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The Rise of Interscope Records

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This week’s Trapital podcast memo is brought to you by Chartmetric.

Drill music’s transatlantic movement

Our friends at Chartmetric have a great new piece out on Drill Music. Here’s a preview:

Drill music originated in Chicago in the early 2010s with Chief Keef’s hit “I Don’t Like,” which introduced the genre’s raw, trap-influenced sound. It quickly spread to other cities, including London where it merged with UK grime music, resulting in a distinct sound with British dialects and higher BPMs.

London has surpassed Chicago as the biggest market for drill on Spotify in 2020, but cities like New York remain dominant with the help of artists like Ice Spice and Pop Smoke. Ice Spice, one of the industry’s top trending drill artists, has proven that drill’s cultural reach is broadening, with women increasingly taking center stage and embracing the New York sound.

Drill’s history back and forth across the Atlantic has shown there’s room for future developments to have a lasting impact on the genre. From Chicago to the world, its influence only continues to rise.

Read the full Drill music piece on Chartmetric’s site here.

the “clutch your pearls” business model

Interscope didn’t play by the rules in the early days. The label was founded in 1990 by music producer Jimmy Iovine and film producer Ted Field. Interscope made a name for itself by signing artists that other labels wouldn’t touch. From Death Row Records to Nine Inch Nails to Tupac Shakur, the roster was stacked.

Controversy grew its awareness but quality built its loyalty.

That was the pop culture formula in the 1990s. “Clutch your pearls” was the business model that several companies succeeded with across industries. MTV took way more risks than VH1 did. The Sega Genesis released edgy video games that Super Nintendo wouldn’t touch. The same is true about Interscope. They pushed boundaries (without going too far) and reaped the rewards.

“I think that was Jimmy’s genius, being able to say ‘we shouldn’t shy away from controversy as long as it doesn’t cross certain lines. Controversy can actually be good for a record label because it generates publicity.’ – Zack on Interscope’s approach.

Even when controversy reached a boiling point, Interscope prevailed. After the infamous 1994 Crime Bill, the American spotlight was (unfairly) on gangsta rap as one of the problems. In 1995, Interscope stakeholder Time Warner faced mounting political pressure to disassociate from the label. Time Warner sold its $115 million, 50% stake back to Interscope in 1995. The next year Interscope sold a 50% stake in the company to MCA for $200 million. The “controversial” label had an $85 million come up and nearly doubled its value. Thanks, Time Warner!

When Pac said that Bob Dole was “too old to understand the way the game is told,” this is what he meant.

Interscope continued its edgy persona with successful artists like Eminem and 50 Cent in the 90s. Eminem became the best-selling artist of the 2000s. 50 Cent’s 2003 is in the running for the best year any rapper has ever had. Several years later, Lady Gaga had her own attention-grabbing moments as an Interscope artist, like her meat dress or the “egg” she showed up in at the 2011 Grammys.

In the social media era, the business of shock value lost its edge. It had a brief resurgence with “The Pump Plan,” but most of those artists lacked longevity. Audiences have become desensitized, so anything that does spark controversy is likely too problematic. Interscope’s 1990s playbook probably wouldn’t be as effective if a new label tried to do the same.

You can listen to our full Interscope breakdown here or read below for more.

longevity and consistency

Since Interscope launched, it has been one of the most successful individual record labels in the industry. In its 33 years, Interscope has only had two CEOs, Jimmy Iovine and John Janick. Before Jimmy left, many wondered if the label was more than just Jimmy. But he left nearly a decade ago and the label has continued to put up numbers under Janick with Kendrick Lamar, Olivia Rodrigo, BLACKPINK, and others.

It reminds me of sports teams with consistent leadership. The Pittsburgh Steelers have had two head coaches since 1992, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, and Tomlin has yet to have a losing record in 16 straight seasons. And until this week, the Green Bay Packers have only had two starting quarterbacks since 1992 and have stayed competitive in most years.

In music, record labels with consistency at the top, like Interscope and Republic Records, are the ones that stay at the top of the market share reports. Those label heads are also given much more leeway and autonomy under the Universal Music Group umbrella. Both labels also signed landmark distribution deals with independent hip-hop record labels (Interscope – Death Row, and Republic – Cash Money). It all comes full circle.

the incubator for Beats by Dre

Despite the collapse of Death Row Records, Iovine and Dre stayed close. That partnership led to the launch of Beats by Dre in 2006.

As the story goes, Dre had an offer for a sneaker deal, back in the heyday of S.Dots and G-Unit sneakers. Iovine replied, “F sneakers, let’s make speakers.” Iovine was frustrated with the sound quality of the free headphones that came with every iPod. They entered the headphone market with an elevated approach.

Like Zack said on the podcast, it was the perfect partnership. Dre was this perfectionist artist and Jimmy is the marketer. Jimmy was the talker, while Dre was the quiet genius.

With Universal’s backing (they owned equity in Beats by Dre too), the headphones became a staple in Interscope artist music videos, from Lady Gaga to Soulja Boy. They doubled down on product placement with the ambush marketing campaign at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Beats headphones weren’t just for utility, they were a fashion statement. Zack said he spoke with former Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn about what it took to sell $200 to $300 headphones in 2009 (after the Great Recession). Dunn said Best Buy associates were trained to sell Beats as a fashion piece. Beats wasn’t competing with Bose. It was competing with Jordan Brand.

The strategy was to make Beats its own category, not just a leader in an existing category. It all led to a $3 billion sale to Apple in 2014.

While consumers were more familiar at the time with the physical headphones, Apple was really after the new Beats Music streaming service. Apple wanted its own streaming service in the market and Spotify had already had a three-year head start since its 2011 launch in the U.S. Beats Music was the foundation of what became Apple Music, which officially launched in 2015.

Zack and I covered a bunch more in this episode:

–  who is the best signing in the history of Interscope?

–  what’s the “dark horse” underrated business move in Interscope’s history?

–  the Death Row Records partnership in detail

Listen to the full episode here.

[0:27] The most successful individual label of the past 30 years?

[3:25] Key figures in Interscope’s come-up story

[6:40] Nontraditional way to build a record label 

[11:00] Death Row Records partnership 

[18:31] Biggest signing? 

[21:16] Best business move?

[31:35] Darkhorse business move? 

[36:50] Where will Interscope be in 10 years 

[40:32] Would Interscope’s 90s approach work today?

[47:00] Interscope’s entrepreneurial challenges today 

[57:00] Biggest winner in Interscope history?

TRANSCRIPTION:

[00:00:00] Dan Runcie Intro: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from the executives in music, media, entertainment, and more, who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.

[00:00:27] Dan Runcie Guest Intro: Today’s episode is all about Interscope Records. It has been one of the most influential record labels since it was started in 1990. This record label has been home to Dr. Dre, Eminem, 50 Cent, Lady Gaga, Olivia, Rodrigo, and countless other names in between. So we talked about what made Death Row records wanna partner with a company like Interscope and what made Interscope succeed time and time again. So we talk about the business model of being able to sell controversy and why that worked well, especially in the 90s. We also talk about leadership and how important it is to have people at the helm that understand what’s needed and how that continued to help Interscope time and time again.

We also talk about some of the challenges that Interscope has had and how they’re able to navigate that too. And in this episode, very similar to the Cash Money one that we did a couple months ago, Zach and I, that’s Zach O’Malley Greenberg, you may know him from his work back when he was at Forbes as the entertainment editor there.

