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Master P Discusses How He Created the Blueprint for Trap Music, Beef With Pimp C and Why Stealing Ideas Isn’t a Problem – Exclusive

Michael Fequiere for XXL
Michael Fequiere for XXL

Everyone knows No Limit Records gave independent hip-hop its blueprint. Master P was the mastermind behind the label’s marketing, finding ways to break new artists without pressuring them to make music outside of their comfort zone. While hip-hop continued to adjust to its own commercial viability in the ’90s, No Limit artists went platinum selling street rap.

Soon that success led to an unprecedented distribution deal with a major label, Priority Records. The first album to come out of that deal was Master P’s 1996 classic, The Ice Cream Man. Executives at Priority thought the project might sell around 10,000 units once it was released. Surprising to them, it became the rapper’s first national platinum-selling album.

Twenty years after Ice Cream Man dropped, Master P visited XXL‘s office in New York to discuss his storied career. The “Bout It, Bout It” MC talks about the early days of No Limit, his past problems with Pimp C, accusations of stealing ideas for hit records and much more.

XXL: In 1995, you relocated No Limit Records from Richmond, Calif. to New Orleans. Why?

Master P: I was born in New Orleans. I was getting in trouble in New Orleans and I thought I needed to get away. A lot of my friends were dying young and I wanted to live to be over 19. I thought I was gonna die before I met 19 because all my friends were getting killed — 15, 16, 17. So I jumped in my car and moved to Richmond, Calif. That’s where I learned my hustle game from and then I decided to come back home to New Orleans.

I wanted to show my hood and my people that if you really invest in this music and you believe in yourself… the hustle game that I learned in the Bay, [I wanted to] teach that to the South, how to be independent. We don’t have to just do no record deals, we could do it on our own.

Did you learn about being independent while in the Bay?

Sort of. It was bicoastal. I learned what Lil’ J was doing with Rap-A-Lot in Houston because I went to the University of Houston to play basketball. Then in the Bay Area I learned the game from [E-40’s uncle] St. Charles Walter at City Hall Records, In a Minute Records, JT the Bigga Figga, Herm Lou. I was selling music out the trunk of my car, hitting all the swap meets. Eazy-E and N.W.A. The Bloods and Crips had a big record at one time. This guy Duffy would take me around to every swap meet in L.A..

So I was out in Crenshaw, swap meets and all them things, way back in the days just selling music on consignment. And then I opened my store in Richmond and people were selling me their records on consignment. It started opening up for Tupac, Spice 1 and the rest was history.

In ’95, you also signed the distribution deal with Priority. How’d that come about?

I coulda been signed it. They had came to the hood and I thought they were the police so I never talked to them, for like two years. So by that time I’m selling records on my own and I started getting good at it. I ended up bumping into Michael Jackson’s attorney and he told me what a distribution deal was. He said, “You need $200,000 for marketing money so you’ll probably never get that.” I was like what’s that? He was like, “That’s an 85/15 deal where you get 85 percent and the record company get 15 percent.”

So when [the record label] came at me, I was getting real hot on the streets and I told them I wanted a distribution deal. And they was like, “A distribution deal?” Jimmy Iovine had offered me $1,000,000 and I ended up turning it down. So [Priority] comes back at me and I say I want a distribution deal. They said, “OK, if you got the marketing money.” I had the marketing money, I was selling CDs out of the trunk in my car, hitting city to city, opening up for all the big acts. The rest was history.

Ice Cream Man was the first album I put out through that deal and they thought I was probably gonna sell five or 10,000, but they didn’t know I’d built a fanbase and I was already on the road with Tupac and Spice 1 and Too Short. So I started building a fanbase. Every city I’d go into, I’d go into the hood, play basketball, shoot dice, so my name was getting around like Master P, the Ice Cream Man. I put up my own posters in the neighborhood and I just started building a real loyal fanbase.

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Where’d you get the idea for “Ice Cream Man” the single?

Well, “Ice Cream Man” comes from me being in New Orleans and I always liked ice cream, so you’ll see that in my movie. As a little kid, ice cream was one of my favorite snacks, so I was always running to the ice cream truck and getting an ice cream cone.

