Master P and No Limit Records: Percy Miller’s Impact on Hip-Hop Business

In 2015, Interning for one of South Florida’s most influential record labels, I was given opportunities to communicate and interact directly with the label’s founder and CEO on a regular basis. Like a curious child asking their parents millions of questions in an attempt to gain some understanding of this complicated world we live in, I took advantage of every opportunity to ask the CEO questions that I felt could possibly help me gain a deeper understanding of the music industry. One day after drenching the CEO with a rainstorm of questions, he told me that he has always aimed to be like Master P: Master P greatly influenced the way he ran his label and the various ways that he chose to maneuver the music industry. Most notably, Master P influenced him to push for “80/20” distribution deals, and to maintain ownership of all master recordings produced by his label.

“Master P was a real n*gga, that put his arms around me and showed me the business…I knew the creative side, but he showed business… If it wasn’t for No Limit, it wouldn’t be no money in rap… It was NO MONEY in rap until Master P came out!” ­—Snoop Dogg

Essentially Master P (MP) and No Limit Records laid a foundation in the mid to late 1990’s that forever impacted the music/entertainment industry. Far before becoming a household name, or even fully being able to sustain himself financially, Master P was already set on conducting business in the music industry on his own terms. As an unsigned artist struggling early in his career, Master P made a pivotal decision to turn down a million-dollar record deal presented to him by Interscope Record’s Jimmy Iovine. Unlike the average unsigned artist at the time, who would have likely quickly jumped at such an offer without hesitation, Master P realized that he possessed the ability to make that same amount of money, and far greater amounts, without committing to a major label. He declined the offer and went on to build a legacy of independence, innovation, and business savvy execution.

The year of the Jimmy Iovine’s offer hasn’t been specified, though it is estimated that the deal was proposed in late 1994 or 1995. Master P turned DOWN the deal and turned UP his grind with no brakes; By 1996, Master P and his independent record company, No Limit, had established a strong growing fanbase of supporters in multiple cities throughout the southern region and west coast. Gearing up to release his fifth studio album, Ice man, he made the decision to expand on a major level. But unlike other Hip-Hop artists and independent labels at the time (and prior), Master P used his business savvy ways to achieve mainstream success while maintaining artistic and company independence…

Image result for 90s record labels

In 1996, Master P noticed that a bulk of rap artists and small labels were committing to record deals that only allowed them the receive about 10% of all profits from their work.  But Master P refused to submit himself or his company to such economic exploitation. He turned the tables on the industry and set a blueprint for other artists and independent labels to follow for generations to come: He did research and found out that (at the time) Michael Jackson (MJ) had the best deal in the music industry. From there, he reached out to Michael Jackson’s lawyer for assistance. MJ had a record deal with a major label; Master P solely wanted a distribution deal that held similar elements―Most notably an 80/20 profit split, with No Limit records receiving the split’s larger portion. Michael Jackson’s Lawyer charged MP $25,000 to help him obtain an 80/20 distribution deal with Priority Records. [Many sources state that the deal was “80/20”, but in various interviews Master P has mentioned that is was “85/15”.] Whether “80/20” or “85/15”, one thing is for certain: Master P convinced Priority records to commit to a deal where No Limit records would maintain ownership of all recording masters, as well as receive the bulk of any profits. Priority records agreed to handle distribution, while No Limit records was expected to take care of all marketing and promotion costs. At the time of the deal, Priority Records didn’t expect Master P and No Limit to gain many sells. But to their surprise, Master P’s 1996 album “Ice Cream Man” eventually became certified Gold (selling over 500,000 copies).

“Ice Cream Man’s was the tip of the iceberg; the beginning of a No Limit dynasty… one that literally lived up to its name. Throughout the years 1996-2000, Master P and No Limit records produced many successful artists, released multiple platinum and gold albums, put out many independent films, and even had a professional wrestling stable with World Championship Wrestling at one point. MP literally did nearly everything that one can think of; some of Master P’s further business ventures outside of entertainment consisted of clothing lines, jewelry lines, gas stations, fast food franchises, energy drinks, phone sex companies, toy making, and much more. Throughout all of his investments and ventures in the 90’s, Master P maintained an independent status within the music/entertainment industry. He was one of the first figures in Hip-Hop (and potentially music in general) to achieve high levels of mainstream success without succumbing to traditional recording contracts. His success in 90’s showed Hip-Hop moguls and artists that it was/is possible for them to conduct business on their own terms and that they do not have to be exploited by major record companies.