And from the books he’s written like Three Kings and Empire State of Mind. We talked about a number of things and answered several questions that we talked about in the Cash Money episode as well. What was the biggest signing? What were the best business moves that were made? What was the Dark Horse move?

What are the missed opportunities? How did this record label handle transitions? And who is the biggest winner overall from the success of Interscope Records, which is now Interscope Geffen A and M today, one of the umbrella labels under Universal Music Group. This is a really fun episode to do, and we’re gonna do more of them.

So let us also know if you have any suggestions on other ones you want us to do at the end of the episode, and we’ll go from there. Here’s our breakdown on Interscope Records. Hope you enjoy it.

[00:02:13] Dan Runcie: This episode is a breakdown on one of the most storied record labels of the past few decades, Interscope Records and we’re back to break it down with my guy, Zach O’Malley Greenberg. Zach, welcome back, man. 

[00:02:24] Zack Greenburg: Thanks for having me, as always. 

[00:02:27] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I knew that this was a topic that was near and dear to you, given the work you covered in the spaces.

Well, this is one of the more interesting record labels, but following their work for years. And just to just kick things off, this record label starts 1990, right at the beginning of a new wave for music and since it’s come out, would you say that this is the most successful record label, individual record label that we’ve seen in music since then?

[00:02:52] Zack Greenburg: I mean, it’s certainly hard to think of another one, that’s been more reliably at the top, right? I mean, and I think the thing that really sets Interscope apart is it’s not like, you know, the label was made off of just one act or two acts or three acts. They just have a, track record of continuing to find, you know, artists that push the envelope, that, you know, break records and that end up at the top of the music scene and, you know, kind of across genres and eras too.

So, you know, and really even across, chief executives, which is I think, pretty unusual. So, I think there’s some kind of secret sauce in there and, can’t wait to dig into it with you.

[00:03:27] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think it. In terms of the longevity, in terms of the phases they’ve gone through, whether it’s dominating in hip hop, dominating in pop, dominating in rock, they’ve been able to do it across genres across decades. The one record label that I do think could also be worth mentioning in this respect is Republic Records started a few years after 1995, but I think there’s a few things there too as well.

The consistency and the ability to do consistent deals, win challenging Bit Wars and get some of the top artists. So I do think it would probably have to be one of those two. But from a timeframe perspective, just all of what Interscope was able to do even before things got started at Republic, do give them a edge.

If we’re talking past 25 years, that’s probably another discussion, but past 30, 32 years, I think Interscope is probably there. I think there’s also maybe a case to be made for Columbia or a case to be made for Atlantic as well, but I do think that Interscope, especially just with the way that they went about things a little differently, which we’ll get into, but I feel like they have a strong advantage there. 

[00:04:33] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, for sure. And I think, you know, particularly when it comes to the sort of entrepreneurial spirit, you know, and we’ve talked about Cash Money and Def Jam and you know, Rockefeller certainly, hip hop, specific record labels that have been uniquely, entrepreneurial, you know, especially given some of their leadership, but like, I think for a label that, you know, kind of delves into pop so much.

And of course Interscope obviously, you know, huge home for hip hop too. But to have that entrepreneurial streak, outside of it, mostly hip hop label. I think that’s pretty unusual too in some of the things they’ve done around beats, which we can get into. you know, j just, you know, being almost, you know, like a venture fund or an incubator as much as a record label in some ways. I think that’s another way that Interscope has been, you know, really different from the rest. 

[00:05:16] Dan Runcie: Yeah, for sure. That beats thing, we’ll get into that one in a minute. I feel there’s so much to dive into there but let’s start with the quick backstory. I’m sure a lot of folks already know this, but there are three main figures that were involved with. The beginning of this record label. You have PBIV, you have Ted Fields, and you have John McLay so. Let’s first start with Jimmy. So as many of you know, this was someone that was a record producer. It started as that worked with legendary artisan music, whether it was John Lennon, Springsteen, and several others. And with that, he was able to carve out a lane, figure out what works for him. And I know that now the jump from producer to executive may not seem like it’s that much, but back in 89 ‘ 90’, there were a lot of question marks around whether or not this record producer guy could run a business, could he be an executive, and make the decisions and call the shots?

And there were a lot of things that Jimmy did that may seem conventional, but there were a lot that were seen unconventional. But I do think that him having the partnership with others helped craft Interscope to where it is today. And Ted Fields is one of those first, one of those people where the name comes from.

So yeah. Zach, tell us a little bit about Ted and some of his 

[00:06:28] Zack Greenburg: work before. 

Yeah, I mean, you know, and it was, this was at this point, over 30 years ago, but, you know, I was five years old. But kind of looking back on it now, I mean, it seems to me the way these things go, like Ted Field was kind of the money guy. Jimmy was the industry guy and you know, Ted Field was one of the heirs of the Marshall Field Fortune, he had been involved in film production and like race cars and all kinds of things that heirs to Fortunes are option involved in, which are maybe not as lucrative as Interscope Records turned out to be. but interesting nonetheless, he was a producer on, revenge of the Nerds and some other really interesting films.

but yeah. In 1990, he came along, basically thought of Interscope Records as its division of this film company. and he brought on, he teamed up with Jimmy. I think they were actually introduced by the manager of u2. and, David Geffen was sort of involved in negotiations along the way. And, it was like kind of a who’s who of the music world, you know, at kind of the cusp of the 1990s there. And so he came in, he brought on John McClain, to run Interscope at first. So John McClain is like one of these people who’s incredibly, he might be the most influential person in music who nobody’s ever heard of. And, unless you know, you know, John McClain was, critical in Janet Jackson’s success.

he’s also now become the co-executor of the Michael Jackson estate. you know, really since MJ died, along with John Branca, who’s sort of the, public face of it, but, you know, John McClain, if you want to like, try to find a picture of John McClain. I mean, this guy is so, under the radar, but he’s so deeply in the mix.

I don’t really know how he manages to avoid the spotlight quite as much as he does. But, you know, obviously contributes a ton, of expertise, and as a true power player behind the scenes in the music business. So, you know, you kind of, you kind of put that dream team together and then you have sort of the ingredients for, you know, the beginning of, what we now know as Interscope records. 

[00:08:18] Dan Runcie: Yeah, and I’m glad that you brought up Geffen earlier because when this started, a lot of people looked at Geffen as the model for what this could be, but also how Interscope went about things differently. Geffen’s whole thing when he had started Geffen Records was who were the established artists that he could go after?

Again, whether it was Elton John or a few other folks that they were able to really secure, because at the time, the thought was you wanna have the proven people on your roster because it’s so hard to be able to build that from the ground up. So not only is Jimmy and the team already going into this from people that don’t traditionally have strong music experience in terms of running a music company, at least in late eighties, early nineties, but you also have them try to do it completely with new artists and going in from a new perspective.

And this was part of one of the things that I think helped set them apart because they lead into genres and aspects of genres that other folks avoided. So of course, in the early days of Interscope, they focused more so on rock music. That’s what Jimmy was known for. And you had artists, I think their first hit was Ricoh Suave.

