Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012
Get on Down Investigative Reports:  Breaking Down GZA’s “Labels”
Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012by Up North Trips Comments (6)

Get on Down Investigative Reports: Breaking Down GZA’s “Labels”

An update on GZA’s “Labels” via Up North Trips


Last month I saw a tweet that I found to be very interesting, and shocking. My respected colleague, and a fellow hip-hop purist, Combat Jack, [attorney, author, king of marketing strategies] claimed that 85% of the record labels mentioned in GZA’s classic 1995 cut “Labels,” are no longer around.

Compelled by this nugget of rap nerdery, I retweeted, highly impressed that someone had dissected his lyrics and analyzed the current status of each label mentioned. Taking into consideration the obvious shift from the physical state of the record business to the digital era in which we now live, 85 percent seems like a pretty logical number, right? I mean, think about how different the rap game has become in the seventeen years since the release of GZA’s Liquid Swords. Ipods have replaced the Walkman, iTunes is your new neighborhood record store. It’s a new – and sometimes cold – world.

So, it’s feasible that almost two decades later, due to mergers, absorption, and the crumbling market of physical distribution, that only a few of those labels still exist. But only 15% of them still around? That’s a tough number to digest.

With today being GZA’s birthday, and with my fondness for doing tributes celebrating oft-ignored hip-hop moments (here and here), I figured it was a good time to not only honor Gary Grice’s 46th trip around the sun, but to quench my own rap nerd curiosity.

Now, in no way, shape or form am I doubting my boy Combat’s knowledge. But being the “Hip Hop Stat Boy” that I am, I figured it was only right to investigate these claims and do the knowledge on my own abacus.

So after quite a bit of research, here’s what we came up with. Read the labels and say it Loud!




“This is not a eighty-five affair, made clear” – Masta Killa, Duel of The Iron Mic



FOR THE RECORD:

There are forty-one labels that GZA mentions in “Labels” (thank you rapgenius). In order to support the claim that 85% percent of the labels in the song are extinct, it would require thirty-five of the cited labels to have closed up shop.

Below we have a label-by-label breakdown, then the final verdict.

NOTE: A “defunct” designation below means that a given label is not putting out new music under that label name, although there may be reissues that bear that label’s logo. The date after a defunct designation is the last year in which a new release was put out.

THE LABELS, THE FACTS:

1. Tommy Boy Records
Founded: 1981
Founder: Tom Silverman
Current Status: Still Active, Independent
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Stetsasonic – On Fire (1986); House Of Pain – House Of Pain (1992); De La Soul – De La Soul is Dead (1991)
Quotable: “TOMMY ain’t my motherfuckin BOY”

2. EMIRG (EMI Record Group)

Founded: 1972
Founder: EMI
Current Status: Still Active, EMI
Notable Releases: Kraftwerk – The Mix (1991); Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast (1982); D’Angelo – Brown Sugar (1995)
Quotable: “Well I’ll EMIRGE off ya set”

3. Livin’ Large Records

Founded: 1992
Founder: Cold Chillin’
Current Status: Defunct
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Roxanne Shante – Bitch Is Back (1992); YZ – The Ghetto’s Been Good To Me (1993); King Sun – Strictly Ghetto (1994)
Quotable: “I show LIVIN’ LARGE niggaz …”

4. Def Jam Records

Founded: 1983
Founder: Rick Rubin / Russell Simmons
Current Status: Still Active, Universal Music Group
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Slick Rick – The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988); Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill (1986); Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet (1990)
Quotable: “…how to flip a DEF JAM”

5. Ruffhouse Records
Founded: 1989
Founder: Chris Schwartz / Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo
Current Status: Defunct (1999)
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill (1991); Tim Dog – Penicillin On Wax (1991); Fugees – The Score (1996)
Quotable: “.. and RUFF up the motherfuckin’ HOUSE”

6. Cold Chillin’ Records

Founded: 1986
Founder: Tyrone Williams
Current Status: Defunct (1998)
Notable Hip Hop Releases: GZA [The Genius] – Words from the Genius (1991); Masta Ace – Take a Look Around (1990); Big Daddy Kane – Looks Like a Job For… (1993)
Quotable: “cause I smother you COLD CHILLIN’ motherfuckers”