I used to watch my cousins and them hustle out there so they knew I was fast and I could run. I almost got hit by an ice cream truck running. I guess the police was after my cousin and I was running. So as I got older the whole ice cream thing kept coming back to me, so when I did that record I said I’ma call it “Ice Cream Man” because the ice cream man was the cleanest guy to come in the neighborhood. He wore a little white suit and he had a big truck, so I said I’m gonna take it to another level. We’re gonna put triple gold Daytons on the wheels. Gonna get the white Dickie suits, because at the time N.W.A. was wearing black Dickie suits. I said I’ma change this up. I’m going white, I’m about to brighten the whole thing up. And that’s where “Ice Cream Man” comes from.

I’d go to the club and they’d know who I am. I stand out in the club, you’d see Tupac and all them in there, they got all this black on, I’m the only guy with an all-white Dickie suit on. So they don’t know if this dude crazy or what. [Laughs] But I wasn’t in the gangs, I wasn’t a blood or crip or nothin’. I was just about gettin’ money, about the ice cream.

How much did Ice Cream Man sell first week?

I think we did over 50,0000 units. They were like, “We’re gonna be popping champagne if we do six to 10,000 units.” And then it just went crazy after that.

To me I feel like it was the blueprint for trap music. Because nobody wasn’t talking about hustling like I was talking about it. Nobody was really a boss in the music industry, everybody had a boss, everybody had someone putting their music out. So when I talk about hustling and trapping, I think it opened the doors for the Gucci Manes and the Young Jeezys so they could have a verse and everyone else after it.

I feel like Rap-A-Lot, Scarface, Geto Boys opened the doors for me in the South, and I opened the doors for the rest of Southern hip-hop to where people could be themselves and be a real entrepreneur and businessman. Because back then, artists were just about lyrics and being talented. And I think I broke that mold by having an 85/15 deal so artists could really start making money off music so that this generation can make money now.

Did your relationship with Priority change after Ice Cream Man sold so well?

Oh yeah, they had to pay me because I probably made more money than N.W.A., Ice Cube and them. They had N.W.A., Ice Cube, Jay Z was on Priority, all of them. Most of those deals were probably 12 percent [or] 14 percent, that’s what artist deals were. Michael Jackson had the highest deal which was 22 percent, and it was unheard of. So imagine with my deal, even if they sold 100,000 or 200,000 records, I probably made more than them just selling 10,000 units.

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There’s a UGK collab on Ice Cream Man called “Break ‘Em Off Somethin.” How’d that come about?

We all was doing good things. UGK had a good sound, we had a good sound and we just started mixing it up. I don’t remember exactly, I think Mo B Dick was working with them and then we all ended up doing something together and it worked.

What happened with you and Pimp C after that?

He went around saying “F Master P” because he thought somebody had cussed his mama out. And I think before he passed he ended up coming to me and saying, “Big dog, I apologize to you. That was my bad. I was on drugs.” You know what drugs do to people and it’ll make you say crazy things to people. I don’t say nothing crazy to people because I respect everybody.

No Limit dominates hip-hop in the late ’90s and then Cash Money comes around. Did you ever run into any of their artists in the late ’90s?

Yeah, all the time. I done ran into all them before. I done ran into Baby, everybody, anybody on their label.

What was that like?

Nothing. They had no problem with us.

There’s a story that Turk was talking to Lil Wayne about signing with No Limit at one point.

Yeah. I mean Turk, he’s definitely a talented guy, especially at that time, putting out good music. But it was a division between us. We were from the Calliope projects, most of their artists were from the Magnolia. I had family living in the Magnolia so it didn’t matter, I go wherever I want to go. But certain things when you’re in the hood and things go on or certain people you don’t mess with, it might be ’cause of street stuff or whatever.

I definitely congratulate them on what they were able to build. I know at the tim,e people wanted me to buy their company, but I think in God’s way things happen the way they’re supposed to happen. I think if I would have bought their company, they wouldn’t be where they’re at. India.Arie used to come to my house, they wanted me to sign her. If I had signed India.Arie, maybe she wouldn’t have been the big star that she was. Everything don’t work for No Limit. Sometimes the values might be different. They was about stuntin’ and showin’ off. We was about the struggle, what we been through, living the street life.