More Than Noise: “Hip-Hop you the love of my life” (An Ode to Black Culture)

In my mind it is the bridge between the unspoken and white picket fences. We’re talking as gutta as Wu-Tang Clang, as authentic as The Roots, as everlasting as Pac and Biggie, and as pivotal as Shawn Carter; there is a reason this black noise was bursting through Jordan Davis’ red dodge Durango. I believe the misinterpretation and seemingly irritable nature of black noise served as a death sentence for Davis; but unfamiliarity is always the archenemies of privilege.

What black noise is, is a lifeline for pain and questionability. These are real voices that convey the everyday lives, perceptions, and inevitable truths of  one of American’s third worlds. Reality defines the state of things in which they exist. To be blinded by such, can be defined as privilege.

Early black “noise” was the inspiration behind a once billion-dollar Black Entertainment Television network. It is more than noise. It is kin to the triangular trade that birthed this discarded third world nation. Though this vibration driven tale dates back to the tumultuous 70’s, it is its 90’s alliances that put these voices on the map. Hip-hop deserves its own Mount Rushmore up on Sedgwick Ave in the Bronx.

It didn’t surprise me in 2018 when I was tackling Tricia Rose’s critical analysis Black Noise, when she revealed an encounter with a colleague after which she had presented some research on this thing we call hip-hop. For the same reason it served as a death sentence for Davis, it served as a simple “nothing” to Roses’ colleague, the same nothing Jordan Davis’ privileged predator left him to descend into. In chapter three of the 1994 publication, Rose recalls hip-hop’s misinterpretator as stating, “Well, you must be writing on rap’s social impact and political lyrics, because there is nothing to the music.” (62)

“They ride down the street at 2:00 am with it blasting from car speakers, and (they) wake up my wife and kids. What’s the point in that?” Rose further recalls. (62)

As a self-proclaimed hip-hop baby I know how it makes me feel to ride with reasonable doubt blasting through the highest volume of my Civic. I am relating. I am feeling. I am understanding. Obliviously, I am dreaming. Can I live, in imagination that life has something more for me than it did my mother? Can I live, feeling in empathy for the black men whose public school systems don’t believe in anything more than their ability to be a drug dealing or dead ridden statistic? Can I live, with the least bit of comfort knowing somebody out there knows my story? And cares too.

Those political lyrics are as acquainted with Keisha down the block as the star spangle banner is to American stadiums.

Hip-hop’s coded language is the underground railroad that for once, refuses to cross its legs in favor of lady-likeness. Hip-hop lets the truth hang, something political correctness has never done. Hip-hop is a gift only received by those rich enough to understand our value.

As real as it gets, hip-hop tells the 1991 story of the 12-year-old Brooklyn girl that threw her baby down a chute and into a trash compactor. That’s “Brenda’s got a baby.” For those who have consistently lived behind white picket fences, the traumatization of third world tendencies are imaginable. I’m talking Margaret Garner and Beloved feels. I’m talking “the damage is irreversible” pull the plug type of feels.

“Can I live” speaks the inevitable consequences of the the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the ways in which something as politically correct as gentrification leaves third world residents to by any means necessary, make things happen for themselves.

This revelation that rap is mere noise is a reflection of the heart and eyes in which our melanin has always been regarded. For my fellow hip-hop babies, welfare recipients, affirmative actions beneficiaries, and driving while black inheritors, this revelation of meaningless noise is as Jim Crow as it gets.

Hip-hop is perfectly imperfect in the sense that it accurately lets the rest of the world know of the unprosperous cards black people have been (and are being) dealt.

For a moment, I will entertain the foulness of NWA’s “Fuck The Police” era that often ends up being the burden of proof that rap is merely a loud, violent, and unnecessary hobby.  If “affluenza” is legit, so is “Fuck The Police.”

Why is it that affluenza [i] can get a wealthy white teenager out of drunk driving and killing four people yet a black man cannot utter a cultural expression to his oppressor?

It is unfair to hold one to a standard of moral and political correctness, while the other through the lens of superiority. Two wrongs don’t make a right but they do enforce a pattern. Expecting black men who have lived their entire lives under racial and social inequality to suddenly take the “high road” when you have yet produced them with some sort of ladder to equity is incomprehensible to say the least.

America’s law enforcement system was founded through the same moral and politically incorrect systems that make black bodies “less than” and a target for unjust treatment. The only time a black body is held in high regards is when it opposes its oppressor. It is then that the 3/5th compromise never existed.