They had had some stuff with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. So you started to see a little bit of more interesting ways to go about stuff. But then they also had Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. So you got a vibe for the fact that this wasn’t just rock music. They were in many ways going after that shock value like what was the thing that was somewhat controversial, but there was the controversial stuff that did sell and was resonating and they were able to take risks that others weren’t, and it worked out to their advantage.

[00:09:58] Zack Greenburg: Absolutely. And you know, another executive, who deserves mention is Tom Whaley, who came over from, I think it was, he was at Capital and a and r there. And you know, he was the one who had originally signed Tupac, in I think 1991. So that was like way before Tupac was a mainstream success. He was really getting in early, you know, the seed round of Tupac, if you will. and 

[00:10:18] Dan Runcie: Digital underground era of Tupac. 

[00:10:21] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, exactly. So, you know, whereas maybe Geffen was more of like a series B kind of fund, you know, looking for series B and C, kind of sure things, you know, I think Interscope was really willing to get in there early and Right. They didn’t really care if, somebody was controversial.

And I think, I think Jimmy, I think that was part of his genius, was being able to tell like, you know, we shouldn’t shy away from controversy. And in fact, you know, as, as long as it’s. Not crossing certain lines. controversy can actually be good for a record label because it generates publicity and, you know, certainly as Jimmy got deeper and deeper in, you know, into the hip hop world, you know, I think, he followed that, strategy pretty closely. 

[00:11:03] Dan Runcie: Yeah. And I think this speaks to something that worked effectively in business in the nineties as well. There was almost this monetization of pearl clutching, if that makes sense. What is gonna make people actually be like, oh, did so-and-so just say that? And that’s why MTV was able to reach heights in the late eighties and early nineties that VH1 necessarily didn’t at the time.

And that’s why Interscope was able to do things, other labels weren’t. And then I think similarly, you even look at gaming back in the day. You look at a company like Sega and the types of games they were willing to release on a council like the SEGA Genesis, they were taking risks that Nintendo didn’t wanna take.

And I think we actually saw Sony continue to do that. So I feel like there was this ethos of that in the nineties from the get-go, and Interscope was willing to go there where others weren’t.

[00:11:50] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, hundred percent. And, you know, I think it’s, also just interesting to know that I think a lot of people look at the Tupac saga and they think about, you know, there’s this whole, and we can get into this later, the whole Suge Knight and bailing him out of jail and all that.

But, he was already in the Interscope, family, you know, years before that. So

[00:12:06] Dan Runcie: Right. 

[00:12:07] Zack Greenburg: It all kind of comes together. 

[00:12:08] Dan Runcie: Oh, definitely. And I think with that it’s time to talk about what are the most important things that does set the stage for this record label. In general, it’s the partnership with Death Row records and signing them to the deal that they did. So it’s funny because I think that when a lot of people think of hip hop artists signing deals and getting ownership, we often hear about cash money.

We often hear about Master P and No Limit, but Death Row was able to do something quite similar and have that type of relationship with Interscope as well. It was a distribution deal, and for as notorious as Suge Knight is for his bully tactics, and that’s probably a light way to put it in terms of how he goes about his business.

He was very adamant about what they owned and they were able to use a few hundred thousand dollars investment on their end. Largely gotten from some money that, Suge Knight didn’t get that he was owed from a vanilla ice steal and that that becomes a start to death row records. And they sat on the chronic for over a year until they found the right company. And the right company ended up being Interscope to partner with.

[00:13:14] YT Clip 2: All I remember is that Dre came in, then plays the chronic. I said, who recorded this for you? He said, me. I said, wow. This guy will define Interscope. 

[00:13:24] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. and you know, I think that, you know, there’s the old story of like, when Jimmy first heard Dre and Snoop together on a track, he’s like, these guys are like Mick and Keith just, you know, they’re just, just different genre but saw it immediately, right? He saw the, like behind the scenes musical guy, you know?

and then the sort of like the forward facing storyteller, the performer. And, he saw formula that worked in rock and that would work in hip hop. And, I think in many ways, You know, Jimmy’s genre agnostic, right? It didn’t really matter that this was hip hop or that was rock.

The point was the formula works and it works in whatever genre you put it forward in. So, at one of my other favorite Jimmy Stories was, I don’t remember which song this was, what was it? It was, maybe it was off the chronic or doggy style and that he couldn’t get the, radio stations to play it, because it was too obscene or whatever.

And so, he just bought like 32nd or 62nd slots, or maybe he bought like, full three minute slots on drive time in LA just terrestrial radio and just played the song and people didn’t realize that it was an ad, and they just, they loved the song and they started calling the radio stations requesting it, and that’s how they rocketed it to the top.

Which, do you remember what song it was? it’s, not such, of course, the listeners are gonna be like, oh 

[00:14:41] Dan Runcie: someone’s gonna come back and ping us about it. 

[00:14:44] Zack Greenburg: But I just, I love that story and it’s, just like classic Jimmy Iovine, you know, you know, and it works. and I think also, you know, to your earlier point, like monetizing the pearl clutching, the best way to, get somebody to want something is to tell ’em they can’t have it, right?

I mean, so whoever’s mom is like clutching their pearls, but the kid is like, wait a minute, my mom is freaking out and I can’t have this record, like, what is this record that I can’t have? Even if they didn’t know what it was, you know? and I think in a funny way, like that era, you know, the whole parental advisory sticker, I mean, that became like, you know, like almost a badge of honor, 

[00:15:18] Dan Runcie: Oh yeah, I was a marketing employee at that point. 

[00:15:21] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, exactly. and you see that, know, obviously throughout music, but even, to draw parallels, with basketball, which as we get into talk about, beats by Dre, you know, I think there are a ton of them. But like one of the reasons that, Eric Jordan did so well early on was because they were like finding Jordan for wearing them.

And this was a big story, you know, he was kind of like breaking the rules by wearing, cuz it, you know, the sneakers they had to be like white in the nba, white sneakers. We could only have a certain percentage with color on them. And like the Jordans were 50% red or something. And, this was like a big problem and, you know, resulting in fines.

But Nike decided to just pay the fines and take the publicity. And I think that sort of attitude is, the one that was, you know, adopted by Jimmy and, you know, by Interscope more broadly throughout. 

[00:16:04] Dan Runcie: Yeah, great story. And I think that speaks a lot to both the blessing and to be honest, in some ways the curse of, Jimmy, what Jimmy’s great at, and some of Jimmy’s challenges as well, because from a leadership perspective and from the risk taken perspective, he was always willing to go there and spend the money to make the things happen, right?

Whether it was taking a less lucrative deal to work with Death Row because you’re working with Death Row, what you’re able to put out, right? Three other first four albums they put out are classics, you have the chronic, you have Doggy Style, you have the above the Rim soundtrack. They just came so strong.

And even that moment when they’re able to have that cover on vibe, that is just such an infamous cover of, you know, the three main artists and show together. No one else could really do that, and that’s why that does stay as strong as it is. But with that, Jimmy also did get a lot of criticism for overspending and not necessarily having as many checks of balances in place.

A lot of people felt that, you know Doug Morris, who, this was a little bit later, but Doug Morris, who was leading Universal at the time, pretty much gave him a green light to do a lot of the things he wanted to do. And I remember in the nineties he had side Tom Jones, which was in many ways a bit antithetical to like how he’s been running the business so far to spend the money on an act like that.

