I used to love Cash Money. I still do, but it’s different. Very different.
Last year, a simple trip to the record store changed how I saw Cash Money forever. Since my Official investigation (Cash Money's R&B group who mysteriously disappeared from music) I’ve been obsessed with Cash Money’s checkered past and present the same way I can't stop rapping every line on “Go DJ.” The more I learn, the more I see them in a completely different light. I can’t listen to “Still Fly,” “Back That Azz Up,” or “Go DJ” and not hear the the artists they’ve chewed up and spit out on their way to the top. They aren’t just a label, they are a machine committed to the bottom dollar at the cost of friendship, loyalty, and common decency.
The label's legal battles have been well documented, especially when they involve famous names like Lil Wayne, but it's the thought of the artists who stories we don’t know and voices we haven't heard that really get to me. How many more Official’s are there?
It’s that thought that keeps me awake until the wee hours of the morning tracking down names, looking up songs, and rifling through crates in search of another story in the Cash Money saga. It’s that thought that lead me to the Tulane University digital library, and it’s the Tulane University digital library that lead me to discovering Ms. Tee. Not only was she the “First Lady of Cash Money,” the first female artist signed to the label, but at the time she was just 14-years-old.
Though the trademark New Orleans bounce beat sound was popularized nationally by Cash Money and No Limit Records in the late '90s, there was already a well-established local market before Cash Money existed. The sound, the style, the atmosphere was in place but Cash Money were one of the first (and at the time independent) labels to really cultivate and harness that sound by signing the best local talent. In the early '90s that meant artists like Pimp Daddy, U.N.L.V, and Lil Slim. It was around that time as well that Tee began hanging around other female bounce rappers and eventually got recognized by Slim.
"They used to have them shows. Like Star Search or whatever. Through that, I remember being at The Big Easy. I met Slim, Ronald Williams from Cash Money, and he gave me a card. They came up to me. It was me and Cheeky Blakk…they saw when we was performing she was hogging the mic but they heard my singing voice. Slim gave me his card and I called them and that’s when I hooked up and hung around with them and Baby gave me the name Ms. Tee."
After meeting Slim, Tee became a regular around Cash Money and eventually she got the chance to be featured on a Pimp Daddy record.
"The late Pimp Daddy Rest in piece. We was recording in a house uptown. He was doing a record called 'Get Em Up Nigga' and they asked me to feature on it. That was my first studio experience. When people heard that record they took a liking to me so that's how I kind of got started."
At age 14, Tee already had her foot in the door. “Get Em Up” was her very first song and it lead to her getting an album of her own.
"Doing a lot of features led up to me doing an album. Now I understand, what record companies do with new artists they try to test them and have them on other artists stuff to see how they gonna do and what the response is. So once my name started buzzing that’s when I started recording an album. My first album was Havin Thangs."
"Before that I had a maxi single called 'Hit The Road.” I did that first then I came back and did the album. It was a good response so I did another album. I think I had three albums on Cash Money….My first record did very good. My second did good. Locally I scanned like 10,000 alone in New Orleans. That was back then, before they even started bootlegging..."
"I got really popular off my first and second album with Cash Money. I performed all over the city. My favorite show is Teen Summit. I did a song called 'Why You Actin Funny' with Partnaz In Crime. They had like 30,000 people in there."
Naturally, as seems to happen with any artist signed to Cash Money, things changed and money got in the way of art and family. Signed to a deal at just 14 and completely green to the industry, Tee wasn't concerned with publishing or royalties. A mother of a child while still a child herself, she was taken care of by Baby and didn’t even think about the business side of the music she was making.
"I think Cash Money signed young people because they don’t really know business. If you don’t know the business you not gonna ask that many questions. And if they giving you gifts—like my first car was bought by Baby, my first apartment was bought by Baby. I didn't ask questions about that. As long as I was getting money, money from shows, I was paying my own bills and he provided me with stability. I was teenager on my own and I had a baby at 15 so they treated me like a woman. I really wasn’t a woman, I was just trying to survive."
Though in the interview Tee never really mentioned what happened exactly, given the way she talks about it and given Baby and Slim’s history, I’d have to imagine it had something to do with her contract.
"I left in ’98, kinda before they blew up. I forgave him because I felt like I was young. It was something I had to go through to learn the business. I do know about royalties, I do know about copyrights, I do know about publishing. If I had stuck with those guys I don’t think I would learned what I know now."
Regardless, after three albums and almost a decade of work, they parted ways. Now almost twenty years later, there is still a rift.
"It kind of hurt when they blew up and they didn’t reach back even though I left. I remember him saying, 'If you leave me, I’ll never fuck with you again.” I feel like he stuck with his word, but at the same time I paved the way for a Nicki Minaj, a Drake, a Juvenile. We were the guys who was selling these units back then before those people people even was heard of. The way a record company gets recognized is that company has to be selling units for you to get a deal, and I talked to a lady named Wendy Day that said the way she helped get Cash Money the deal. She said I was on the top of the list. UNLV and me. We were selling the most records at the time.
Lil Wayne showed me much respect but Baby he acts so Hollywood; they have the bodyguards. I’m like, "Hol up, y’all practically raised me, I’m not gonna do nothin.” When Baby see me it’s broken promises. He a liar. 'I’m take you to Miami.' He tries to show me, “Bitch we up here and you down.” I forgave Baby—they didn’t pay me right—but I forgave him."
It's pretty incredible when you think about it. Women in hip-hop were (and still are for that matter) a rarity, but here you had a teenage girl doing big numbers (at the time) for an independent label and helping to put bounce and Cash Money in the national spotlight. Though she left in the Baller Blockin' days, right before Cash Money really blew up, there's no doubt, without her, the label wouldn't have even gotten that far.
Cash Money was built on her back and what did she get in return? Nothing. Taking advantage of a grown man is one thing, but singing a 14-year-old girl to a horrible contract is a different kind of evil. Sure he bought her a car and an apartment, but how much more is Tee owed? How many more Ms. Tee's are there? Cash Money plays such an important role in hip-hop's story--they helped to put the south on the map and really defined an era--but it's important to tell the whole story.
And that's what makes these stories so important. It's not just a matter of money--Trishell Williams will likely never get what she is owed--but at the very least, what we can do is tell her story. For Slim and Baby it's about the bottom dollar, but for those who love hip-hop its about sharing stories and music that would otherwise go untold and unheard.
Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth. His favorite album is College Dropout but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.