Steve Rifkind is responsible for breaking some of hip-hop's biggest artists in his 25 years in the business. He first got his start in street promotions even coining the term “the street team,” but in 1992 the New York native switched gears a bit and formed the renowned Loud Records, signing and breaking artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan, Big Pun, Mobb Deep and Xzibit. After a decade of success Loud was absorbed into Sony Music Group but that didn’t stop Rifkind who went on to form SRC (Street Records Corporation) with Universal Records in 2002 and signed David Banner, Akon, Remy Ma and Pharoahe Monch.
Four years later SRC is steadily growing. Rifkind and his label are looking at a full 2007 with a slew of big projects. First there’s Loud.com Presents Battle Rap, an online contest, which allows aspiring rappers to download free beats from big name producers to make songs, which they then submit back for a chance at winning $100,000 and a record deal with SRC. Also in the works is the reunion of the Wu-Tang Clan for their fifth LP 8 Diagrams, projects from David Banner, Pharoahe Monch and a deal to release the rapper formally known as Murder Ma$e’s next album.
The rap mogul, (and R&B, folks, don’t forget Akon’s two times platinum) talked with XXLMag.com about his online endeavors, what went wrong with Banner’s last project, reuniting some legends and signing Mason Betha.
Tell us about SRC Records' battle rap contest at Loud.com.
It’s three things in one — a MySpace community meets 8 Mile meets American Idol. It’s incredible. We have so many producers already lined up — Akon, David Banner, RZA, Sha Money XL, Play N Skillz, DJ Khaled and Cool & Dre. We already have over six thousand registered users.
There have been contests like this before, but you never really hear from the artist who wins. Why will this contest be different?
First of all, you get an opportunity to work with the best producers in the world. Who really has the opportunity to get an Akon, RZA or David Banner beat for 99 cents? The winner really is going to get a record deal and we’re going to make an incredible album. Just look at my track record: Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, Big Pun, Three 6 Mafia, David Banner and Akon. It’s all about artist development.
Many feel after Loud Records folded it left a big hole in hip-hop. There weren't other places where artists could be themselves but also get major label promotion. Do you think that’s true?
Yeah. It’s something that I fight with Universal Records [about] everyday. With David Banner, who would have taken somebody from Jackson, Mississippi? Even though his biggest [hit] was “Play,” [the album] didn’t sell [as expected]. But I blame that on one person and that’s me. I didn’t fight for what I really believe in. I got caught up in the whole radio game. That was my fault.
A lot of executives probably wouldn’t admit that.
You got to. When I brush my teeth every morning, there is a lot on my plate. I gotta think about my immediate family, my business family and all my artists. We all have families to feed. When I’m wrong, I’m wrong. You have to accept responsibility. [With David Banner’s last album Certified,] I got caught up in the hype with the audience and the airplay. Then, I realized three or four weeks before the record was going to come out, we weren’t going to scan a hundred thousand [the first week]. Everybody looked at me like I was on crack. They said, “Why?” I told them, “There’s no movement on this record. The streets aren’t talking about it. It’s just another record.” It was a great record but [I knew] we weren’t going to break a hundred [thousand]. You have to take responsibility. It’s the only way you can have a real relationship with the artists.
What caused the demise of Loud?
There were four [main hip-hop] labels: Death Row, Bad Boy, Def Jam and Loud. Death Row, Def Jam and Bad Boy had their big radio records. They had incredible partners. [Dr.] Dre and Suge [Knight] had Jimmy [Iovine]. Lyor [Cohen] and Russell [Simmons] had Doug Morris. Puff had Clive Davis. I was stuck at a company...we had everybody first. Jay-Z or Dame Dash will tell you, they came to us before they went to Def Jam. RCA (original distributor for Loud) wouldn’t allow us to [sign them]. Nobody really believed in us. We were the grimy, street company. We didn’t really care about radio [but] we sold records.
Did you change your philosophy with SRC Records?
I changed my philosophy because Universal would never understand my outlook. All they cared about was radio and research. They couldn’t tell you what the street [was feeling]. When I said Akon would be the biggest artist on my label, they all looked at me like I was crazy. So I took a million and a half out of my own pocket and broke him. We are willing to get our hands dirty and go in the mud. If we believe in something, we’re gonna fight.
How did you and RZA organize the Wu-Tang reunion for 8 Diagrams?
RZA and me are family. That's our first child. I never had closure with them. When we put out Iron Flag, I thought it was an incredible album, but it was more of a Sony [Records] cluster fuck. But [RZA and me] still spoke around once a week. We were like, "Can we do this?" Then, I flew in from London for VH1 Honors [last summer]. I still saw the charisma and energy on stage. I saw the response. So I said, Let's do this one last time. That's how it went down.
There has been talk Ghostface isn't really involved in the album.
He was on the road promoting his album [at the time of the announcement]. I spoke to him a couple of times. Was he having second thoughts? Yeah. But as far as I know, he's in.
Is this the album going to be on SRC?
Hopefully, Sony [Records] will let us use the Loud name for this one record.
When's the album dropping?
This summer. Hopefully, you’ll hear a single in two weeks. What I heard sounds amazing.
What else can we expect from SRC this year?
We got Pharoahe Monch, the Wu and David Banner coming this summer. We are [also] closing the Ma$e deal. His album is crazy.
Nah, its SRC’s Ma$e now. We are doing a production and distribution deal with him. We don’t have a date for the album yet, but it will be [out] by the end of the year. [It's] all brand new material.
If G-Unit was having problems getting him off Bad Boy, how did this happen?
Well, he’s taking care of it. Him and Puff are working it out themselves.