And then even some of the things later on with Apple Music, and I mean, that’s a whole nother conversation, but it’s the way that the money was spent, worked well when it worked well. But then things don’t work out, everyone has, you know, the criticism ready and some, some businesses that can work well, but in other businesses it can be a little bit challenging.

[00:17:47] Zack Greenburg: Right. Yeah. absolutely. And, you know, I think as with many businesses though, if you spend a lot of money and you spend it, you know, intelligently or at least you know, in the right direction, maybe you overspend a little bit. If you spend in the right direction, you know, the rewards accrue to you.

And, you know, I don’t know if I’m getting too ahead of myself here, but. Just while we’re on the topic of controversy, you know, just the whole corporate history of Interscope, it had started off as a, or it eventually was a joint venture between, Time Warner and then Field and Iovine.

And in 1995, after all this controversy, with some of the lyrics and, you know, Dolores Tucker, you know, and all this T ime Warner divested, sold it’s half of the company to field an Ivy for 150 million bucks. And then year later they just turned around and sold that half for 200 million back to Seagram.

And, you know, so they made a tidy little $75, 85 million in like a year, you know, after, having their hand force by this controversy. So, it’s just kind of funny how that all works out. 

[00:18:47] Dan Runcie: Yeah, no, I’m glad you brought that up. But I think we could get into some of the categories now cuz some of this probably fits there with that too. At least, I’d say the biggest signing here, I think the biggest signing, there’s a number of them in Interscopes, 30 plus year history, but I think it has to be this Death Row deal.

[00:19:02] Zack Greenburg: I think the death row deal, because it kind of paves the way for everybody else. But, I would say though, if there were a single artist that, you know, sort of, if you had to pick one artist to define Interscope, I’d probably go with Eminem. I mean, just in terms of like the overall, the controversy, the evolution, the sales.

I mean, you know, just, nobody can touch Eminem from a sales perspective. you know, certainly when it comes to hip hop, over the past, you know, couple decades and, you know, just, all of the, kind of, the good and the bad and everything that came together. I mean, you know, but that doesn’t happen unless you have Death Row.

It doesn’t happen unless you have Dr. Dre. I mean, you know, if you say like, what artist was most critical to Interscope overall, like on a broader kind of like holistic spectrum, I’d probably go with Dre. but as far as assigning, I don’t know. It’d be hard to top that in my book. 

[00:19:53] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think Eminem is a good counter there because this is kind of like the cash money conversation we had then, right? Do you say that it’s Lil Wayne or do you say it’s Drake and it actually is Drake from a pure numbers perspective, but obviously Drake doesn’t happen without Lil Wayne and the same thing as here with Dre and Eminem and then everything else there.

And Eminem is specifically because I think even if you looked at the 2010s, he’s still probably up there in terms of the most commercially successful artist. He’s already number one of the two thousands. He was already pretty high up from the nineties just given the work that he did in the late two thousands and his. In 2022, his greatest Hits album was the most popular rap album in the UK. And this is a album that’s 17 years old, a greatest hits album. And then you just look at the streaming numbers. I’m pretty sure he has two of the three most streamed songs of the two thousands being Lose Yourself and Till I Collapse, which wasn’t even like a big single at the time, but ended up being a staple on workout playlist.

So yeah, 

[00:20:57] Zack Greenburg: and he has remained relevant in a way. I mean, I think if you walk down the street and you ask the average, you know, 15 year old, they’ll know who Eminem is and they might not know who Dr. Dre is. 

[00:21:08] Dan Runcie: Which is wild to say, right? 

[00:21:10] Zack Greenburg: I know, 

[00:21:11] Dan Runcie: Wild. Yeah, 

[00:21:12] Zack Greenburg: It’s crazy, but I think but I think it ‘s also true, for better or worse, so, 

[00:21:17] Dan Runcie: What’s the best business move in, Interscopes done?

[00:21:20] Zack Greenburg: I think it might be cheating a little bit because it was part Interscope and it was also part Universal more broadly. but I would go with beats, right? Just, you know, by way of background for those who don’t know the full story, you know, uh, Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre founded Beats in, gosh, what was it, 2008? Something like that. 

[00:21:36] Dan Runcie: Yep, 08′ 

[00:21:37] Zack Greenburg: But like from the very beginning, you know, the story goes that they’re like walking down the beach in Malibu and, Dre has some kind of sneaker deal on the table and he says, you know, Jimmy, should I take this sneaker deal?

And Jimmy goes, you know, like, F sneakers, let’s sell speakers. And so that’s how Beats was born. Is that exactly how it went down, you know, we’ll never know, but it’s a great story. and You know, to kind of tie it back to what we were talking about earlier with Air Jordan, they really did follow the Air Jordan Playbook in a lot of ways.

And, when I wrote my book Three Kings, which was about Dre, Diddy and Jay-Z, the Dre section really focused a lot about, you know, beats and sort of how Dre set up this business and everything with Jimmy. And, you know, I actually went to the former CEO of Best Buy and I said, how did you sort of like, get kids to pay 200 bucks for a pair of headphones when like, they had been paying 200 bucks for sneakers before?

And he said, well, we very consciously told our salespeople, when somebody walks in, you’ve gotta tell them like, you know, you’re competing with Jordan not Bose, you know, you’re gonna tell that kid like you know, this headphones set is like, more interesting for your wardrobe than that pair of sneakers or, you know, like that’s how you’re gonna really kind of win and create a category, not just sort of become the, best player in an old category. And, I think that was like the brilliant thing that they did. But the way that they got it to happen was they got full buy-in from Interscope and from the parent company, universal.

And actually Universal invested a pretty big chunk of money into Beats. so that, you know, I think gosh, I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I think when Apple finally bought them out, in 2014, I think Jimmy and Dre had 25 to 30% each. I think Universal had something like 20%. LeBron had a little bit and, will I am, but, you know, the fact that Universal was bought in, the Interscope was bought in, and that Jimmy was able to get them to put, beats headphones in like every single, I don’t remember if it was Interscope video or all universal videos. I think it might’ve just been Interscope. 

[00:23:33] Dan Runcie: Yeah, they had ’em in Ineterscope cuz like they had ’em in like Gaga videos and like she would wear them and stuff. 

[00:23:39] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. And it’s like, it’s brilliant. Like what a brilliant move. So, you know, off of the two, that, whatever they put into it, intermediate, a lot of that was free, right? They just put in, you know, their own free product placement. They have to do anything and they help build this, you know, build beats into this $3 billion company.

and so, you know, I, I don’t know how the pie sort of divided, but it ended up being, you know, worth hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, to the sort of universal Interscope family. And then, you know, also, you know, hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars for Jimmy and Dre.

So, there are a lot of great signings. I’m sure they made a ton of money off of Eminem and all these other artists, but like, it’s really hard to top that one. And, they just really knew how to do it. They really knew how to, I mean, Jimmy, you know, yeah. Again, it’s a perfect partnership.

Dre is this perfectionist artist and Jimmy is the market critter. And I remember, man, it must have been like 2010 or 2011, I got invited to this like launch of some new Beats thing, for New York media only. And, you know, there were like 30 people there and it was Jimmy and Dre and they were kind of like standing around in this, big conference room.

