The label that put New Orleans on the map. An empire, not always without dissent, that’s been releasing platinum records for 15 straight years.
The story of two brothers who came from nothing, from a city far off the hip-hop radar, and built an empire. But they didn’t do it alone. Brothers Bryan “Baby” Williams (who we now know as Birdman), age 22, and Ronald “Slim” Williams, age 24, wanted to get out of their projects and build a better life for their family and friends in Magnolia and the surrounding Wards. They started off with a very local Uptown roster and began making waves in the N.O. bounce music community. It was their second wave of signings, though, that brought Cash Money to the next level, with music that was homegrown New Orleans but demanded to be heard by the hip-hop community at-large.
Some of Cash Money's biggest stars have been with the label since they were kids. Literally. Baby met D’Wayne Carter Jr., a nine-year-old kid from Hollygrove, at Odyssey Records in 1991. Odyssey became a meeting place for the N.O. hip-hop community, an essential platform for Cash Money’s success throughout the 90s. As a child, little D’Wayne went by the names Baby D and Shrimp Daddy (the baby version of Cash Money’s Pimp Daddy, who was shot and killed after his debut album). Following their first encounter, D’Wayne would call Baby every day after school and rap into his answering machine. D’Wayne’s biological father, D’Wayne Sr., was never a part of his life, and his stepfather, Rabbit, who he considered his real father, was killed in 1996. Baby became D’Wayne’s mentor, and the two established a father-son relationship that has endured to this day. Wayne changed his name—fuck the D—and the next year Lil Wayne, Juvenile, B.G., and Turk put out their first album as the Hot Boys. Get It How U Live! was the biggest Cash Money record yet, and its numbers led to a deal with Universal.
Before and after Universal, Baby and Slim kept things 100% N.O. At the time, their main competition, the other crew making noise out of the city, was Master P’s No Limit Records. No Limit’s sales were soaring after a major label deal of their own, signing with Priority in '95. However, Master P moved operations to New Orleans right before the Priority deal. He started No Limit in Richmond, CA, in the Bay Area and still kept West coast rappers on board after the move. They signed Snoop Dogg in ’97, greatly upping their nationwide recognition. Thus Cash Money repped themselves as the most authentic crew from the Big Easy. Their entire roster came from different sections of the N.O. Wards—real time whoadie’s—and often there was a personal connection before any deals were made. Baby wouldn't allow any outside collaborations, and, as you may know, there was only one man who made the beats: Fr-Fr-Fr-FRESH--Mannie Fresh, the in-house producer since '93.
Baby and Slim lost their mother when they were kids. In 2006, they lost their sister, a mother of three, killed by a driver going the wrong way on the Causeway Boulevard. There's been tragedy in the Cash Money family, as well. After the death of Pimp Daddy, Kilo G, Cash Money's first signing, who, at age 15, put out the label’s first ever release, The Sleepwalker, was shot and killed in his own home. U.N.L.V. member Yella Boy was killed a few months later, though this was after a dramatic fallout with the label. In 2010, Magnolia Shorty, who, along with Ms. Tee—both legends of bounce, was Cash Money’s first female signing, was killed in a drive-by before a show in Miami. The family started in New Orleans, and throughout all the success, it's been love alongside great loss in their hometown—especially considering the heartbreak Katrina forced on the city. Birdman & co. are always gonna be chasing that next million, but there’s blood on this money. It’s family since day one, and the Williams brothers haven’t forgotten why they started.
Obviously, though, they have expanded. The HQ’s are now in Miami, and the talent comes from, well, just about everywhere. Though Birdman was careful to branch out in the early days, he’s since embraced the business opportunities alive in the post-regional rap game. The family has changed. OGs Juvenile and Mannie Fresh left the label, both with their own financial grievances, in the mid '00s. Birdman, Slim, and Wayne have remained, though, and they will always be the heart and soul of Cash Money. And don’t underestimate Weezy’s influence on the business side of things. He set up Young Money Entertainment, an imprint of Cash Money, though its name alone may have, by now, eclipsed the CM brand. In any case, YMCMB is now the family. Though Wayne soon ceded his role as head honcho of Young Money (the presidency now lies in the hands of longtime friend and fellow YM artist Mack Maine), he was essential in bringing in talent like Drake and Nicki Minaj, who, between the two of them, have put out five #1 albums since 2010. Though Cash Money has seen its share of change, drama, and pain, they've stayed on top for almost 15 years, and they're not going anywhere. Last month, Juvenile announced he's back on the label. Even as they take over the world, things will always stay close to home.