In between sets, more frequently than breaking for sips of water, California-based rapper LaRussell takes moments to remind his audience that “It’s different.”
That phrase might as well be trademarked. When he’s not chanting it on stage, he’s using it in social captions like a signature. At this point, LaRussell’s fans—much like the lyrics from the 21 albums he’s released since 2018—know it by heart. One fan has it tattooed on her arm.
The first thought that entered my mind as I sat among a sea of 450 fans at LaRussell’s sold-out, at-home show at Vallejo’s Empress Theatre on Oct. 8 was: “What exactly is ‘it’ referring to?”
The most obvious difference is, unlike most competing rappers, LaRussell is an independent artist, unsigned to a label. He doesn’t rely on streams but rather encourages his fans to buy his work directly from him. When he’s not performing at public venues, he’s hosting gigs at his childhood home in the Bay Area’s Vallejo, which he calls “The Pergola,” allowing fans to bid on a chance to attend. And he has no plans of changing any of this.
Through intimate performances, sliding-scale prices and an investment platform for fans, LaRussell, via his Good Compenny brand, is paving a new path for himself and other music entrepreneurs that follow.
And as much as he loves playing at home—that’s evident—his talents are in increasing demand on the road. His shows sell out in major national music hubs like Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. In October, a small pop-up show in Brooklyn turned into a full-blown concert; LaRussell sold 500 tickets in eight hours.
Upon meeting the 28-year-old artist, I was greeted with a bear hug and a huge smile. But that wasn’t the first time we had interacted. Turns out LaRussell himself was the one communicating via email to coordinate the interview.
When I ask him how he has the bandwidth to answer business emails, he replies, “Didn’t it feel good when you found out you were talking to me? Even if I don’t touch it, I’ve seen it.”
Does he think this is sustainable? “We’ll find out,” he answers.
LaRussell certainly doesn’t have time to be thinking about if things will fail. He does, however, make time for things he cares about, like greeting fans before taking the stage, where he and his team constructed a pergola-type roof structure that same day. Minutes ahead of start time, the proud Libra circulates through the theater’s bar and dining area to mingle, his voice projecting easily without a mic. One excited fan, in astonishment, asks him, “You remember me?” LaRussell responds, with his signature animated laugh, “Of course!”
Integrating fans into the ongoing work he’s putting out is important to LaRussell, which is why they can earn streaming royalties from his music through EVEN (the same platform they can purchase his albums directly from).
“I basically created a stock for my music,” says LaRussell. He also encourages fans to buy digital downloads and physical, signed CDs directly from him. And with his “Proud to Pay” sliding-scale model, they pay whatever they want.