And, you know, Jimmy was just like talking and yacking it up and telling stories and he told the story about the walking down the beach and, you know, sneakers or speakers and Dre’s just kind of nodding and, you know, chiming in occasionally, but like, that was their deal. you know, Jimmy, Jimmy was the talker and Andre was the, you know, the, the quiet genius artist.

and that was a pretty potent formula. 

[00:25:10] Dan Runcie: Yeah, that was my answer too. Beats has to be the best deal. All the reasons you mentioned as well. They also saw a huge opportunity with speakers as well because at this point, the predominant way that so many people were listening to music were those cheap white iPhone headphones or the iPod headphones, I should say, at the time that people were listening to.

And I remember Jimmy was adamant about how poor the sound quality was coming out of them, especially given how much focus there was in the nineties around surround sound and both speakers and all this stuff. And sound shifted to these very cheap plastic headphones that just came for free in the iPod, cases.

So them putting a bit more money into the technology there. Granted, there were other companies that did come through and really expand further, and that’s how we’re able to have products like the AirPod Pro Maxes, which are now several hundred dollars more than beets ever were because beets was considered to be expensive at that point.

And now people will buy those like it’s nothing the same way that people will buy Yeezys. Like it’s nothing. So that other point about category creation, not just building within an existing area was key there.

[00:26:20] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. And I think it’s also worth noting, you know, Jimmy clearly looked up to Steve Jobs a lot and, you know, took cues from Steve Jobs creating the iPod, right? I mean, that was a very, like, he created the iPod. It was a music thing that helped basically revive apple and, and get it on the track that it is today.

And you know, there, I don’t think there’s an iPhone if there’s no iPod, but, you know, how did they get the iPod to be so sexy? It was like, It was those YouTube U2 commercials with the like, hello, hello to place golf to go, you know, and everybody was dancing and, and the crappy white, you know, earbuds with the, you know, chords and everything.

you know, that was like, that was a creation of a category. And you know, I think that Jimmy looked at that and he thought, gosh, you know, I could do something like that. And I think he always thought it would be a great fit for Apple but Steve Jobs, you know, while he was alive, I think he kind of thought he could do it all himself, and he didn’t really want to be involved in, you know, in that side of the business.

So I think it’s why, it wasn’t until after Steve was gone that, you know, Apple came in and, and bought beats. But yeah, I remember reporting on that deal when it happened and happened at the worst. I was like, I had just gotten on a flight to like go to Italy for vacation with my wife.

and I woke up at 7:00 AM and we landed or whatever, and I had like 70 texts and it, you know, it was like be, while I was over the Atlantic Ocean Beats, had gotten sold to Apple. And that, video came out with Dre saying how he was, you know, the new king of the Forbes list.

And, 

[00:27:54] YT Clip 1: The Forbes list just changed. They need, Hey, it came out like two weeks ago. They need to update the Forbes list, shit just changed in a big what? Oh my understand that. Oh my. The first billionaire in hip hop.

Right here from the motherfucking West Coast. Believe it. Oh. 

[00:28:11] Zack Greenburg: and so I just said to my wife, I was like, honey, we’re gonna have to hang out in this airport for a little while before we started our vacation. I was like, you know, trying to put together a story and figure out what happened. but I think that one of the things that people talked about, you know, and at the time everybody’s like, that’s a crazy amount of money, you know how, you know how like Apple never spends money like this, you know, what’s the deal? But a lot of the scuttlebutt was that they kind of like viewed Jimmy and Dre as, you know, maybe not like a replacement Steve Jobs, but almost like a piece of the Steve Jobs Voltron that they were gonna try to recreate, you know, like Tim Cook would, you know, the, would be the brain and the like, Dre and Jimmy would be the heart and somebody else would be the, I don’t know, like something like that.

They would piece it back together and get these little aspects of Steve and that they thought that Jimmy and Dre could really help out on the marketing side of it. and, you know, I don’t know, I know that they had kind of like, there was a period of a few years where they were getting paid to hang around and, do stuff.

And, you know, they did some, I think they did some more commercials, promotion, that kind of thing. But I never got the sense that they really were like, all right, you know, apple for life. And I think they kind of just, the thing ran its course, and, you know, they, took the last bit of their cash and off they went to do the next thing but it was interesting at least. that a lot of people really thought that that was kind of like part of the reason why, the deal was for such a big number, you know, that it was almost like an acquihire type of situation. 

[00:29:36] Dan Runcie: Right, and the other big piece of it was the streaming service that they had created at the time. And Apple wanted to get into streaming. They didn’t have a streaming service. They were starting to develop one. So Beats music eventually became Apple Music, and then that’s how Jimmy became so integral with 

[00:29:52] Zack Greenburg: And, I think even by that point, beats already had some really interesting people, I think like t Trenton Resner and so forth who were like deeply involved with it. And I think, you know, part of that was appealing to Apple too. that they felt that, you know, not just that the product existed, but that it, you know, that, the people existed who could kind of like grow it within Apple and, you know, eventually turn it into, into, iTunes like, you know, Apple Music and so forth.

[00:30:17] Dan Runcie: Right, which speaks to that partnership in Jimmy’s connections, right? He had been working with trend since the nine Inch Nails days. So yeah, all comes full circle. what do you think is the dark horse move or the dark horse thing that Interscope has that doesn’t get talked about as much? So mine for this, I actually think it’s the longevity that they’ve had with leadership there because I think that other record labels, this gets talked about a fair amount, but, and it’s true for auto scope, I feel like it just doesn’t get talked about in that same way.

So since 1990, there’s been two people that have been the head of it. So you had. Jimmy from what, 89 or 90, the founding until 2014, and then John Janick takes over and he’s been there for almost a decade. And then if not more, if you just consider, you know, I think the total time working in the organization.

So that’s like you think about other organizations too, whether. You look at a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, there’ve been two head coaches there since the early nineties. You look at the Green Bay Packers, there’s been two quarterbacks that they’ve had as starters since the early nineties, and those teams have been consistently competitive and you rarely see them getting the first round or the number one draft pick.

I think like Mike Tomlin hasn’t had a losing season, and in some ways I kind of think about Interscope in that way. Yeah, sure. Every record label’s had ups and downs, but these teams that have consistency, especially in an industry like music where there’s so much turnover, so many of these other labels that are their competitors can be revolving doors in this way, which can lead to a lot of challenges for people to really be able to execute a strategy. This is one thing that I think has helped their longevity quite a bit.

[00:32:01] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I would say for my dark course, I would say John Janick, specifically, and I think people don’t really realize, you know, just like how successful he’s been cuz everybody talks about Jimmy. But, you know, first of all, at this point John’s been there, I mean, he’s been running the show for almost 10 years, which is nearly as long as Jimmy was.

And, you know, who knows how much of the time before, Jimmy left in 2014, John was actually really, you know, running things on a day-to-day basis. So, you know, the, just like so many times you see a, visionary founder like Jimmy, leave a company and then, you know, the thing just kind of like Peters out, but, you know, I mean, under John Janick, you know, look at, you know, like Billy Eilish for example. I mean, I think Kendrick Lamar was also under his watch, probably Machine Gun kelly must have been under his watch too. 

[00:32:51] Dan Runcie: Yep. And then even Olivia, Rodrigo more recently. 

[00:32:54] Zack Greenburg: I mean, what a huge, you know, like, so that’s definitely like on the level of, you know, of the biggest acts that Jimmy was able to bring in.

