[Image via Instagram]
It’s a tale as old as time.
A rapper struggles for years, puts out a great mixtape or demo, then boom, they get signed to a major label and are the next superstar. From then on it’s all bubbly, pool parties, women, flashy cars and drinking champagne in a fly whip on your way to a pool party filled with women.
It’s a nice story, except it’s never the truth.
Last week we detailed how Chicago emcee Mikkey Halsted signed to Cash Money Records and how a pre-fame Kanye West almost went with him. While Mikkey’s explanation of how he went from hanging out at ‘Ye’s mom’s house to a major label deal is fascinating, it’s only the beginning of the story. We ended with Mikkey and Kanye parting ways, Kanye to Roc-A-Fella and Mikkey to Cash Money, but what happened next?
The saga of Mikkey’s time at Cash Money is eye-opening in its own right. Hearing Mikkey discuss his time under the iron fist of Birdman really helps put Wayne and Birdman's divorce and the rumors surrounding Cash Money’s shady practices in perspective, and provides some rare insight into what life at the label is really like.
This is the story of what really happened when a young Chicago rapper signed to Cash Money in 2000. This is Mikkey Halsted’s story.
On Birdman Trying to Change Him
“We didn’t see eye-to-eye creatively and he was trying to make me do something, be something that I wasn’t. I was wearing Polo, they only wanted me to wear white t-shirts and Reeboks. It felt like real prison over there. I was trying to explain to him that a clean cut rapper will work. Where I’m from we do this, we do that, this is what we do. Why would you sign me if you want me to be like I’m from New Orleans? I can’t go home and be around my friends if I go and change and act like I’m from you guys, from y’all.
And he was like, ‘You should go get tattoos on your neck,’ and I’m like, ‘Listen, fuck that, I’m not doing shit like that man.’ I can’t even go home and look at my brother and my grandmother in their face if I change. I’m not doing that shit man."
On the Shark Bus
“Wild shit would always happen with them. It would scare most people away, to see the kind of shit that we was dealing with. They had what they would call an artist bus and then they would have what they called a shark bus, which was a bus full of ex-convicts, people that were newly home from jail. And if you on good terms with them, then you would ride the artist bus. If you were on bad terms with them, then you would be riding the shark bus.“
On Birdman Demanding McDonald’s Receipts
“I’ve seen Baby [Birdman] over there with $50,000-$100,000 spread out on the bed and people that’s in his own family are asking him to give them McDonald’s money. He would give somebody $10 and ask for change back. So, that’s the kind of person he was. It was just a lot of bad business man, that I’ve seen done and you know, it’s only so far as I can talk about it…until I get my money.”
On the Money Cash Money Owes Him
“I feel I’m owed probably a half a million dollars right now. After I saw what happened after Kanye got his money [Mikkey had to fight to get Kanye paid] I should have tried to get off the label. But I always had hope. I left over 75 songs [with Cash Money] because back then they didn’t just give you the music. It wasn’t like we were using email. We couldn’t hear it. None of this shit [the music I recorded] ever saw the light of day. “
I wouldn't call it fate, but it seems more than chance that as Cash Money and Lil Wayne go through a dramatic, public break-up I’ve found more and more stories about the label’s darker side. The Official/Unplugged story, talking with Janina and, of course, Mikkey’s story have all helped me put into perspective Cash Money’s current situation. At first, I thought the whole beef between Cash Money and Wayne was embellished, there’s just no way that people who are in such a public spotlight could be that shady. At times it sounded more like an Empire episode than real life. But the more I learn, the more I talk with people who have first hand experience with Birdman’s dictatorship, the more I hear about shark buses and $100K spread out on a mattress, the more weight the claims of backstabbing, hostility and even violence seem plausible. More than plausible.
I also can’t help but think about all the stories about Cash Money that still haven’t been told. In the early days of the label there was no Twitter, no Reddit, no TMZ, no DJBooth to document the disputes between Birdman and artists. What stories haven’t been told? Official was essentially erased from history, who else has been erased? Something tells me I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface…
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]