Birdman: Top Seed
A man who has without doubt changed the face of Southern hip hop, Birdman - aka Bryan ‘Baby’ Williams - this month precedes the release of his fourth LP ‘Pricele$$’ with the infectious single ‘Written On Her’. A sexy, uptempo joint, which sees Williams’ tough Southern swagger smoothed-out by the melodic pop/R&B tones of British-Asian US chart-topper Jay Sean.
Indeed, since founding the legendary Cash Money Records (alongside his brother Ronald ‘Slim’ Williams) in 1990, Birdman has risen from humble New Orleans origins to become a bona fide Southern rap icon, as well as one of the most successful hip hop entrepreneurs ever. In fact, having gone on to sign Cash Money to a record-breaking $30 million distribution deal with Universal Music in 1997, Williams has since seen his label go on to sell over 30 million records. Much of its recent ongoing success emanating from his superstar protege and ‘surrogate son’, Lil Wayne - whose Grammy-winning ‘Tha Carter 111’ prestigiously ended up America’s biggest- selling album of 2008.
Meanwhile, with Cash Money’s roster having, in the last 15 months, expanded successfully to also now include highly-touted new Canadian rapper Drake, globally-charting rocker Kevin Rudolf, plus British urban-pop crooner Jay Sean, a heavily-tatooed and blinged-up Birdman shoots the breeze with Pete Lewis amidst the opulent surrounds of his luxurious Knightsbridge hotel.
Titling his forthcoming, fourth solo LP ‘Pricele$$’
“I chose ‘Pricele$$’ ‘cause I feel life is priceless, my family is priceless, my kids are priceless, loyalty is priceless, love is priceless… You know, to me anything that money can’t buy is priceless… Plus the track ‘Priceless’ in itself is a very different record for us. It’s rock/rap - and the reason I wanted Timbaland to produce it was because I knew he’d bring that different element to the project.”
What we can expect musically from ‘Pricele$$’
“If you’ve been following Cash Money Records, if you’re a fan of our music, you’re definitely gonna hear GROWTH! Because we always try to make the next album better than the LAST one. And musically this album just represents me being MYSELF. You know, I don’t consider myself a rapper. My SON’s a rapper (Lil Wayne), whereas I consider myself more a game-spitter. I basically just enjoy myself giving great music to the fans.”
How London-born-and-bred pop/R&B hit-maker Jay Sean has become the first UK artist signed to Cash Money Records
“I learnt about him the first time we came over here to London. Then, when I seen him perform, that was when I got turned ON to him - because I thought his music was fly! I felt he was already accomplished, that he already had the swagger… And I knew that, once he got around us and seen our ethics and how hard we work, that I could just take his craft to another LEVEL… And I think that’s exactly what we DID! ‘Cause in The States, with ‘Down’ we got the Number One record in the country.”
Birdman’s early background growing up in the notorious streets of New Orleans’ 3rd Ward
“Oh shit, we came up in the ghetto amidst all the poverty! I mean, a lotta youngsters get killed in New Orleans and don’t make it to being too old. So first you gotta win THAT war - of surviving all the gangsta life - before you can win any OTHER battle! You know, you gotta survive just bein’ IN that mothafucka! But, you know, it is what it is - and we can’t complain about it.”
The reasons behind Birdman (alongside his brother Ronald ‘Slim’ Williams) first forming Cash Money Records in New Orleans back in 1990
“I just wanted to do something different, and to bring MUSIC to the town. You know, I always wanted to get enough shit together to MAKE successful rappers - I never wanted to be a rapper MYSELF. Though, because the other rappers were so young, I ended up HAVING to become a rapper! But to me it always was - and still is - all about making all these young boys into millionaires, making these niggas into stars, and letting them be their own bosses.”
How he looks back on Cash Money’s early days as a local New Orleans independent rap label
“I was independent for seven years before I signed the deal with Universal. And looking back now, I realise I NEEDED all that experience to be able to go deal with that whole Universal situation, ‘cause that was a whole other machine that I wasn’t USED to. And I think my hand-to-and combat with the independent side of things did help show me how to HANDLE that. ‘Cause during that time of independence I also read a lot about the other cats that did it before me - Russell Simmons, Diddy, Suge Knight… You know, I STUDIED the game too. So, when I got my chance to get in the big league and sign Cash Money to Universal, I felt like a veteran ALREADY! Even though I was a rookie, I just felt like a vet - ‘cause I came IN like a vet! You know, I owned everything, I didn’t have to give up nothing... So, when we came in to the Universal family, we was already ready for the big stage!”
The reasons behind Cash Money Records signing that groundbreaking $30 million deal with Universal Music in 1997
“They had the most money on the table, and to me they made me feel like they believed in us the most. I mean, I coulda went to any label I WANTED to at that time. But I liked the way Universal was working with (fellow Southern rap pioneers) MJG & 8Ball, plus I liked the staff there. And looking back now, I’m really glad Universal was the one I picked. ‘Cause I still have a great relationship with them.”
Birdman’s ongoing working relationship with his “surrogate son” and protégé, multi-million-selling Cash Money rapper Lil Wayne
“That’s my son, my partner, my life, my world - that’s EVERYTHING to me! I mean, we each got our own studio. But, while we both be doing our own thing, at the same time we’re always coming into each other’s room to listen to what the other is doing. So we ‘pitch and catch’ all day. I might send him two tracks, he might send me three... I mean, we might do sometimes even eight songs a DAY! There’s so much recording going on at Cash Money today it’s CRAZY! I never SAW so much rappin’! I mean, that’s all Wayne DO all day, and I APPRECIATE him for that. Because he’s following what I told him at a young age - that if you wanna be the best, you gotta have the best WORK ethics, and then that legacy is gonna live for EVER! I mean, he and I are gonna put out a second ‘Like Father, Like Son’ album for next summer. And the chemistry between us just makes everything come so natural! You know, we got 20/21 years experience in that shit. So doing that part of it comes almost TOO easy to us.”
How Birdman feels about the ongoing - and groundbreaking - longevity of the ever-expanding Cash Money Records
“When we first came onto the Southern rap scene, there was so many different labels, so many different acts… And now - with me having been with Universal for close on 13 years - when I look around, there’s nobody THERE no more! All the labels, all the acts who was doin’ it when we started ….98% of them are GONE, or shit shut DOWN! Because the business can DO that to you if you ain’t got your ETHICS right! You know, you gotta keep hustlin’ and you gotta keep on PUSHIN’! Because, if you don’t make no money, you can’t PAY nobody! And so right now the plan for Cash Money is to try to do EVEN MORE! That’s the whole GOAL! Because I just feel we can outdo ANY major label, I don’t care WHO it is! You know, it’s us against the world! I really feel we can go up against ALL of them! I wanna outdo anybody that ever DID this shit! So right now for me it’s all about making sure we keep expanding our roster, that we keep opening up to different genres of music... And that we just go harder, go harder, and GO HARDER!”
The digital single ‘Written On Her Feat. Jay Sean’ will be released December 7 through Cash Money/Universal Motown
Words PETE LEWIS