Irv Gotti made an indelible mark on the sound of hip hop and R&B of the 90s and 2000s. As an A&R man, producer and label head, he introduced the world to JAY-Z, DMX, Ja Rule and Ashanti, who all went on to make their own mark on the culture.
DJ Irv, as he was known then, began his career in the music industry by producing Mic Geronimo’s debut album, The Natural. In 1996, he began working with JAY-Z and produced “Can I Live” on JAY-Z’s debut Reasonable Doubt. He was instrumental in getting DMX signed to Def Jam and contributed production on his debut album It's Dark and Hell Is Hot as well as Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, both released in 1998.
After his tenure as an A&R at Def Jam, Got founded Murder Inc with Ja Rule as his flagship artist and vice-president of the imprint. Behind the multi-platinum success of Ja and Ashanti, Murder Inc. charted several Billboard number one songs, with over 30 million records sold, grossing over $500 million worldwide.
In 2003, at the height of his success, Gotti was dealt a devastating blow when Murder Inc’s offices were raided and he was investigated by Feds after the label was accused of being a money-laundering front for Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff of Queens’ legendary Supreme Team. Eventually, Gotti was acquitted by a federal jury after a three-year legal fight.
Through all the seismic shifts in the music industry, public controversies and personal battles, Gotti has survived it all. On his latest project The Murder Inc. Story, which is currently airing on BET, he candidly discusses all that went down in his 25-plus years in the game. The documentary captures his journey as a tastemaker at the forefront of hip hop and how he played an undeniable role in making it the most recognized cultural expression in the world.
Regarding why he chose to share his story at this point in time, Gotta explains that the timing is perfect now because "there’s a redemption aspect to it.”
“I'm sitting here talking to you and I'm supposed to be finished. I was supposed to have lost against the Feds, Nobody beats the Feds. And 50 Cent, who was arguably the hottest rap in the world, was bombing on us. It's hard to come back from that," he continues. "Now when you put those two things together, I was supposed to be gone. I'm not supposed to be sitting in this big a** house, chilling and making movies. And, that's why the timing of the story is great. It’s dope because I felt like it had an arc. The story had a beginning, it had a middle and an ending. It’s really a great time for the story to come out.”
Although Gotta came to prominence in the music industry, creating TV and film projects was always a part of his artistic vision. They were always a part of his master plan.
“I love making music, television and films. I feel that they are closely connected," he explains. "It’s all about trying to figure out what the people want in a story, in a film, sitcom or on a track. It's something that God has given me a gift to do. I always wanted to do exactly what I'm doing right now.”
Recently, Gotti made headlines after he inked a $300 million deal with Iconoclast, an international network servicing global agencies, music labels and content platforms. While he decided to sell a 50 percent ownership stake of Murder Inc.’s legendary discography, Gotti remains the owner of his label.
Regarding the deal, he shares, “A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with one of our billionaire friends and he told me that I do everything but the right thing. He told me that even though I created Tales, BET owns it and they're gonna make the real money. After hearing that, I changed everything and that's why I did my deal. It wasn’t for me to retire but for me to own my television content, my own movies and my own my music.”
He believes that it is essential for creatives to own the rights to their art. “First, you have to aggressively go after owning your masters and it will benefit you later. It will benefit your family when you're gone because they won’t benefit you while you're making them," he continues. "Twenty years later, my masters are worth $100 million. So you gotta fight to own them upfront. You gotta take risks, you got to spend your own money, you got to do different things to keep them and the payoff comes later.”
He also cautioned that if an artist or producer is not committed to making quality music for the duration of their career, owning their masters will not be lucrative. According to Gotti, your catalogue has to have “fire hits.”
“If you don't make great, timeless music, your masters don't mean sh*t,” he laughed “There was a whole bunch of people making records 20 years ago, but it just so happens that my records are still generating money. Thank God for streaming because if it was just based purely on CD sales, they wouldn't be worth that much. How they factor in streaming is a blessing for all of us. We didn't think it was a blessing at first but it turned out to be a major blessing.”
With his immense catalogue of music and a storied track record of making hits, Gotti feels that he’s sometimes overlooked for his contributions as a producer but he says he won’t let it define him. When asked who he would want to match against in a Verzuz showdown, without hesitation he named Sean “Diddy” Combs.
“You know everyone is like, 'Oh, Bad Boy will kill you,' he said. “No one will kill me. The only thing that could kill Murder Inc. is if you go into different genres or different types of hiphop. I don't want to do a Verzuz with Dr. Dre because he's gonna play gangster sh*t and I'm gonna play my big number one records. But a battle with Diddy would be a good one because he's gonna play 'One More Chance,' and I'm gonna play 'Foolish.' I got a lot of big records.”
As for the Murder Inc documentary, Gotti promises that it will be entertaining and viewers will get to see another side of him. “You're gonna love it This is for the real hip hop heads. When they play 'Murdergram' or when you hear Ja says 'Are yall ready or what?' It’s crazy man," says Gotta. "I can't wait for people to hear stories they have never heard before.”