“Fuck The Police” is a black man’s back against the wall (literally) and his only way out is to fight the thing that put him there. Hip-hop is not guilty of creating detrimental social impacts. In order for something to not be innocent it has to be the perpetrator of wrongdoing or crime. Verbal expression over banging beats regarding 1990s crown heights or 1990s Compton is as virtuous as we know.

Yes, hip-hop is noise. Voices are noise. And voices are quintessential to this thing we call life.

Hip-hop is necessarily unapologetic, too, a result of morally incorrect ideology this country stands on. Hip-hop’s critics may never acknowledge the role black coded laws played in putting black expression on the map.

I recently encountered a 23-year-old Chinese woman who has been a U.S resident for just 6 years. She began to speak to me regarding the interesting American things she’s encountered; a colleague had just given her an introduction to rap. Stunned, I immediately asked if hip-hops controversial lyrics interfered with her ability to enjoy it. Her response, and I quote “Not at all. It is part of the culture.”

In 5 years of American culture and 1 brief lesson on hip-hop, this China native who was still grasping English orality understood this black expressiveness. I stand strong when I say, black noise is consistently and inaccurately regarded as “nothing” due to its close resemblance to black life. Hip-hop’s acceptance as legit art is parallel to white Americans acceptance of black Americans, and the removal of the veil in which black Americans have always been hidden under.

-Tysheira Scribner

Footnote

[i] Affluenza- a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Couch

Work Cited

Rose, Tricia. (1994). Black noise : rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, NH :University Press of New England.

“Do the Bankhead Bounce”: Classic Cookout Dances of the 90s

When I think about my summers in Atlanta, I think about going to various cookouts my parents used to take me and my sister to when we were younger. They were either their close friends or co-workers who always welcomed my family with great BBQ, fun games and plenty of music and dancing. It’s amazing that Black people possess the creativity and dancing skills that shape dance culture in the Hip-Hop world. Some of my favorite dances came from the 90s, especially memories of having booty shaking (aka twerking) battles with my friends at summer camp and trying to do the Tootsee Roll on roller skates.

I’ve always had a love for dancing, so when my favorite song, “C’mon N’ Ride It” by the Quad City DJ’s came on at the cookouts I was ready to show out. I would begin to bounce my shoulders, roll my arms and rock side-to-side in a rhythmic fashion and proceed to ride the train. This dance was closely similar to the popular Southwest Atlanta dance, the Bankhead Bounce originating in the Bankhead neighborhood. The original song that the Bankhead Bonce originated from was performed by an Atlanta rapper named Diamond and featured D-Roc in 1996 [i]. This dance required a rapid shoulder bounce with hands and fist bouncing in front of you from side to side. This dance could have been performed to any southern Hip-Hop song such as A-Town Players, “Wassup Wassup”, 95 South’s “Whoot! There It Is” and TLC’s Waterfalls, which they performed in their music video in 1995 [ii].

Most of my early summers were spent at my local Boys and Girls Club. I had a cool group of girlfriends who were always down to dance. So, when one of the camp counselors brought in their mix city with the latest Hip-Hop songs we would rush to the boom box and dance till our moms came to pick us up. A classic was the 69 Boyz, “Tootsee Roll” which actually peaked at the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 Rap chart and number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1994 [iii]. This dance was a more inverted funky chicken, which one would wind their knees inward while doing a dip. We also enjoyed the butterfly—similar to the Tootsee Roll, Da Dip by Freak Nasty and any other song that provided us instructions to shake our hips or drop it low.

As a young Black girl, I wasn’t aware of why I was shaking my butt at the young age of eight but similar to the women who were getting’ down at Freaknik or Black Bike Week it was a fun dance to do and you couldn’t resist the beat of the music. Growing up in the era of 2 Live Crew and Uncle Luke, or hearing songs that tell you to “Back that azz up” it’s a dance move that’s hard to refuse. When me and my friends or cousins got together at a family cookout hearing Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up” really took over for the ’99 and the ’00. With its sexually explicit lyrics demanding listeners to back their ass up on the rapper himself, this song defiantly is a cultural favorite and can still be heard on your local HBCU campus and neighborhood cookouts.

The beauty about Hip-Hop is that it has the ability to make listeners feel good and bring people together to have a good time. I have many great memories as I reflect on the times when I used to dance to these songs. Now that I’m older the songs and the dances are quite nostalgic and take me to a place where I remember eating saucy ribs and burgers, smelling hot links on the grill, and bouncy houses in the backyard. Importantly, these dances are still remembered today and when played at parties or clubs now, me and my girls will still get low and do the Tootsee Roll and twerk to Uncle Luke’s “Cap D Comin’”. I just hope that this new generation of Hip-Hop dances continues to provide the same nostalgic memories and blissful feelings that we all grew up with in the 90s. —Adeerya J.