And you know, it’s like, you know, even with some of them it was really more Dre than it was Jimmy. So I think that’s, you know, yeah, I think John deserves a lot of credit too. you know, and we haven’t talked about Lady Gaga, so she’s not exactly a dark horse. but, you know, lady Gaga is somebody who came in under Jimmy, but like, jimmy should not get credit for Lady Gaga because Lady gaga was kinda like languishing, you know 

[00:33:23] Dan Runcie: He was on the bench chilling and then like it was like the Akon’s, the one that’s like, Hey, what about her? 

What about 

[00:33:30] Zack Greenburg: And I remember I interviewed him, for Forbes. This was back in, you know, oh nine or 2010 or something like that. And, and I was like, so tell me the Lady Gaga story. And he said, basically I heard her stuff. And I was like, this is amazing. And I called her up, or I called, I think you called maybe Troy Carter, who was managing her at the time and said, you know, I wanna assign you, to my Interscope imprint.

And she’s like, I’m already on Interscope. So, so they just kind of like moved her around, within Interscope and, you know, they were able to, you know, that first song Just Dance. a lot of people forget that was like, when that came out. Akon was much bigger than Lady Gaga and, you know, that was at the height of Akon’s fame.

He’s not out there as much now, but he is out, you know, he’s all over the world making probably even more money than he was, back then. But, you know, yeah. He was hosting or appearing on SNL with Lonely Island and all those guys and, you know, he’s kind of like showing up in the back of just dance, you know?

Oh, yeah, you know, doing his Akon thing and, you know, and kind of really helped get her off the ground you know, and then just kind of like, pieced out and Lady Gaga became this incrediblesuperstar. So, you know, I think that’s, certainly some serendipity for Interscope there, but, yeah, I wouldn’t give Jimmy full credit for that one. 

[00:34:45] Dan Runcie: Yeah, definitely not Interscope, collectively. Sure they had her on the roster, but yeah, that one has to go to Akon on that one by extension, who himself, you know, clearly worked with Interscope and then just given, cuz we didn’t even mention him himself, just that whole run he had from like oh four to what, 08′, maybe 2010 if you wanna go a little bit longer. He was everywhere. 

[00:35:05] Zack Greenburg: yeah, yeah. 

[00:35:06] Dan Runcie: So of course we talked a lot about consistency. We talked a lot about Janet and the role that he’s been able to do there, and I think consistency does naturally lead itself going further. So let’s flash forward 10 years, let’s go to 2030, 2033. Do we still think that Interscope will be at the level that it is now, where if you look at the market share numbers, it’s roughly alternating, right? Around 10% of recorded music may be a little bit less, but I feel like it’s like them Republic and then Columbia alternating to some extent. And it all kind of depends on who releases when but do you think that changes? Do you think they’re more likely to stay there? Or what do you think 10 years from now 

[00:35:46] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, I think they’re gonna stay, I mean, it’s not like, one of these situations where their top artists are leaving or, you know, you’re really too concerned about it, or they’re kind of in the wrong genre mix. I mean, they’re really heavy in hip hop. you know, they have some of the biggest stars out right now.

I mean, we already talked about Olivia Rodrigo, Kendrick. Billy Eilish obviously is enormous Machine Gun Kelly, but you know, they have Black Pink. That’s huge. Like, that could be a big place for growth 

[00:36:11] Dan Runcie: You got SZA through the TDE deal, right? 

[00:36:13] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. yeah. I mean, that’s a great point, you know, hard to find anybody, who’s having like a bigger moment that says it right now, so, You know, there’s a lot.

let’s say that to go back to the sports analogy, it’s not like this is a team of like, you know, 38 year olds who are nearing the end, you know, this is, like a win now team, with plenty of talent in the pipeline. and they’ve proven that they can keep working the farm system or something to continue the sports metaphor.

But, and you know, I mean, John himself is not an old guy. I mean, John is, 

[00:36:40] Dan Runcie: Mid Forties? 

[00:36:41] Zack Greenburg: You know, I I forget old he is. Exactly. Yeah, you’re talking, you know, where are they gonna be in 2030? I mean, you know, he’ll be like in his early fifties and, still I think doing what he’s doing, and doing it really well.

So, you know. Absolutely. Yeah, I don’t really see them fading. And if anything, you know, all it takes is like, You know, like another Monster Billy Eilish album in a given year. you know, and they start to gain even a little more market share. So I think they’re in a pretty darn good place. 

[00:37:09] Dan Runcie: And it’s arguably one of the best jobs in the recorded music industry because of the amount of leeway that I think Janet and by extension, the Interscope Geffen a and m umbrella is given relative to a lot of the other labels that are either under Universal or even others under the majors in terms of the decision making, the things that you could do, and when you have that much control based on his relationship with Lucian compared to others, it does make a huge difference. 

[00:37:37] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. And you know, I think another, another guy who’s kind of in the background, who’s been in the background, you know, for a really long time there is Steve Berman. He’s another executive, who doesn’t get you know, like a ton of limelight, but, you know, is kind of like quietly, like, like the cons.

He’s been kind of the cons area type over the years. and, you know, I think that might be part of the, you know, continuation, the connective tissue between Iovine, and, john Jank as well.

[00:38:02] Dan Runcie: Right. Good point, especially just given how important lawyers and they are in terms of the influence direction of this industry. Another thing that I think is interesting, just thinking about the future, is also looking at the past of Interscope and how this record label did start and rise because of this controversy, because of the pro clutching business model.

Do you think that could work today? Because I have my skepticism, but what are your thoughts?

[00:38:31] Zack Greenburg: I think it depends, you know, what sort of pearl clutching is about, right? I think, know, in, in many ways the world is a nicer place than it was in the nineties. Like, you know, things were kind of a little rough and tumble in the nineties and it wasn’t as sensitive a time as it is now.

you know, I think, I think in general it’s, good that, you know, we’re like a little nicer, a little more sensitive, but, you know, in other ways, you know, I think, sometimes perhaps too much. But, you know, I think that, you know, certainly when it comes to music, I don’t know, in a like this moment, for whatever reason, music isn’t at the.

Forefront of the culture wars and the way that it was in the nineties. And you know, instead it’s like books in Florida, right? I mean, who knew? But, you know, people aren’t really like, kind of, this is not a, like a campaign issue in the same way, that it might have been in the 90s, you’re not seeing as many politicians sounding off about it.

I mean, I think certainly you’re hearing stuff, about, you know, can lyrics be used as evidence in court? you know, which is, can be a really troubling topic. But, you know, I think the sort of focus of that argument is, it’s not like in the middle of national campaigns in the way that this was in the 1990s.

So, yeah, I think, you know, like Interscope certainly as an experience. walking the line and it’s maybe a little bit less of a delicate line, that they need to walk these days for just whatever reasons, with the political headwinds. 

[00:40:00] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I don’t think it would work in the same way because I think the people that do try to create shock value were so desensitized to things compared to when we were the way things were in the nineties. Even for people that weren’t that threat to society, but because of how they were depicted, it was easier to do that and still release great music, right?

The chronic could be a shock value type of work, but it’s still something that is critically acclaimed. That is in the National Registry and Library of Congress and all of these other areas. But now the stuff that creates shock value in music, whether it’s even someone that’s like more on the personality side, like a dj academics or someone like that will literally just say like, you know, the wildest shit just to go viral or partner with right wing organizations in order to create momentum that still has this area where it lives in somewhere like YouTube, where yes, you can get a following and you can make a living and you know, do things for yourself.

