September 19, 2020

How Priority Records empowered Black artists

Image Credit: Priority Records

Priority Records was one of the biggest Independent record labels (if not the biggest) at a time when the majors were still reluctant to promote hip hop music.

The label’s success simply came from the fact they saw a gap in market (gangster rap at the time) and invested heavily on it.  

Biography

Priority was founded in 1985 by former K-Tel executives, Brian Turner and Mark Cerami. However there was one problem because they didn’t have any acts on their roster and/or products to put out on the marketplace.

In order to keep the ball rolling, Brian and Mark decided to license music from other artists and release compilation albums instead – and the idea worked.

Their first success as label came from California Raisins and the profits from the project gave Priority Records a huge capital injection which allowed them to invest in their own artists.

In the mid 80’s there was virtually no label that was promoting gangster rap. The Priority executives (Brian Turner in particular) took notice of then-unknown Easy-E and N.W.A’s independent hustle and quickly signed them to a joint venture music deal. That’s when Priority Records took off as a label.   

Priority Records managed to sell millions of records per release by applying guerrilla marketing tactics such as putting up posters in record stores, magazine advertisements targeting rap consumers.

Distribution deals

Easy-E was the majority shareholder in Ruthless Records and NWA was signed to his label. Priority Records had a manufacturing and distribution deal with Ruthless which allowed Easy to continue to run his own company independently and earn better profit margins.

NWA’s success paved the way for the other rappers to run their own businesses and own their masters.

Ice Cube controversially left Ruthless and NWA in 1989 to pursue a solo career. His debut album, Amerikkaz Most Wanted (coincidentally released under Priority) and was an instant hit. The label rewarded Ice Cube with his own imprint Lench Mob Records.

Other notable labels previously distributed by Priority Records  

Rap-A-Lot Records: Founded by J Prince in 1986. Notable acts include The Geto Boys (formerly known as the Ghetto Boys) and Scarface.

Death Row Records: Although Death Row was publicly associated with Interscope, distribution was largely handled by Priority between 1997 and 2003.

Get Low Recordz: JT The Bigga Figga was a jack of all trades (artist, producer and label owner). He pretty much did everything himself. However his contract was terminated when his Priority debut failed to chart.

No Limit Records: Master P the founder of label signed an unprecedented deal which allowed him to retain his master recordings (including the label back catalogue) and 85% of the gross profits.

Roc-A-Fella Records: Jay Z and his then partners Damon Dash and Kareem Burke couldn’t find any takers for his anticipated debut album, Reasonable Doubt.  They eventually signed a joint venture deal with Priory Records but via Freeze Records.