Citations

[i]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bankhead_Bounce

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/95_South

[iii]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tootsee_Roll

 

 

The 90s Kente Aesthetic

Image from http://www.projectbly.com/destinations/kumasi/meet

The type of cloth we know as “Kente” originated in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa. Kente was/is mainly created by the Asante and the Ewe peoples, descending from the ancient empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai from before the 15th century. These empires were located in the general area from the West African coast to as far north as Mali, and as far west as Chad. According to historian Herbert M. Cole, author of Icons: Ideals and Power in African Art (Smithsonian Institution publication), the term Kente may be a corruption of the Fanti word for “basket” – alluding to the hand-weaving process. Cole goes on to explain that only males create the long strips, on an intricate loom. Each design has a distinct name, with proverbs associated with particular patterns – wearing particular colors and shapes sends specific messages you want viewers to understand. Among the Asante and Ewe, kente was often associated with and reserved for chieftains and royal figures – fabric trades with Europeans provided materials for locals to rework into traditional designs. Unlike the 1980s and 90s, kente wasn’t originally sewn into garments for everyday wear (Cole 1990). This historical perspective gives greater context to the recent boom in kente cloth wear, and the newer ideas associated with these designs.

I can’t think of the 1990s without thinking of Kente. I remember being 6-7 years old and going to an independent school called Lotus Academy in Philadelphia. In our yearly closing graduation, students would wear kente sashes, kufis, bow ties and skirts for girls. We would march in the auditorium to Freedom Songs, chants of encouragements originally sung during the Civil Rights Movement. For us, and our parents, the colorful print cloth represented our link to the Motherland, to Africa: ideas of glory, achievement, kings and queens, and societal stability before enslavement/colonization. Wearing kente symbolized that we were continuations of these ideas, the charge that we could reinvent and achieve greatness as our ancestors did. This expression really took hold in popular culture, particularly with the continued rise of several elements:

…hip hop, with recording artists like Queen Latifah, Heavy D & The Boyz, Salt n Pepa (those kente hats!), other artists and fans who sported Cross Colours garb…

…the highlighting and celebration of black college campus culture, with kente prints as iconic motifs for newly-launched Black Studies program materials, “Class of 199_” sashes for African American Studies majors, and the like. With this imagery in academia, Black students tied this tradition to the charge to represent one’s family, community and ancestry – to learn about their past to create new solutions for the modern era.

…African motifs in television and mass media: Michael Jackson dons kente and stands with chiefs in Cote D’Ivoire in 1992. In 1998, President Bill and Hillary Clinton display their kente print during their Ghana visit. Black sitcoms, performances and Kwanzaa specials frequently featured characters who were up on the latest trends, wearing dashikis, kufis, lappas (waistwraps) and headwraps.

…Craft activity books for Black children: With Black history at the fore of many grassroots published workbooks, handouts, coloring books and illustrated stories for children, Kente symbolizes variety and diversity within the Black family and community. This larger theme is evident in a recent Ladybug magazine entry: an arts and crafts project of picture frame decoration. Colors and shapes in Kente are used to prompt young readers to think about the unity in difference amongst their own family members (Kapp 2007). Kente Colors, written by Debbi Chocolate and illustrated by John Ward, introduces small children to their basic colors – matched with poetry and elaborate illustrations of West African life scenes and kente-weaving (Chocolate 1997).

…African inspirations in high fashion and streetwear magazines – where it was often called “ethnic print” or “mustard” cloth. Adidas came out with a brand of kente cloth sneakers – to match the widespread popularity of “conscious” Black History t-shirts and sweaters. For high fashion tastes, prints were incorporated into elaborate dress patterns, tuxedoes, blazers and hats. In a 1990 edition of Black Collegian, Julia Wilson presents a spread featuring hot, new gear on the market. In her section “ Looking Good: Back-To-School with Ethnic Pride”, she notes the following:

“Historians have documented African culture in fashion from the Ashanti to the Zulu peoples. This gives all of us descendants a renewed sense of self in historical terms and inspirational knowledge of where creation began in the first place. From the mustard colored kente cloth being copied today by leading designers to braided and dreadlocked hairstyles, African people have – since the beginning of time – been at the center and forefront of fashion styles – passing along their zest for life through their creations.” (Wilson 1990)