7. Warner Bros. Records

Founded: 1958
Founder: Jack Warner
Current Status: Active, Warner Music Group
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Ice-T – Rhyme Pays (1987); Chino XL – Here To Save You All (1996); Common – The Dreamer/The Believer (2011)
Quotable: “motherfuckers are still WARNER BROTHERS”

8. Ruthless Records

Founded: 1987
Founder: Eazy-E & Jerry Heller
Current Status: Defunct, 1999
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Eazy-E – It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa; N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton (1988); Bone Thugs n Harmony – E.1999 Eternal (1995)
Quotable: “I’m RUTHLESS, my clan don’t have to act wild”

9. Jive Records
Founded: 1981
Founder: Clive Calder
Current Status: Defunct, 2011
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Whodini – Whodini (1983); DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince – He’s The Rapper, I’m The DJ (1988); A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory (1991)
Quotable: “That shit is JIVE”

10. Sleeping Bag Records

Founded: 1981
Founder: Arthur Russell / William Socolov / Juggy Gales
Current Status: Defunct, 1992
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Mantronix – The Album (1985); Nice & Smooth – Nice & Smooth (1989); EPMD – Strictly Business (1988)
Quotable: “an old SLEEPING BAG / Profile”

11. Profile Records
Founded: 1981
Founder: Cory Roberts / Steve Plotnicki
Current Status: Defunct (1997)
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Run-DMC – Raising Hell (1986); Dana Dane – Dana Dane 4 Ever (1990); Poor Righteous Teachers – Pure Poverty (1991)
Quotable: “an old Sleeping Bag / PROFILE”

12. Tuff City Records

Founded: 1981
Founder: Aaron Fuchs
Current Status: Still Active, Independent
Notable Hip Hop Releases: The 45 King – The 900 Number EP (1987); Lakim Shabazz – The Lost Tribe Of Shabazz (1990); Spoonie Gee – The Godfather Of Rap (1987)
Quotable: “on the reel-to-reel it wasn’t from a TUFF CITY”

13. Virgin Records

Founded: 1972
Founder: Richard Branson
Current Status: Still Active, Sony Music Entertainment
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Gang Starr – Full Clip: A Decade Of Gang Starr (1999); Shyheim – AKA The Rugged Child (1994); D’Angelo – VooDoo (2000)
Quotable: “they know their mics are formed at VIRGIN”

14. Mercury Records
Founded: 1945
Founder: Irving Green / Berle Adams / Arthur Talmadge
Current Status: Still Active, Universal Music Group
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Kurtis Blow – Kurtis Blow (1980); Ill Al Scratch – Creep Wit’ Me (1994); Ed OG & Da Bulldogs – Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto (1991)
Quotable: “that’s like going to Venus driving a MERCURY”

15. Capitol Records
Founded: 1942
Founder: Johnny Mercer / Buddy DeSylva / Glenn Wallichs
Current Status: Still Active, EMI
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Beastie Boys – Ill Communication (1994); Dilated Peoples – The Platform (2000); Slum Village – Detroit Deli (A Taste Of Detroit) (2004)
Quotable: “the CAPITOL of this rugged slang, is Wu-Tang”

16. Wu-Tang Records
Founded: 1993
Founder: RZA
Current Status: Defunct (2004)
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Killarmy – Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars (1997); Sunz of Man – The Last Shall Be First (1998); U-God – Golden Arms Redemption (1999)
Quotable: “…this rugged slang, is WU-TANG”

17. Death Row Records
Founded: 1991
Founder: Suge Knight / Dr. Dre
Current Status: Defunct (2009)
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992); Snoop Dogg – Doggystyle (1993); 2Pac – All Eyes on Me (1996)
Quotable: “I DEATH ROW an MC with mic cables”

