As I posted in days past I noted that there was a crop of young Jews who kept recorded rap alive in the early decade of the 1980’s. By the later part of that decade many music businessmen took notice. By the middle of the 1990’s the rap music business was growing at an exponential rate. The idea of making fat stacks of money was a dream many MC’s had since the early days of Hip Hop. Although, they failed to dream of an exorbitant amount. As I wrote in the past, one of the big differences between recorded rap in the 1980’s and 1990’s was the money. It was either a sizable amount of cheddar, or what would later be known as a shit load of money. Gone were the days of gold records….we’re seeking platinum status!!!
Along with the businessmen who envisioned the grand growth of the culture, other savants began to work in the industry. The owners of Def Jam broke apart, yet the business was considered the standard bearer as other labels began to fold or get bought out. One of these young businessmen and booster coming onto the scene in the early 1990’s were the Rifkind brothers.
Steve Rifkind was a major player boosting his little known “Street Team,” who kept their ears to the street for the next big star. He actively marketed and dictated at times what was the next hot joint or up and coming artists. Rifkind wanted to give the people what they wanted, but with an extra crisp of authenticity. This was music by the people for the people instead of being dictated by the corporate structure. Instead of being preached to about the next big thing by a white suit in his ivory tower, now you had the people on the street confirming what’s the big thing. He would market this to corporate America and would eventually create the legendary Loud Records label along with his brother Jon and (another Jew) partner Rich Isaacson. They signed many hungry artists or recently dropped artists as was the case with the young up and comers from Queens. Mobb Deep was dropped after their first album failed to move a considerable amount of units. They were picked up by Loud and would later record their amazingly morbid masterpiece, “The Infamous…Mobb Deep” However, one of the first signees to the label, and the method in how they signed, changed the entire game both in the annals of music history and in the history of Hip Hop economics and business acumen.
The Wu-Tang Clan are a household name, as most parents now have heard the immortal sounds of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). It was a bit more then twenty years ago when the Wu came out with their initial feast of food for thought, which remains rough, rugged, and raw to this day. It is telling how they all formed like Votron, and always under the guiding force of Prince Rakeem or as we know him, the RZA.
They marketed themselves proper and as was documented in a recent documentary they all learned from slanging crack rock. In the documentary, titled Planet Roc: The Story of Hip Hop and the Crack Generation, The RZA and Chef Raekwon tell of their hustling on the streets of Shaolin, or as we know it Staten Island. Due to their experience they carved out a niche in their own way by creating an original business model. Instead of being signed to a record label as a group, they all wanted to invest in both the group and each other’s talents. This led them to strike a deal with Loud and the Rifkinds who allowed them to dictate the business model and use it very effectively. This meant that the group projects would be released by loud Records. All other solo efforts by the various group members was up for them to decide. In the past when groups would sign to a record label each member had to sign a “Leaving Member” clause holding them responsible if they left the group. Also, all solo projects by any member would be obligated to be released on the same label. Labels held this over certain artists heads by withholding the release of albums that would doom artists, like what Profile Records did to Run-DMC’s Tougher Than Leather album. So, like the Method Man (who released his solo albums on Def Jam) and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (who did the same with Elektra) certain members went to other prominent record labels. However, some like Raekwon and the RZA remained for certain solo joints and projects. Like the Wu Tang, the Rifkinds kept it all tight knit and strictly a family affair. The Jewish ethos and close families and kinship was relatable as the members of the Wu saw each other as one big family.
This was the beginning of the Hip Hop hustle and its capitalistic edge creeping into the corporate structure. The RZA and Steve Rifkind influenced many businessmen coming up including Puffy and the Bad Boy label, and up to today’s business ventures made by artists like Jay-Z. Thanks to the Wu and the Jews we see another breaking point for the evolution of Hip Hop.