Building on this quote, further interesting positions on this topic are presented by Cole, who posits that:

“..African Americans are now designing cloths, creating outfits, and marketing fashions that owe much to Africa, yet are not, in fact, African. The sensibilities in the Kente adaptations are modern and American-African-American. Surely it is appropriate for Americans whose ancestors lived in Africa, some in Ghana and Togo, to modify and celebrate a powerful African artistic tradition.” (Cole 1990)

Reflections on the popularity of kente raise a need for further analysis. A few questions surface with regards to this phenomenon in the 1990s. What can we learn about instances of cultural and symbolic appropriation with regards to African Americans adoption and revitalization of kente’s use? Is appropriation a valid term to even apply, given a broader question of identity – what is African culture? Who can access it? Can there even be a sole authentic African culture, or correct, authentic cultural elements? I couldn’t possibly answer these questions with this entry. However, I hope this discussion continues with folks to add their insight from both history and personal experience. Kweku Vassall

 

Works Cited

Chocolate, D. (1996). Kente Colors. New York, NY: Walker and Company.

Cole, Herbert. M. (1990). Kente: A Meaningful Tradition in Cloth. American Visions, 5(5).

Kapp, Jody. (2007). Kente Cloth Frame. Ladybug (Magazine), 17(7), 37.

Wilson, Julia. A. (1990). Looking Good: Back-To-School With Ethnic Pride. Black Collegian, 21(1), 24.

BBD: Reinvention Showcases New Jack Swing and Brings Unexpected Success

Bell Biv Devoe (BBD) wasn’t expected to be successful. As members of New Edition, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivens, and Ronnie Devoe were there to round out a quartet. In 1990, they released the album Poison.  However, the trio was able to tap into the New Edition following that was largely around the age of 19 at that time. BBD’s success was largely due to capitalizing on this loyal following that enjoyed and embraced the raunchy sexuality that was a part of the audience’s lives—or at least their desires. BBD created hits such as “Poison” and “Do Me Baby” whose lyrics and videos are a part of the hip hop lexicon.

Poison album cover (1990)

New Edition is an ingrained part of black culture. They were the biggest boy band of the early 1980s. However, BBD became cultural icons in the 1990s. Some critics argue they even eclipsed New Edition’s success. The trio was no longer tied down to the suits and precision of the boy band quartet. They wore graffiti painted overalls, different color shoes, and tried new things just because they could. They had nothing to lose. They challenged the establishment. One example of this can be seen in the choice to defy the cultural standard of suits at 1991 American Music Awards. Nominated for four awards, BBD showed up in t-shirts and wore their jeans inside out. They walked away with two awards for Favorite Soul/R&B New Artists and Favorite Dance New Artist

BBD in painted coveralls

They were musically adventurous. Using Public Enemy producers Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler to produce much of their album created an edge to their sound. Spyda Man and Dr. Freeze were also instrumental (and their names are heard in the opening lyrics of “Poison.”) As the phrase goes, “Our music is hip hop smoothed out on an R&B tip with a Pop feel appeal to it.” While Teddy Riley had already coined the term “New Jack Swing” by 1987 in a Village Voice profile, it reached new levels of attention with Poison. Even 25 years after its release, the song (and album) are recognized for its impact. Music blogger Bandini pays homage in a February 2015 article: “…New Jack Swing’s wrecking ball made one of its biggest smashes with the release of Bell Biv DeVoe’s ‘Poison.’”[1]

In 1990, the Poison album was an unexpected success that eventually sold over 4 million copies. In 2012 radio interview, Michael Bivens explains that he is still able “to eat of that [album].” In other words, after more than 20 years, the album and its hits are still profitable in sells and the material is still popular enough for them to make a living touring.

The legacy of New Edition continues. BET is scheduled to release a biopic on the group in 2016. The three-part miniseries will be BET’s first scripted music-focused TV movie. TV producer Jesse Collins explains that “New Edition’s ‘music is woven into the fabric of our culture. When I brought the idea to BET years ago, I wanted to create a film that would tell the story of how New Edition emerged into one of the most important groups of its generation.’”[2]  —Ebony Gibson

[1] Bandini. “25 Years Ago Today, Bell Biv DeVoe Made A Poisonous, Everlasting Hit (Video).” Ambrosia for Heads. Feb. 24 2015

[2] Khatchatourian, Maane. “New Edition Biopic in Works as BET Miniseries.” Variety. Aug. 10 2015.