18. Epic Records

Founded: 1953
Founder: CBS
Current Status: Still Active, Sony Music Entertainment
Notable Releases: Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele (2000); Kool DJ Red Alert – Propmaster Dancehall Show (1994); Vicious – Destination Brooklyn (1994)
Quotable: “The EPIC is at a RUSH ASSOCIATED LABELS”

19. Rush Associated Labels
Founded: 1990
Founder: Lyor Cohen
Current Status: Defunct (1995)
Notable Hip Hop Releases: EPMD – Business as Usual (1990); Redman – Whut, Thee Album (1992); ONYX – Bacdafucup (1993)
Quotable: “the EPIC is at a RUSH ASSOCIATED LABELS”

20. EastWest Records
Founded: 1955
Founder: Atlantic Records
Current Status: Still Active, Warner Music Group
Notable Releases: Das EFX – Dead Serious (1992); Snow – 12 Inches of Snow (1993); Yo-Yo – Make Way For The Motherload (1991)
Quotable: “ from EAST WEST to…”

21. ATCO (Atlantic Corporation)
Founded: 1955
Founder: Herb Abramson
Current Status: Defunct (1995)
Notable Releases: Vanilla Fudge – Vanilla Fudge (1967); AC/DC – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976); Cream – Fresh Cream (1966)
Quotable: “from East West to ATCO, I bring it…”

22. Next Plateau Records

Founded: 1984
Founder: Eddie O’Loughlin
Current Status: Still Active, Universal Music Group
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Paperboy – The Nine Yards (1992); DJ Red Alert – We Can Do This (1988); Salt N’ Pepa – Hot, Cool, and Vicious (1986)
Quotable: ‘I bring it to a NEXT PLATEAU”

23. Wild Pitch Records

Founded: 1985
Founder: Stu Fine
Current Status: Defunct (1998)
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Main Source – Breaking Atoms (1993); Gang Starr – No More Mr. Nice Guy (1989); UMC’s – Fruits Of Nature (1991)
Quotable: “Yo, I’m hittin’ batters up with the WILD PITCH Style”

24. Uptown Records
Founded: 1986
Founder: Andre Harrell
Current Status: Defunct (1999)
Notable Hip Hop Releases Heavy D – Blue Funk (1993); Mary J Blige – What’s The 411? (1992); Jodeci – Diary Of A Mad Band (1993)
Quotable: “I even show an UPTOWN/MCA style”

25. MCA Records

Founded: 1970
Founder: MCA Inc.
Current Status: Defunct (2003)
Notable Hip Hop Releases Common – Electric Circus (2002); Eric B & Rakim – Don’t Sweat The Technique (1992); The Roots – The Roots Come Alive (1999)
Quotable: “I even show an UPTOWN/MCA style”

26. 4th & Bway Records
Founded: 1984
Founder: Island Records
Current Status: Defunct
Notable Hip Hop Releases X-Clan – To The East, Blackwards (1990); Mobb Deep – Juvenile Hell (1993); Eric B & Rakim – Paid In Full (1987)
Quotable: “Who thought he saw me on 4TH & BROADWAY”

27. Island Records

Founded: 1959
Founder: Chris Blackwell & Graeme Goodall
Current Status: Currently Active, Universal Music Group
Notable Hip Hop Releases Positive K – The Skills Dat Pay Da Bills (1992); Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. – New Funky Nation (1990); Gravediggaz – 6 Feet Deep (1994)
Quotable: “but I was out on the ISLAND, bombing MCs all day”

28. Priority Records
Founded: 1985
Founder: Bryan Turner, Mark Cerami and Steve Drath
Current Status: Currently Active, EMI
Notable Hip Hop Releases Run-DMC – Raising Hell (1986); Scarface – Mr. Scarface is Back (1991); Ice Cube – Amerikkka’s Most Wanted (1990)
Quotable: “my PRIORITY is..”

