The #6 Biggest Moment: Cash Money Signs With Universal
XXL has been in existence for more than 10 years now. (Perhaps you noticed the sirloin-thick anniversary issue that tilted your local newsstand six months back.) In that time, since September 1997, we’ve put out 99 magazines covering, as the saying goes, hip-hop on a higher level—all the moments that made the music mean so much.
It should be noted, of course, that 1997 is significant for another reason. The death of the Notorious B.I.G. in March of that year closed what stands as the most momentous chapter in hip-hop history: the great Brooklyn MC’s rivalry with his California counterpoint, Tupac Shakur. In that light, the XXL era can be seen as the post–Biggie-Tupac era.
As we watch and wait to learn what will define the future, we cast an eye back at what we’ve witnessed so far. In celebration of our 100th issue, here are the 100 biggest hip-hop moments of our time.
#6: CASH MONEY SIGNS WITH UNIVERSAL
MARCH 1998. 1755 BROADWAY, NEW YORK CITY.
It was a cold spring day in New York City. Brothers Bryan “Baby” Williams and Ronald “Slim” Williams were keeping warm in Universal President Mel Lewinter’s office in Midtown Manhattan, signing a historic publishing and distribution deal for their homegrown New Orleans label, Cash Money Records. Estimated at the time to be worth $30 million (“It ended up being worth more,” insists Baby), the unprecedented three-year deal allowed the entrepreneurs to retain full ownership of their masters and publishing. “I refused to give them anything,” says Baby, who was 27 at the time. “I can’t let nobody take nothing we work for. If they get something, it’s gonna have to be something we accomplish together.” Under the deal, Universal would give Baby and Slim a $2 million advance every year, plus a credit of $1.5 million for each of the up to six artists they’d be able to put out annually. After the sales came in, they would divide the profits: Universal would get 20% for their services, and Cash Money would bring a whopping 80% back home.
While Baby and Slim had grown their business into a New Orleans institution by using independent distributors like Gonzales Music and SouthWest Distribution, there were two other key players present at the signing that day who were instrumental in taking it national. Rap Coalition founder Wendy Day and attorney Peter Thea had been negotiating with the majors on behalf of Cash Money for the past six months. “Universal was kind of where we had hoped they would end up,” remembers Day, who had previously helped artists like Master P and Twista secure sound contracts. “They hadn’t had any real success in rap yet, so they were hungrier than everybody else.” Part of that hunger, no doubt, came from watching a small label like Priority Records achieve massive success in 1997 by distributing the product of Cash Money’s New Orleans rival, Master P’s No Limit Records. Majors like Universal were scrambling to invest in regionally successful Southern rap, so after B.G.’s Chopper City moved 25,000 albums and Hot Boys’ Get It How U Live broke 75,000 units independently, getting a deal was a “slam dunk,” according to Day.
Shortly after the signing, the Cash Money Millionaires delivered the masters for Juvenile’s 400 Degrees to Universal, which would go on to sell over four million copies. Their subsequent run of success with B.G., Hot Boys, Big Tymers and Lil Wayne helped them outlast their original competitor, No Limit, and laid the blueprint for the gritty brand of lyrical Southern hip-hop that dominates the national scene today. “I studied Master P, I studied Suge and Diddy, because I didn’t wanna make the same mistakes,” says Baby. “I went into it with that attitude like, I ain’t giving them shit—if they wanna fuck with us, they’ll fuck with us how I want them to fuck with us.”—BRENDAN FREDERICK
THIS IS ONLY A PREVIEW!
Read the full "100 Moments" countdown in the 100th issue of XXL, on stands now!