imran Majid, Senior Vice President of A&R at Columbia Records
The rapper released his major label debut album “There’s Really A Wolf” in 2017 while signed under Columbia. The album peaked at No.7 on the Billboard 200 album charts and went Platinum within a year of its release. The debut album was followed by “ZOO,” his sophomore project in 2018—and “SHAKE THE SNOW GLOBE” album in early 2020.
Russ is now an independent artist (again), having fulfilled his contract with Columbia in 2020. He went on to release his EP “Chomp” in late 2020, “Chomp 2” in 2021, and “If Not Now, When?” in 2022. It’s also worth noting that the Russ song “Handsomer” featuring Ktlyn went viral on TikTok in 2022 and reached the top 40 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
Nearly every Russ song is written, recorded, produced, mixed, mastered, and engineered by Russ in line with his DIY motto.
Russ Tour / Concert
Dreaming of attending a Russ concert? The rapper is constantly on the road, and there’s often a Russ tour running every year. For updates on the ongoing Russ tours and upcoming Russ concerts, you can keep tabs on Russ.is/tour.
But as part of his empowerment message to artists, Russ insists that touring should not be your bread and butter. All your earnings should not be hinged on waking up, traveling, and performing when major labels sit and mint millions off your music.
In a candid interview with REVOLT, he maintains that “A real boss doesn’t have to tour. That’s crazy. That’s the most ‘get up and go to work’ element of the music business.”
He goes on, “Being a boss is me sitting here, I haven’t left my house for two years, but I’ve made $10 million. The narrative that touring should be your bread and butter and all that is a narrative that’s been pushed by a music business who has already decided that artists don’t need to own the music. So, I don’t buy into the narrative because it’s created by a business that isn’t for the artists.”
Russ insistently preaches on the importance of artists owning their own music. And when you think about it, those at the helm at major labels are billionaires—yet they’ve never toured or done a show. It’s all about financial literacy and playing your cards right.
Russ Net Worth
What’s interesting about Russ is his grasp of both the art and the science of music. Art in the sense that he understands his craft and how to make the most of his talent. Science in the sense that he has honed the business side of building a successful music career as an independent artist.
Speaking to REVOLT, Russ singer says that signing with Columbia gave him an opportunity to ‘peek behind the curtain’. It was a learning experience that allowed him to refine his business skills.
“Prior to me leaving and being signed, I didn’t have a radio connection. I didn’t know certain things about the industry. So, it was a good experience because I gained a lot of information and I met a lot of people that I still work with today…There were pros and cons. It made my mind super corporate.”
The outcome of Russ’ insane work ethic and business savviness is an annual earning of over $15 million—ranking at No.20 on the Forbes 30 Under 30 hip-hop list. As of 2022, Russ’ Net worth is estimated to be in the region of $10 million—and as a rising star, he seems destined to only shine brighter.
His monumental success puts him on par with the likes of Lil Wayne, Eminem, DJ Khaled, Kanye, Kendrick Lamar, and Jay-Z as Hip-Hop Cash Kings.
Russ – The Rapper’s Blueprint to Indie Music Success
Russ has been making waves in the industry partly due to his outspoken nature characterized by verbal dustups with other artists. He does not hold back punches when it comes to voicing his sometimes-controversial opinions. Love him or hate him, Russ is a success story.
Russ singer’s prolific run blazes a trail for other DIY artists to follow. And he openly goes out of his way to share his formula for success with other aspiring indie artists.
He tells REVOLT,
“I want to be a billionaire, and I will be a billionaire because I simply demand it from the universe, but I want to be a billionaire so I can help more people. That’s kind of just been my thing with money… It’s not like I need a bigger house or I need more cars. I just want to get more money, so I can help more people and help out more of my friends. That’s my long-term business goal.”
And he puts his money where his mouth is with the launch of his label DIEMON (Do It Everyday, Music Or Nothing), which gives indie artists a different business model for success.
Here’s Russ singer’s blueprint for indie success—and one that you can implement in your indie career:
Do you really need to give up ownership of your masters and a large percentage of your earnings to get your music in the ears of millions of listeners?
Music ownership is where the money is. It’s how players in the industry rake in big bucks. And you only need to look at the amount of cash major labels pocket to realize this truth.
Russ openly calls out major labels for their ‘villainous’ habit of holding onto artists’ master recordings. Speaking of his experience at Columbia, he recounts, “I got the exact deal that I wanted. I think that is super important for artists to understand that, go in there with leverage…I want to be a massive superstar … but I am going to make sure that the deal is right.”
Russ corporealizes his message of ownership through his ‘artist-friendly’ label DIEMON—which he co-founded with his childhood friend Bugus.
Talking about DIEMON’s philosophy, he tells Variety,
“Everyone owns their masters; everyone owns their publishing. We don’t eat on your merch or your tours, and everything’s a profit split deal…We’re not looking to invest in an artist just to change their music. If we like an artist enough to sign them, it’s because we like what they’re doing. It’s just a super artist-friendly situation, where we’re here to provide resources and mentorship to artists that we believe in.”
But the rallying call for ownership doesn’t stop at major labels. Russ also calls out music industry attorneys. Talking to Forbes, he argues that “Lawyers will try to take 5% from you…Artists need to start taking back the power and start taking back the leverage…I am not giving you 5% of gross income for sitting in an office in L.A. while I am busting my ass on the road or in the studio.”
- Financial Literacy
Making money is glamorized in the music industry. For most people, the dream is living a flashy lifestyle and splurging cash. But while the idea of making money is great and rosy, artists must learn financial literacy.
To be a successful indie artist, you must master ways to make money intelligently and keep it. Either that or find a good manager to keep your finances in check.
- Marketing and Discoverability
According to Bugus,
“Labels don’t make albums Platinum; customers do. It’s the fans who literally are in charge, and they’re the ones who run everything, so we just want to help artists leave that mindset of all the power is in the label’s hands when it really is in your audience’s hands.”
Building a loyal fan base is about making your work accessible and engaging with your listeners. Your music has to be visible and easily discoverable. This can be achieved through well-thought-out content strategies. And with technology making it easier and cheaper to reach millions of people, you really don’t have an excuse.
Work hard! You may be talented, but if you’re not willing to fold your sleeves and put in the work, your odds of success are slim. Your work ethic is even more important as an indie artist. It’s all you. Give it your all and keep grinding until an opportunity presents itself.
In a Forbes article titled “The Art Of Being Self-Made: A Conversation With Russ,” Russ rapper recounts, “The way I created opportunity was by creating songs and putting them out. That action, in and of itself, is going to yield something rewarding at some point — whether that translates into fans, potential business partners, or getting the attention of outlets that want to support your music.”
He adds, “For whatever reason, whether lack of belief or lack of confidence, a lot of artists coming up sit around and put out one song, or one mixtape, and think everything is instantly supposed to happen for them. But, in reality, they didn’t put in any effort. I put out 11 projects before I ever dropped a song on Soundcloud. That obsessive action was me creating opportunity because if I were to stop at album number 8, then I may have never gotten to Soundcloud. The Soundcloud idea came from constant failure. The idea to put out a song every week only presented itself to me after I failed 11 times. If I only failed 8 times, I may have never landed on that idea.”
Russ is an inspiration for countless indie artists. His track record and efforts are a beacon—guiding fellow indie artists away from the shackles of major labels. He exemplifies the hope that success as an independent artist is very possible.
“I hope that artists recognize that they’re the nucleus. They have more power than they realize, and there are alternative ways to win. You don’t have to go the major label way. You don’t have to give up your masters and do all of these really exploitative things.”