29. First Priority

Founded: 1987
Founder: Nat Robinson
Current Status: Defunct (1993)
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Audio Two ‎– What More Can I Say? (1988); MC Lyte – Ruffneck (1993)
Quotable: “..that i’m FIRST PRIORITY”

30. A&M Records
Founded: 1962
Founder: Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss
Current Status: Defunct (2007) [Now A&M / Octone Records]
Notable Releases: Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass Band – Rise (1979); Baja Marimba Band – Baja Marimba Band (1964); Sergio Mendes – Brasil ‘66 (1966)
Quotable: “So look out for A&M, the abbot and the master…”

31. Pendulum Records

Founded: 1991
Founder: Ruben Rodriquez
Current Status: Active, Independent
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Digable Planets – Reachin (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (1993); Lords Of The Underground – Here Come The Lords (1993); Boogiemonsters – Riders Of The Storm: The Underwater Album (1994)
Quotable: “breaking down your PENDULUM”

32. Columbia Records

Founded: 1889
Founder: Columbia Gramophone Company
Current Status: Active, Universal Music Group
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Big L – Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous (1995); Nas – Illmatic (1994); DJ Kay Slay – The Streetsweeper Vol. 1 (2003)
Quotable: “I’m holding more weight than COLUMBIA”

33. Interscope Records
Founded: 1990
Founder: Jimmy Iovine & Ted Field
Current Status: Active, Universal Music Group
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Dr. Dre – Chronic 2001 (1999); 50 Cent – Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ (2003); Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Quotable: “Index INTERSCOPE”

34. RCA Records
Founded: 1901
Founder: Emile Berliner & Eldridge R. Johnson
Current Status: Active, Sony Music Entertainment
Notable Hip Hop Releases: The Alkaholiks – Coast 2 Coast (1995); SWV – It’s About Time (1992); Chantay Savage – Here We Go (1993)
Quotable: “We RCA clan”

35. Atlantic Records
Founded: 1947
Founder: Ahmet Ertegün & Herb Abramson
Current Status: Active, Warner Music Group
Notable Hip Hop Releases: T.I. – Trap Muzik (2003); Maino – If Tomorrow Comes (2009); Trick Daddy – Thugs R Us (2001)
Quotable: “Throw an A&R nigga off the boat in the ATLANTIC”

36. Bad Boy Records

Founded: 1993
Founder: Sean “Puffy” Combs
Current Status: Active, Universal Music Group
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Notorious BIG – Ready To Die (1994); Craig Mack – Project: Funk The World (1994); The Lox – Money, Power, and Respect (1998)
Quotable: “Now who’s the BAD BOY character”

37. Arista Records
Founded: 1974
Founder: Clive Davis
Current Status: Defunct (2003)
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Q-Tip – Amplified (1999); Outkast – Speakerboxxx / The Love Below (2003); Goodie Mob – World Party (1999)
Quotable: “Not from ARISTA”

38. Geffen Records
Founded: 1980
Founder: David Geffen
Current Status: Active, Universal Music Group
Notable Hip Hop Releases: The Roots – Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995); GZA – Liquid Swords (1995); The Game – Doctor’s Advocate (2006)
Quotable: “but firin’ weapons released on GEFFEN”

39. Motown Records

Founded: 1959
Founder: Berry Gordy
Current Status: Defunct (2005) [Now Universal Motown Records]
Notable Releases: The Jackson 5 – ABC (1970); Diana Ross – Everything is Everything (1970); The Temptations – Gettin’ Ready (1966)
Quotable: “so duck as I struck with the soul of MOTOWN”

40. CBS Records
Founded: 1968
Founder: Central Broadcasting Systems and Sony
Current Status: Still Active, Sony Music Entertainment
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Cold Crush Brothers “Punk Rock Rap” [12”] (1983); Spoonie G “The Big Beat” [12”] (1983); Davy DMX “One for the Treble” [12”] (1983)
Quotable: “while CENTRAL BROADCASTING SYSTEMS are slowed down”

41. Loud Records
Founded: 1992
Founder: Steve Rifkind
Current Status: Still Active, Universal Music Group
Notable Hip Hop Releases: Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The 36 Chambers (1993); Mobb Deep – The Infamous (1995); Big Punisher – Capital Punishment (1998)
Quotable: “Read the labels and say it LOUD”





THE OVERALL STAT-LINE:

Twenty-two of the named labels are still actively putting out new music in one way or another. [54 percent]
(Loud, EMIRG [EMI Record Group], Virgin, Capitol, Tuff City, Priority, Epic, Columbia, RCA, Def Jam, Mercury, Next Plateau, Island, Interscope, Atlantic, Bad Boy, Geffen, EastWest, Tommy Boy, CBS Records, Tuff City, Pendulum)

This means that 46% of the labels in the song are no longer putting out new music.