But I think there’s somewhat of a ceiling to that in terms of how much you can like, create, you know, broader impact and truly monetize the bases and the masses. And some of it even extends to artists as well, like those, I think someone like NBA Young Boy is quite popular and has had a bit of a number of transgressions in his track record, but still I think there’s a pretty big gap of, you know, him relative to like some of the other names you mentioned just from some of the exposure and opportunities that he’s given that doesn’t lend itself to that.

So, you know, Interscope in the early nineties probably wouldn’t have wanted to try to sign Olivia Rodrigo because it didn’t make sense. But it makes perfect sense now just given where things are and where things are going. So you can maybe do it on a niche level, but I think it’s hard to have shock value sell in mass quantities and for the mainstream in that same way. 

[00:41:55] Zack Greenburg: Well, I think it’s also just harder to shock people now, right? I mean, you know. 

[00:41:58] Dan Runcie: Or desensitized 

[00:42:00] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, exactly. I mean, if you were to put out the chronic today, you know, with, the marijuana leaf on the cover of it, it’s like, and you know, and like this has been legal in California for like how long, you know?

And certainly in terms of like things you could say or do that would be truly shocking. It’s like after Donald Trump has been president in the things, you know, that are kind of, came out of that, it’s like, you know, I don’t really know many things an artists could do that would be more shocking, you know, and in this sort of like, hilarious, I dunno if it’s hilarious, but this, let’s say, ironic juxtaposition, you know, you had Eminem, the king of shock value Like making a track against Donald Trump when he was in office, you know, you have the rappers protesting against the politicians, instead of the other way around.

So I think we’re still, as a society, been kind of turned on our head, you know, by some of the developments of the past. you know, let’s say eight years, eight years plus the past decade or so. you know, it’s, guess in some ways hard for politicians to be complaining so much about music when, a lot of the obscenity is coming from them. So, 

[00:43:05] Dan Runcie: Right, and I think too, you were mentioning about how what Congress or what the American government can rally against in how so much of the nineties was. I still remember that infamous cover of Snoop Dogg on the cover of Newsweek, and I forget what the title of the magazine was, but it was something, along the lines of, oh, this is the greatest threat to America, or this is the greatest threat to our country, or something like that someone could probably pick me and find it, or maybe you’ll link to in the show notes. And that’s what people were able to get riled up around, right? Now, the biggest thing in music that has gotten anyone on a congressional level or congress level riled up is ticketmaster and Live Nation and Taylor Swift’s tickets, which just shows how different things are, people used to be riled up about the content. Now this is a way to try to get at big business or whatever the exact complaint is. So, such a different time. 

[00:43:58] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, yeah, No, I Couldn’t agree more.

[00:44:01] Dan Runcie: Yeah. So we definitely spoke a lot of praise about the current era of where things are with the Interscope and the work that Janet has done the past decade. If you were in his shoes, would you be doing anything differently? And I do think that he’s done a few things. So you mentioned black pink earlier.

So there’s clearly a way to be able to pivot and move more into music that isn’t from the United States. It isn’t domestic, and you’re able to rise there, clearly done different types of deals from a flexibility perspective. Some artists do have, licensing deals like Olivia Rodrigo will own her masters for the long term just based on what she’s shared about the nature of her contract moving forward.

But for him himself, I mean, I think there’s other IP things that could be interesting, but what does the type of things that Jimmy was able to do back in the late 2010 or late two thousands with beats? Like what could that look like or what could that look like for Interscope 

[00:44:59] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. You know, I think it’s a different time. One of the things that’s changed so much is over the past few years, I would say it’s like, it’s not quite as cool to be rich anymore, you know? I think sort of the Bernie Sanders movement, the sort of like this, right? I remember seeing it at Forbes, you know, when I started out it was like, woo, like I wanna be a billionaire and 

[00:45:20] Dan Runcie: The Forbes Remix 

[00:45:22] Zack Greenburg: Right. Exactly. Yeah. I mean, you had, Jay-Z, Diddy, and 50 being like, you know, the Forbes, yeah, they put out this Forbes 1, 2, 3 billionaire remix they called it. But you know, even now, even within the past couple years, you know, certainly, I think the Pandemic really crystallized this.

But even before that, you know, with sort of like Bernie and, that whole, you know, movement, There was this kind of questioning of like, should there even be billionaires? And you know, I remember starting to see, people who you had thought, you would’ve thought would be, you know, jumping to be on the cover of Forbes.

Just say like, eh, you know, like, I don’t want to be seen as crowing about my wealth. so, you know, I think that’s a big cultural change. And that’s post beats, right? That’s post, you know, Dr. Dre’s situation. And, you know, I think that there’s certainly a lot of leeway for Interscope still, to be entrepreneurial and they’ve always done that. But I think the challenge for Interscope or for anyone really is like, how can you be entrepreneurial in a way that is sort of like, you know, not necessarily charitable per se, but has some kind of impact, you know, like some kind of impact investing sort of thing. how can you, like, make money but, you know, drive change at the same time?

I think that’s sort of like, as we look going forward into the, you know, celebrity earning, you know, celebrity business sphere, I think that’s gonna be the big question because it’s no longer the thing that’s just, it’s cool to make a bunch of money on some random app or, you know, selling, some crypto thing as we’ve seen.

And you know, you can get a lot of blowback, people think you’re selling out. People think you’re greedy people don’t think you’re selling outta greedy just cause you’re doing something business related. But, you know, I think, over the past couple years it’s become a lot more like, well, you know, is this something that really helps the world are using your money for good?

and so I think whatever it is, if it’s gonna be public facing and, you know, and I think. That’s the value when you have a stable of celebrities, right, is to do something public facing. It’s like, what is this doing, to help the world. So, you know, I think there are a lot of ways to take that, but certainly, you know, I think that’s a bigger, bigger and bigger component going forward. 

[00:47:22] Dan Runcie: This is something that has changed in a relatively quick time span. You even think back to the Obama era and just the Obama presidency and just how music was and how people interacted and thought about music. You look at a album like Watch the Throne In, which I do think was one of the more popular albums from that decade.

Granted, I don’t think JayZ or Ye are even on the terms or desire to put something like, like that out again. But if they put that out about now, it would not get the same reception. There would be all these think pieces about, oh, here are these two men talking about, you know, their, you know, Hugo watches and there other, other bends and all this stuff.

And people would be complaining about that in a way where just as recent as 2011, they were celebrated, like people, like revered so many of the songs. And just the talk about black excellence and wealth and even some of the conversations around Jay-Z himself as a figure, I know you know this well as probably some of the responses you’ve gotten over the years when you’ve talked about Empire State of mind and how people react to him, statements he’s said and stuff like that.

And yeah, we’re just in a very different spot and now we’re kind of in this space where, Yes, people can have commercial success. People, businesses can do it too. But I think it’s especially difficult for companies in music because of so much historical context of how people view the record label as the enemy.

People view the record label as this, and then even when the topic of the prices potentially raising for some of these streaming services, the number one thing you often hear from fans is, well, I hope that extra dollar or $2 for a potential raise in the streaming service goes back to the artist. And it’s like, yes, you, you do eventually want those things, but we’re losing the opportunity to talk about the value that these record labels create because of how media disseminates, right?

