Born Percy Miller in 1970 in New Orleans, LA; parents separated when he was three and a half years old. Education: received basketball scholarship as a point guard to University of Houston in Texas, attended college for two years. Addresses: Record company--No Limit Records, P.O. Box 2590, Los Angeles, CA 90078 (213) 436-0250, fax (213) 436-0019.
Percy Miller, known as Master P, chartered a remarkably successful career as founder and CEO of the independent record company No Limit Records. In addition to overseeing his record label, he is a rap artist, film and videodirector, actor, and business entrepreneur. In less than ten years Miller rose from record store retailer to owner of one of the country's most successful independent record companies, enjoying forays into film and video as well. When he forged a distribution deal with Priority Record, Miller retained financial control of his company, No Limit Records, and also insisted on complete creative control. This financial and creative freedom allowed Miller and the artists on his label to branch out into film and video and to work with whomever they please-- attracting more high-profile artists to the label. In less than ten years, No Limit Records grew into a multimillion- dollar operation with offices in Baton Rouge and Los Angeles; in September of 1997, No Limit Records had five of the top 150 albums in the country.
The 6'2", 180-pound Miller was born in 1970 in the uptown portion of New Orleans, LA, near the French Quarter, and was raised in the city's third ward 1,800-unit Calliope housing projects. His parents separated when he was three years old and his mother moved to Richmond, CA. Miller and his younger brother Kevin were raised by their paternal grandmother. Miller slept on a bare wood floor in the hallway of his grandmother's three-bedroom apartment, as there were eleven other children in his grandmother's care. He visited his mother in Richmond frequently, and told the Washington Post's Jay W. Babcock, "You would hope that my mom was livin in a big old fancy house, but she was in the 'hood' too."
Miller's high school basketball coach, Moon Jones, took him under his wing and provided him with encouragement throughout his teen years. The University of Houston gave Miller a scholarship as a point guard, and he spent two years at the college before suffering a leg injury and conceding that the scholarship wasn't sufficient to cover his expenses. He returned to New Orleans, where--as was his experience in high school--he had to hustle jobs on the street to make ends meet. He told Babcock, "I wasn't hustlin' to buy a car or nothin' like that, I was hustlin' to survive. I was hustlin' to keep the bills paid, I was hustlin' so my brothers didn't have to hustle."
A $10,000 medical malpractice payment related to the death of his grandfather funded a trip to Richmond, CA, for Miller. He opened a rap music store there in 1990 and learned about the record industry from the bottom up. Miller was an aspiring rapper and fan of rap music even before he opened his music store, called No Limit, in the Oakland satellite of Richmond. By 1992, he was ready to start his own label. He told Carlito Rodriguez of The Source, "I seen a lot of good rappers and a lot of people in the business, but they wasn't owning it. They was taking their business to somebody for a percentage and settling for less.... if I could just sell half of what they selling ... and own my stuff, I could make some changes."
Miller's business strategy and acumen was honed by his experience managing his own store. He also received valuable tutelage from one of the Bay Area's music distributors--a man named Saint Charles, who owned the Solar Music Group. Charles also mentored the musician E-40 and most of the independent-minded musicians from the area. Miller asked as many questions as possible from local distributors like Charles in order to piece together an accurate overview of the industry, and then released his first album, The Ghetto's Tryin' to Kill Me. Miller told Rodriguez, "Hands on, I think, is the most successful way you can learn something.... If you get out there and make a few mistakes, you'll know how to do it."
After releasing The Ghetto's Tryin' to Kill Me in 1993, Miller planned on selling just enough albums to see a return on his investment. Without any help from video, radio, or wide-scale distribtion, the record sold more than 120,000 copies. Miller was then certain there was a market for his music and he knew he could compete with rap music's business leaders by eliminating the middlemen involved in creating, marketing, and promoting his music. His second release, 99 Ways to Die, sold almost 300,000 copies and led to his lucrative distribution deal with Priority Records in 1995. His third release, The Ice Cream Man, ushered in an array of successful albums for No Limit Records. His fourth release was Ghetto D, which featured a moving tribute to his deceased brother, Kevin. It debuted on the top of the Billboard chart . Miller also signed Mia X, Mr. Serv-On, TRU (composed of Master P and his younger brothers Corey 'C-Murder' and Zyshonne 'Silkk the Shocker'), Mystikal, Kane & Abel, Mercedes, Sons of Funk, Mo B. Dick, West Coast Bad Boyz, the Down South Hustlers, and Steady Mobb'n to No Limit, and released the soundtrack to the movie he co-wrote, directed with Moon Jones and also starred in, I'm 'Bout It. The film was released as a video, in 1997, instead of as a feature due to a lack of interested distributors. More than 200,000 copies of the video were shipped in five weeks.
Part of the key to No Limit's success has been it's variety of artists from differing parts of the country who bring their distinctive regional sounds to the label. Miller drew his entrepreneurial inspiration from the success of rap music's Death Row Records and other black- owned, independent music labels. He told Rodriguez, 'It inspired me. When I seen Lil' Jay and Tony Draper (owners and CEOs of Rap-A-Lot and Suave House, respectively), it let me know it can be done."
Miller shuns radio and television when marketing new releases, and places ads in specific consumer magazines such as Vibe, The Source, and XXL. He also displays the album covers of forthcoming releases in the jackets of current cassettes and compact discs. He told Soren Baker of the Chicago Tribune, "If we have a Master P record sell a million copies, why not advertise the newer groups that are coming out'' B.J. Kerr. president of Atlanta's PatchWerk Recordings, told Baker, "Everything (Miller) does is promotion for the next thing, whether it's a movie or his T-shirts. He's a marketing genius." Miller also packs more songs per album on his label's releases than other labels, figuring consumers appreciate more for their money.
Miller hired family members, high school friends, and people he knew in the projects to work with him at No Limits, and the general feeling at the label is that the group is one big family, striving together for success. Miller also hopes to serve as a role model for children in the ghetto, offering hope and a blueprint for economic independence. After creating an R& B department at No Limit, Miller has branched out beyond music, video and film into the realm of real estate and business franchising for Foot Locker in Baton Rouge. He told Rodriguez, "The ghetto wasn't nothing but a place for me....that ain't where my mind stopped at.... My mind was thinking, 'I'm gon' take my mamma up out of here. I'm gon' take my sisters and brothers up out of here'.... that's what this No Limit thing is all about: we 'bout holding on to something and surviving."
by B. Kimberly Taylor
Master P's Career
Opened the No Limits record/cd store in Richmond, CA in 1990; founded No Limit Records in 1992; released The Ghetto's Tryin' to Kill Me, 1993; 99 Ways to Die, 1995; which led to a distribution deal with Priority Records; released The Ice Cream Man,1996; Ghetto D, 1997; released soundtrack to the video I'm 'Bout It in 1997.
- Selective Works
- The Ghetto's Tryin' to Kill Me, No Limit Records, 1993.
- 99 Ways to Die, No Limit Records, 1995.
- The Ice Cream Man, No Limit Records, 1996.
- Ghetto D, No Limit Records, 1997.
- I'm 'Bout It, (Soundtrack), No Limit Records, 1997.
- Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1997.
- Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1997.
- The Source, October 1997.
- Washington Post, September 25, 1997.