DIGGING DEEPER:

Of those twenty-two, it should be noted that only three of them release music independently. (Tommy Boy, Tuff City, Pendulum) [14 Percent]

Which gives us nineteen of those 22 labels within the four Majors. [86 Percent]
- Universal Music Group controls nine labels. (Def Jam, Mercury, Next Plateau, Island, Interscope, Bad Boy, Geffen, A&M Records, Loud Records)
- EMI controls four labels (EMIRG [EMI Record Group], Virgin, Capitol, Priority)
- Sony Music Entertainment controls three labels. (Epic, Columbia, RCA)
- Warner Music Group controls three labels. (Warner Brothers Records, Atlantic, EastWest)

The following nineteen labels are defunct. [46 Percent of the companies named in “Labels”]
(Ruthless, Livin’ Large, Death Row, ATCO (Atlantic Corporation), Wu-Tang Records, Motown, 4th & Bway, Sleeping Bag, Wild Pitch, First Priority, Rush Associated Labels, Cold Chillin’, Profile, Ruffhouse, Uptown, MCA, A&M Records, Jive, Arista)

Of these nineteen labels, three of them had closed shop up before the song was even recorded.

Nine of the nineteen defunct labels folded before the iPod went on the market (2001). (Sleeping Bag, Wild Pitch, First Priority, ATCO [Atlantic Corporation], Rush Associated Labels, Profile, Ruthless, Ruffhouse, Uptown)

Seven of the labels closed down post-Y2K. (MCA, Wu-Tang Records, Motown, A&M Records, Death Row, Arista, Jive)



THE VERDICT:

As you can see, Combat Jack was onto something big with his tweet. And although his numbers were a bit off, it’s no secret about the clear decline in the importance of the almighty record label. There are a handful of rap classics that acknowledge how important having a record label deal was within hip-hop, but none more important than GZA’s “Labels.”

I think anyone older than Odd Future can lament how far removed we are from the good old days of going out to cop music on Tuesday from the likes of The Wiz or Sam Goody. In fact, our music today is just a click away in a digital-first, subscription-based, streaming industry. Laments aside, many would argue that this means that the power has been taken from the powerful label and given back, at least in some way, to the artists and “the people.”

In its time, the song was a fierce and ridiculously intricate concept cut that raged against labels, big and small. Now it sits proudly on our shelves, staring at us – an important artifact to remind us just how much time’s done changed.



by UpNorthTrips (@UpNorthTrips)

 

(6)
  1. will you break down the same fun analysis from this track fulled of miscellaneous labels references ??
    Jean Grae – Give it up
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDVY4cj6Wog

  2. This is really good. I love what you did and how well-thought you did it. But I think Ruthless still releases new records, although I’m not quite sure about that.

  3. Great article, but there’s one more that a lot of people miss. At the end of the song, he says “rza razor, rza razor sharp”. I don’t know if it was a true “label”. But, if I remember correctly, a few of the early solo albums from the Wu had a “razor sharp records” logo on them.

  4. This is a rapnerd’s dream right here, fantastic stuff. In regards to Ruffhouse, they have re-opened shop and will be releasing new albums from Beanie Sigel and Glenn Lewis shortly.

  5. Atco still exists under warner

  6. this isn’t 100% accurate. some of the things you say now exist as part of a larger company were failed attempts at smaller companies by larger corporations.

    and you forgot to mention that vinyl is at a 2 decade high, which kind of flies in the face of your “everything’s digital now!” idea. no, there are just more casual fans than there ever have been.