If you talk about, oh, Olivia Rodrigo has a very favorable record deal. No one wants to hear that. But if there’s ever a report, oh, Olivia Rodrigo’s upset about, you know, Interscope, that thing would be a news topic for five days. Cuz that’s where we are right now.

[00:49:27] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And you know, so to to your point, I mean, you mentioned my book, empire State of Mind, which was this business focused biography I wrote of Jay-Z. it came out in 2011. but you know, It was such a different world back then. And when it came out, you know, their response was basically like, whoa, awesome. Like, this is Jay-Z’s blueprint for how to, you know, be a centi millionaire. And this is so cool because now I can apply this to my career, or I can, you know, learn some lessons from him. And, you know, and there was just definitely like a sentiment of people rooting for Jay-Z to become a billionaire, race to a billion, and who’s gonna get there first?

Is it Jay-Z or Diddy or, you know, whoever. And, you know, and then it happened and Jay-Z you know, crossed the threshold in, I think it was 20, early 2020, something like that. I think late 2019, early 2020 was when we put him in the magazine as a billionaire for Forbes. but even when that, like, by the time that happened, you know, about 10 years later, I put out the billionaire edition of the book. after, you know, let’s say, what was it, in 2021, this was 10 years later. It was a totally different story, right? people were like, why is this guy, you know, like, who cares? Like, you know, like he should be giving it all of it back, you know? Why are there billionaires in our society? Something’s wrong in society that has billionaires. So, you know, and I think it has gone, that narrative has gone even faster than Jay-Z has kind of evolved into this, like very socially aware, you know, type of philanthropic mogul, you know, people are not even that into the idea of like, oh, I’ll make a lot of money so I can give it back, people are like, just, you know, do the good, like do philanthropic stuff, do impact stuff the whole way through and like, don’t even try to become a billionaire. So, it really is such a different world, and it’s, been fascinating to write about this stuff as these attitudes have changed on a broader societal level for sure. 

[00:51:25] Dan Runcie: Did you hesitate naming it the Billionaire Edition, knowing like this would change and seeing things over the years?

[00:51:32] Zack Greenburg: Well, I had it in mind that it would be a cool thing to do whenever he did become a billionaire, because it was like, it was almost like the realization of a prophecy. It’s like, you know, in, in 2011, I sort of like, I’m telling you he’s gonna be billionaire and he’s telling you, you know, and it’s like, okay, here it is.

He’s a billionaire, you know, and I actually wanted to get like a, gilded cover and do the kind of watch the throne type of thing and you know, like embossed gold and all that stuff. But, it’s not the right era. I mean, like, you’re saying, it’s just not, it’s that era anymore.

So yeah, I did wonder, like, should I kind of like back off of that narrative. But, you know, to go back to the Jimmy Iovine Interscope conversation, it’s like, whether it’s good or bad, it starts a conversation and you want the conversation to start, so that people will read the book, you know? And it’s not like, a bad thing for me if people think it’s bad that Jay-Z’s a billionaire, it’s just a fact. And even since I put out the Billionaire edition, he’s like, more than doubled his net worth, you know, again. So that’s just, that’s just how he operates. And, you know, that’s Jay-Z. 

[00:52:34] Dan Runcie: Yeah, you had to put out something. So much had changed since when you first put that book out. And this is how, in many ways the. Business model of books works when there is something to be able to add, that’s a refresher new forward based on this one. you had to do it. So, yeah. I think it made sense.

But to bring this all full circle with Interscope in this conversation, the last thing we’ll dive into is who is the biggest winner, artist, executive producer, so on from everything that has happened with Interscope in the past 33 years. 

[00:53:09] Zack Greenburg: Hmm. it’s a great question. I mean, to me it’s between Jimmy and Dre. but I would probably go with Jimmy because, you know, Dre was gonna be centimillionaire, you know, music legend no matter what. And although Jimmy had done a lot of great work, you know, in the rock world before then, and I’m sure, you know, was, very adequately compensated.

You know, he wasn’t sort of like a, an international business superstar in the way that he became as a result of, Interscope. And, you know, Jimmy and Dre both got a lot of money out of it. but I think Jimmy really got a lot more than he would’ve otherwise. in his, prior iteration of his career and Dre, you know, I mean, Dre has founded a bunch of things, right? And Interscope, you know, obviously he wasn’t the founder of Interscope, but, you know, I kind of tied B to Interscope and that whole thing together. So it, Dre had lots of different paths to wealth. and so did Jimmy, but I think Dre had more, and, Jimmy kind of like ultimately got more out of it. 

[00:54:07] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think between the two of them, even if Interscope had said no back in 92 or 91, whenever the initial deal was made, I do think that Dre would’ve likely found a home. Dre and Suge would’ve found a home. It’s still been able to do something similar elsewhere. Maybe it would’ve made the Tupac thing a little bit more challenging, but I think they still would’ve figured that out too. 

[00:54:30] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. 

[00:54:31] Dan Runcie: I don’t think the same would necessarily be true for Jimmy though, because if you don’t have them, you don’t have this. And a lot of this, I’m sure a lot of people listening to this unlikely watch the Defiant ones or maybe you’ve seen should do a few interviews. I don’t know if a lot of that would work.

 But I think I’ll actually take a different approach. I think the person that probably won the most, just from a situation perspective, I know we’ve talked about him a fair amount, but I’ll say Janet with this one because he didn’t build this company himself. But the fact that when it’s your time to come up, you have this opportunity to be able to step into, you have this much leeway, this much assets that already work in your favor because we just know how valuable the bat catalogs are.

You walk into that position and then that has you then. Then that just makes it much more easy for you to have things set up because we know how a lot of this stuff is, right? People leave record labels all the time, especially if there’s an opportunity to go to that next level. And this was before streaming really broke out.

So if it wasn’t Interscope, it may have been one of the other opportunities that could have opened up. And for him to be able to take that and then continue things for the next decade and then prove that, to our point earlier, this isn’t just a one trick pony. This was able to live beyond and in some ways, maybe even operated things a bit more efficiently than Jimmy did as well with some of the recklessness at points from spending too.

I do think that there’s a case to be made for Janet, in terms of how that’s been able to help that career too.

[00:56:00] Zack Greenburg: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good pick too. Although, I think probably if you’re going in terms of wealth creation, Jimmy, 

[00:56:06] Dan Runcie: Jimmy, for sure. Yeah, a hundred 

[00:56:08] Zack Greenburg: you gotta give it to Jimmy. But point, taken, for sure. 

[00:56:11] Dan Runcie: Yeah. Well, good stuff. This one was fun. I feel like after this we definitely went on a few different tangents on beats about even one on Apple music. We didn’t explore too deeply. And even some of the other record labels here, there’s a lot we could dig back into with this one. 

But yeah, Keith, and though controversy can sell, but not in the same way it did in the nineties. 

[00:56:33] Zack Greenburg: Yeah, that, that’s absolutely, absolutely, 

[00:56:36] Dan Runcie: Well, Zach been a pleasure to us all, man.

[00:56:39] Zack Greenburg: Thanks, Dan. Have a good one.

[00:56:41] Dan Runcie: You too, man. 

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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