Master P and his New Orleans-bred No Limit Soldiers proved to the music industry that Southern hip-hop was "Bout It, Bout It" in the '90s. But beyond the records that flooded the Billboard charts, it was the guerrilla street marketing he brought to rap — as the founder of one of the biggest independent record labels of all time — that changed the game. Upon taking the stage this week to collect his VH1 Hip Hop Honors trophy, he spoke about how good it felt to achieve the dream of putting his family in the position to "not only just do music, but be ... owners of companies [doing] business in the hip-hop world."
Percy Miller's rise from the Crescent City's notorious Calliope Projects is the quintessential Horatio Alger story, set to a bounce beat. So it makes sense that as Master P, the self-made mogul, he's now set out to make his own big-screen biopic, King of the South. But here's the catch: The film will be funded by his son and protégé, rapper/actor Romeo, to the tune of $10 million. In a genre too often obsessed with stacking cash for selfies and status, this father and son team continue to build something black America disproportionately lacks: generational wealth.
I spoke with the two artists to find out how Master P bootstrapped his way out of poverty, what kind of family jewels and financial literacy he's bequeathed to Romeo and why he insists on making room for God on his son's reality TV show, Growing Up Hip Hop, on which he co-stars. Listen to our full conversation at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.
Rodney Carmichael: Master P, you've earned a renewed respect for the hustle ethic that you applied to the music industry, especially since you appeared on Solange's album, A Seat at the Table, last year. You got to share a lot of your story. But with the long history of black artists being cheated by the industry, what gave you the audacity to clash with the titans?
Master P: Well, that's what the movie, my biopic The King of the South, will be about. Because if you look at all the [hip-hop] biopics that have come out right now, everybody lost from the record companies. If you look at it, from the N.W.A.s to the Tupacs to Notorious B.I.G., all these guys, their story was they didn't get a fair share from the record company.
Mine is a rags-to-riches story. We studied the music industry. Jimmy Iovine offered me a million dollars in the '90s and I turned it down and walked away and built my empire into hundreds of millions. So, imagine if I took that million dollars. I would have been done. That probably would have been the only money my family would have seen. This story is going to show the world that we've got to use our minds sometimes, too. We shouldn't be in a rush. I tell people all the time, don't do a business deal when you're desperate. At that time I was living in the projects; I was desperate. So if I did that deal it just would've been, "That's it for me." I would've sold the rights to my name. I never would've been able to use my name again. So we have to be able to read these contracts.
Carmichael: So much of hip-hop today is defined by this generation gap. Older heads say younger heads are killing the rich lyrical tradition. Young heads wish the old heads would give them room to take rap in a new direction. Romeo, how did your dad equip you to inherit this legacy?
Romeo: From day one, when I was 10 years old and I told my pops I wanted to do this and get into the industry, the first thing he said, "You've got to make sure you get your education." And tithing was very important. He said, "When you start making money, you've gotta give 10 percent back." And for us, it's weird because we never got in this industry — and my dad especially, because he started this empire — but from watching him, it was never for fame. It was never to be the best rapper. The intention was always bigger than just music. It's a platform to do the work you're really supposed to do out in the world. And I think that's just my greatest asset, just being able to grow up under, I feel, the best hip-hop mogul out there, especially business-wise, to ever do it.
Carmichael: Considering how huge that legacy is, have you ever felt stifled by the weight of that No Limit tank?
Romeo: I never felt it until right now [laughs]. I never felt the pressure. That's the thing with me, I was always that kid who wanted the pressure. My favorite quote growing up was, "Pressure makes diamonds." I always tell kids that at the last second, when it was time they score the ball, I was like, "Pass me the ball, I'ma shoot it" — when other people was like, "Who wants the ball?" I just feel God put me in this position for a reason. I feel that we're not given anything we can't handle.
Carmichael: Let's talk about flooding the streets and diversifying. The No Limit era was defined by a new release in record stores every week. And on top of that, you started a clothing line, you had real estate going on, a sports management firm, even a phone sex company at one time.