No Limit was sort of a mystery to the rest of the industry. You had local artists most of the country didn’t know selling better than everybody else. Was there ever any friction with the label regarding you putting out records by all these artists?

All the time. I went into an office, 200 people in there and they’re telling me I can’t put all them records out at the same time. And I’m telling them I’m gon put ’em out. Because this is my company. I own 85 percent, y’all only got 15 percent, I tell y’all what to do. And it worked.

They told me I couldn’t put a movie out, nobody gonna buy a movie, who you gonna sell it to? I said I’ma sell it to Walmart, Blockbuster, Circuit City, places you sell my music to. They didn’t believe it. That’s how I made a lot of money on the movie, because they said, “We won’t be able to sell 100,000 units to Blockbuster. They’re only gonna take 10,000. If they’re only gonna take 10,000 and they end up buying 80,000 more, then I want to double the price I’m selling it to them for. We ended up selling a million units. Then they understood. They were like, “I think he know a little something. Just because he’s from the projects, he ain’t as stupid as we thought he was. Maybe he went to college.” Maybe they shoulda checked and seen that I had a little education.

“Ice Cream Man” samples World Class Wreckin’ Cru’s “Turn Off the Lights,” but Dru Down had a record called “Ice Cream Man” in 1993. 

Was it the World Class Wreckin’ Cru?

No, totally different beat.

OK, then, that’s your answer right there. And I did run into them. And what happened? Nothing. Because it’s two different records.

Through the years, many people have accused you of taking ideas for records here and there. Have there been any times you were called out for that by an artist and had to address it?

Man, let me tell you something. You don’t address real men. If you put out a record and it’s that big and you didn’t sell nothing, something’s wrong. So if I took your idea and I did it better than you, your idea must have not been right anyway. You’re not gonna take my idea and do it bigger than me. Everyone that bit off Master P and put out a record, have they done bigger than me? No. I don’t care. Man, take a song, take a hook. My Ice Cream Man is the name of my album, that’s a whole different thing. You got a real problem if you’re trying to compare yourself to my [music]. You’re building tension and friction for yourself for no reason. You already got a project out, it’s gonna do whatever it’s gonna do. Be happy with it, that’s what I was able to do.

I don’t get into mess. I wish them guys the best. I don’t know them like that. I never sat down and shot marbles with them. I never shot dice with them. The dude who was over there at C-Note [Records], who was the hustler, he knows me. That’s it. He had no problem with me.

So if you the Ice Cream Man, that means you’re the boss. You’re running a business. The Ice Cream Man is not gonna have somebody else put his record out. What Ice Cream Man you know, if you’re running the block, why you need someone else to put your music out? You don’t even have no identity. The Ice Cream Man is the man of the hood. He got his own money. Whoever you seen controlling me?

Y’all can steal all my records, I’m cool, y’all can have them. I don’t even care to be honest with you. I don’t care who take a record from me or an idea. If it make you some money, thank you, good luck to you. It ain’t taking nothing out of my pocket. You got 10 grocery stores on the same corner. It’s only hip-hop artists and black people worrying about the wrong stuff. You got a grocery store and a liquor store on each corner. None of them mad with each other. Think about it. Look at a shopping mall. You got 20 stores in the same place. Are they made at each other?

What’s an idea, man? An idea is real when you can take it to life and build a fanbase off of it. People been taking ideas from anybody. If you draw a circle, that means it’s a circle? MoeRoy [Master P’s new artist] got blond dreads, oh so he Future? Everybody got gold teeth now because of us. Think we care? When I went to Oakland nobody had gold teeth or dreads! I was like an alien. Now that’s how everybody look. So we worry about the wrong thing and I think people inflate this shit. Man, it’s business!

Look at these different potato chip bags [holds up potato chips]. Who came up with potato chips? But you got 30,000 potato chip companies. I even have a potato chip company, Rap Snacks. Where the fuck I get it from? I get it from Lays! You think Lays mad at me? Do you think Lays are mad at me because I got a fucking potato chip? Them people don’t give a fuck, they’re making billions of dollars. Where this goofy ass shit come from? And then when you see a motherfucker they got nothing to say! This shit crazy. Man… shout out to everybody doing something, man. Do what you gotta do. All this hating shit is crazy.

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