How Cash Money Records Pulled Off Hip-Hop’s Louisiana Purchase (with Zack O’Malley Greenburg)
Everybody’s got something to say about Cash Money Records and the brothers who co-founded the label —Bryan “Birdman” Williams and Ronald “Slim” Williams. To paint the full Cash Money full picture, good and bad, I brought on Zack O’Malley Greenberg who has interviewed the brothers at-length while working at Forbes.
Cash Money has one of the deepest catalogs in the game with several classics. And unlike some other upstart hip-hop labels, Birdman and Slim maintained control as they rose up. Their 1998 distribution deal with Universal is hip-hop’s Louisiana Purchase.
But we can’t ignore Cash Money’s lows either. There is a long, long list of artists who claim they were not compensated fairly by Birdman and Slim.
Zack and I go through 30 years of Cash Money as a business, its competitive advantage, and what comes next now that Drake and Wayne are gone from the label.
[1:44 ] Is Cash Money the greatest hip-hop record label of all time?
[7:34 ] What people sleep on about Cash Money
[11:01 ] Cash Money’s history of not paying artists
[16:52 ] Did Cash Money succeed because of Birdman and Slim or despite them?
[19:29 ] Biggest signing?
[20:29 ] The 1998 Universal-Cash Money deal
[25:31 ] Lil’ Wayne’s mixtape run
[29:03 ] The benefit of partnering with Republic Records
[31:49 ] Bidding wars for Lil Wayne, Drake, and Nicki Minaj
[33:21 ] Connection with New Jack City
[40:56 ] Cash Money catalog valuation ?
[43:00 ] Lil Wayne’s beef with Birdman
[45:48 ] Can Cash Money strike platinum again?
[50:44 ] Birdman’s love for music
[56:08 ] Hopes for a Cash Money reunion tour and biopic
[58:24 ] Who “won” the most in Cash Money’s history?
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Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guests: Zack O’Malley Greenburg, @zogblog
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[00:00:00 ] Zack: You know, some of the subsequent deals that they worked out with Universal, you know, maybe some of the deals where they were able to get universal to, to tackle some of the back office stuff. I mean, it's very unsexy, but you know, that's clearly an area where they needed to improve. So, let's say,to give some cash in terms of like higher distribution fee in order to have Universal, you know, cover some of this stuff. It's kinda like a boring, dark horse candidate, but you know, I mean, you could say that, that's probably useful in terms of buttoning things up.
[00:00:37 ] Dan Intro: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I'm your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from the executives in music, media, entertainment, and more who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:57 ] Dan: All right. Today's episode is all about the one, the only cash money records. I got the one and only Zack Greenberg here who has reported on this company many times before we ran to this company and the business moves they did in our Top 10 Revolutionary list last year. So Zack, welcome back. I'm excited for this one.
[00:01:18 ] Zack: Always good to be here with you, Dan.
[00:01:19 ] Dan: Yeah. So for the folks listening, we are gonna do this in a few ways. We got a bunch of categories here that we're gonna run through, just evaluating Cash Money as a business, some of the highs, some of the lows, and just where they stand overall. But I think it'll be great to kick it off with the question that we often hear from folks is Cash Money, the greatest hip hop record label of all time? What's your point? What's your take?
[00:01:44 ] Zack: How, man, you know, I mean, I think it's sort of like, any of these greatest ever are you talking about, overall body of work or sort of like, you know, The label at its peak. But you know, I think you gotta take it in an overall body of work, you know, type of thing. You know, it's hard to top Def Jam, I think, you know, if you were gonna go with an overall body of work, hip hop, legacy. But, you know, I don't know other than that, I mean, it's hard to say that there's anybody who you'd put above cash money, I'd say. Especially something that is, you know, really artist founded in that same way. I mean, you could talk about Bad Boy, you could talk about Rockefeller. But I think that, you know, Cash Money has staying power. You know, through Drake and Nikki and Lil Wayne and so forth, you know, in a way that, you know, I would argue that a lot of these other labels haven't, and, you know, who else can say that they've had Drake for that long? And I guess he's not there anymore. But man, that was pretty recent development and it's been a pretty great run. So, you know, to go all the way from the early nineties, you know, through basically now being relevant, stacking up all that catalog, you know, it's certainly, if not number one, it's, you know, gotta be top three, if not top two.
[00:03:00 ] Dan: Yeah. So my answer is Def Jam as well, and we'll get to Def Jam in a minute. But, the case for Cash Money is this, and I know a few people have said it. Irv Gotti recently said it. Russell Simmons himself said that Cash Money was the greatest hip hop company that has come through. But the case for cash money, you mentioned it earlier, the fact that they did it while owning the core asset and the music and still doing that moving forward says a lot. Not something that can be said about Def Jam, many of the others that would be even in the conversation. I think even with a newer label at Quality Control, they've still done it while owning it. Well, at least up to this point from some rumors that are happening. But I think that's one case for Def Jam. But then I think of the continued run of success from everything that happened in the nineties from I guess we could start with like juvenile drop in HA in 98 and then pretty much everything from Drake's last Cash Money album, which I believe was Scorpion. So if you're looking just at like that run from everything there, that is such a strong hit rate. And I think that's the thing too that I would give them over Def Jam is the hit rate of who were the artists we signed and what was their likelihood of success and they were just able to do it. Even with the imprints, I mean, I think major record labels. So wrong with so many imprints. I just never worked out and for them to have, whether it's Young Money or even the smaller moments with the best music or with Rich Gain, there was always something there. And even though there was some conflict, and we'll get to that, I think that's the Cash Money case. The Def Jam case though, I think this is where I think of course Def Jam did end up becoming a major record label, so it's a little bit nuanced there, but I do think you have that eighties run Beasties LL Public Enemy. You got the nineties run with all those artists too. Especially looking at what Red Band met the man DMX. I feel like they had New York on Locke and then two thousands, the Rockefeller partner. Murder Inc. The video games, I mean, it's, I know the last decade hasn't been there, but it would be tough to not put Def Jam up top, but I understand if some people would consider Def Jam a major as opposed to, you know, an independent. So, I get the nuance there.
[00:05:10 ] Zack: right, right. And, and being, you know, fully owned by a major as opposed to Cash Money, which really has distribution agreement. You know, and you could look at, you know, I guess Def Jam was sold in chunks, but the total amount that sold for, you'd have to adjust for inflation and stuff. But I wonder how that would stack up against the current value of cash money today, which, you know, it's incredibly driven by the copyrights that they still control and, you know, definitely hundreds of millions of dollars. You know, if you look at, Lil Wayne kind of quietly sold his The Young Money, Cash Money Partnership for a hundred million bucks a couple years ago, that was before the catalog boom, got really crazy and then kind of died down again. So, you know that that's valuing what Birdman and Slim Own, you know, just on the Young Money, Cash Money side of the business, you know, at nine figures. So there's, you know, there's a lot more to the company than that, although that's, you know, that's kind of the gold line. But still, you gotta think that, you know, this is still, you know, sent a million dollar business and, you know, I'd be curious to see what a proper valuation, you know, what it would look like against the total value that Def Jam got, you know, in terms of dollars over the years. But, you know, when you think about who was hottest and what record label was hottest at any particular point, Yeah, I think probably the peak was there was that year that Def Jam was, you know, getting sold or the second half of it was getting sold. And, Lyor basically said to Jay and D M X, like, let's have two albums this year. And, you know, because the valuation is gonna be based on revenues, not earnings. And like, the more you can sell, the more we get. And so, you know, that moment at D M X at his peak, and you know, Jay, I think, I'd say at least at his commercial, you k