Master P: Yeah. You know, as you move forward, because like Romeo say, even though we were some of the first people to do things, people don't want to acknowledge that because they only live for the now. We made some of the biggest deals in hip-hop.
I mean, I'm the first hip-hop artist to play in the NBA. People don't know how hard that is. You really have to be in shape. You have to know the game. You're not going to get on an NBA floor. They're sending you home the first day if you're not ready. Especially if you come from the music world, you're going home the first day. Because you're not going to make the NBA look bad.
Carmichael: How were you juggling all of that? That's multitasking on another level.
Master P: To be honest with you, like Romeo said, it's the man up above. It's all God. Because as a young kid, basketball saved my life. It took me out of the projects. It sent me to college. I didn't even know I was going to be a rapper. I used to be singing these little songs and I knew I was good at it, but it didn't hit me till I got hurt playing basketball that I'm going to chase a music career. But the sad thing about it, like right now for me when I look at this industry, just like you said, is how people judge each other. Like the old heads or the young heads. I don't judge nobody, because you have to imagine, at that time I came out the South. It wasn't cool to be from the South. It was the West Coast or the East Coast, and that's how you break through.
It's some incredible young artists out there, to be honest with you. And it's some incredible older artists. But everybody has their time. That's just like right now. Michael Jordan was the biggest basketball player in the world, but now you have LeBron James, you have all these new kids coming. You can't compare them to Michael Jordan, but they still are paving the way for the next generation. And I feel like we just have to figure out how we can use our wisdom and expertise to help them. And that's what I want to do. I want to be able to show these guys. I don't care whether you're in the NBA. That's where my life's going at now.
You know, when you get some money, what's the first thing going to come to you? What do you think is the first thing gonna come to you when you get some money? Whether you're a professional athlete or entertainer or actor or whatever. What do you think will come to you?
Carmichael: [Laughing] I'm trying to think of what I can safely say on NPR.
Master P: I'm just saying, what do you think gon' come to you?
Carmichael: Um, opportunity? Maybe a little trouble? Luxury? Women?
Master P: So check this out. The first thing gon' come to you is a lawyer and a financial adviser. Think about it. The women, all that's gonna come, the opportunity, all that. But a lawyer and a financial advisor. Now imagine you're from the ghetto. You've never had no money. All of a sudden this guy comes up with a suit on and he's going to tell you what to do with your money. But this how he's gonna get you: He's gon' tell you, "It's not going to cost you no money. I'm going to take 5 percent of what you make, and I might even give you some money." Because they already know what you're worth. So all they're going to do is write checks for you, pay your utility bills write the checks to your parents, your friends or relatives, whoever, 'cause you ain't got time to do that. So they want 5 percent of your money. So think about this, 5 percent of your money, you never met 'em. So two or three years from now, when you get that big contract, it's a hundred million dollars. What's 5 percent of a hundred million dollars?
Carmichael: Aw, you're putting me on the spot now. [Laughs]
Master P: That's five million dollars! For somebody you just met or somebody else just introduced you to that person. One of your friends that probably plays basketball or whatever introduced you to that person that you gon' give five million dollars to that you've never met. That's how easy they got five million dollars from you and they never knew you.
Carmichael: That's crazy.
Master P: So now the lawyer's going to tell you whatever you want to do. Is you really reading those contracts? Are you prepared? That's what I tell Romeo. When Romeo talks about preparation, that's what we're prepared for. That's what going to school — he went to USC, I went to University of Houston — that's what that's for. So you get that paperwork in front of you, you read that paperwork and say, "OK, well, sir, what do this mean?" "Oh, well, don't worry about that." "No, I can't sign it until you tell me what that means." And it's OK to audit a record company or audit a financial adviser. So those are the type of things that I want to teach to the next generation: to say you have to be prepared for this money, because anybody can get money. But if you're not prepared for it, you're going to lose. You've got to build a relationship, even on the financial side and with businesspeople. You can't just jump into bed with them. That's just like going to the club. You find what you want, you gonna have problems.
The season finale of Growing Up Hip Hop airs tonight at 9/8c on WE tv.
Producer Suraya Mohamed contributed to this story.