Hip-Hop Moguls: Beyond The Hype

As rap music has exploded, so too have the fortunes and businesses of some of today's hottest young music executives

next spring. But don’t expect Miller’s assault on popular culture to end with the silver screen. “This ain’t no ghetto business,” he says. “I’m trying to extend the No Limit brand in as many areas as possible because this rocket ship to stardom can fall as fast as it went up.”

“The Cash Money motto: millionaires-plus.” –B.G.
As it turns out, the Louisiana bayou is an especially fertile ground for self-starting music entrepreneurs. “What Russell did in 15 years, I want to do in three,” says Brian “Baby” Williams, co-CEO of New Orleans-based Cash Money Records. By all accounts, Williams, 25, and his older brother, Ron, are well on their way, riding the rising popularity of rappers B.G., Juvenile, Lil’ Wayne and Turk. In February, the Williams brothers signed a pressing and distribution (P&D) deal with Universal Records much like the arrangement No Limit has with Priority. The difference? They took the up-front money, $30 million, for a three-year deal.

“The fact that Universal financed Cash Money Records just so they could press and distribute them is unbelievable,” says Simmons. By the time Universal got wind of Cash Money in 1998, the label was six years old and moving between 50,000 and 150,000 albums per release. “Everybody wanted to give us $5 million or $10 million for a 50-50 joint venture, but we already had money and we wanted 100% of our masters,” says Ron, 28, who expressed the Williamses’ desire to retain control to Dino Delvaille, senior director of artists and repertoire (A&R) at Universal.

“It’s very hard to convince a major label to let someone keep full ownership of their masters, but when we looked at the units they were moving without any promotions or videos, it was a no-brainer,” says Delvaille, who “discovered” Cash Money while on vacation in New Orleans. What’s more remarkable is that just eight months into the three-year deal, and having released only two albums (Juvenile’s 400 Degreez has sold nearly 3 million copies), Cash Money is already in the black. Says Delvaille, “We’re paying them a check every month.”

Companies like Cash Money and No Limit are building their own empires outside of the major label system and coming to the table with enough leverage to demand autonomy and complete ownership. But not everyone can build an independent empire. For many, joint ventures, rather than P&D deals, are the more likely route to success.

“I’m like Russell. plus, I got the right hustle.” –Puffy
Sean “Puffy” Combs first graced the pages of the December 1994 issue of black enterprise, our inaugural entertainment issue. He was so obviously full of potential that we named him to our list of Top 50 Entertainment Power Brokers. Flush from his success as vice president of A&R at Uptown Records (where he worked for Bad Boy Records president Harrell), Combs had just inked a $1 million deal with Arista to form Bad Boy Records. While we can claim some prescience, no one would’ve guessed that the “bad boy” would turn out to be

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