Cash Money Records was a force to be reckoned with in the late '90s and early 2000s. The South definitely had something to say when brothers Ronald "Slim" Williams and Bryan "Birdman" Williams decided to start their powerhouse record label. We were introduced to a new rap sound and a new wave of talent, including Lil Wayne, DJ Manny Fresh and Juvenile.
Born in New Orleans, the Williams brothers grew up with parents that also had entrepreneurial mindsets. From an early age, they saw their father run several businesses and eventually that hustler spirit rubbed off on the music duo. Cash Money Records was birthed during the time when bounce music was making its debut; Birdman and Slim jumped on the opportunity to add their own spin to it.
As the label made waves and brought us Black cultural anthems like "Back That Azz Up," the brothers set their sights on expansion. The world was introduced to the next level of Cash Money Records, and we were introduced to international sensations Drake, Nicki Minaj and Tyga. Lil Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj—often referred to as the BIG three—have exceeded all expectations by dominating the music charts, radio and award shows.
As we continue to honor hip hop turning 50, EBONY spoke with Bryan 'Birdman' Williams about the rise of his record label, what hip hop means to him and how he seeks out fresh talent in today's culture.
EBONY: What inspired you and Slim to create Cash Money Records?
Bryan 'Birdman' Williams: Our father owned several businesses, including bars and a laundromat. So my brother and I were exposed to a business mindset early on. We knew that we wanted to work for ourselves and run our own business. Music was a passion for us, and because we were tapped into the hottest artist in NOLA, we knew we could do something big in music.
You burst onto the scene when the bounce era was becoming mainstream. What was that like?
We loved the music, and we took that and approached it from a business standpoint. Slim and I knew that the New Orleans sound could leave a mark across the world, and we always had a worldwide vision for what we were doing.
The music industry has changed a lot, how have you shifted your approach to signing artists today versus back then?
While technology has changed the distribution, promotion and marketing of music, the one thing that hasn’t changed is true artistry. We look for artists to be themselves, to be authentic. As far as sound, we look for producers and artists that stand out and do something different. There is no formula, but there are signs that we recognize even in artists who don't see it in themselves.
What does it mean to you to see hip hop reach 50 years?
Cash Money Records has been around for 30 of those 50 years, and we're still going. So it’s good to take a moment to recognize the anniversary—especially for younger generations. But it is also important for us to own the history. We have not only been a part of the history, we made it. We want the next generation to recognize their power. No one thought that two brothers from New Orleans could do what we have done and are still doing.
How has the legacy of hip hop impacted your life?
Cash Money took a local music sound [bounce] and made it international. We started the label with local stars like B.G., Juvenile, Lil Wayne and Mannie Fresh. Then came our other artists like Nicki Minaj and Drake that became global superstars. Hip hop is my life. I am hip hop and hip hop is me.