Steve Rifkind Explains Why He Passed on Signing Eminem in 1995

"The kid could spit, but now I think I'm playing with the big boys. I need the radio record."
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Steve Rifkind, the founder and CEO of Loud Records and later SRC Records, helped to launch the careers of Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep and Three 6 Mafia, among others, but in a new interview with VladTV, he revealed that he passed on signing Eminem in 1995, prior to the creation and release of the Detroit emcee's '96 debut, Infinite

According to Rifkind, Shane Mooney, son of comedian Paul Mooney and a rapper himself, played him a bunch of "underground records" from a then completely unknown Marshall Mathers, but none of the songs had any hooks. At the time, Rifkind had just completed the sale of 50% of his company (Loud) to RCA Records, a division of Sony, so he knew he had to focus his efforts on signing mainstream-ready artists.

"The kid could spit, but now I think I'm playing with the big boys. I need the radio record," said Rifkind.

Two years later, in 1997, after Eminem had independently released Infinite, which was a complete flop, Jimmy Iovine, who was at the time the CEO of Interscope, heard Eminem perform in Los Angeles at the Rap Olympics. Iovine was so impressed with Eminem that he briefed Dr. Dre, whose own label, Aftermath Entertainment, had a label deal under the Interscope umbrella. Of course, Eminem would become the best-selling hip-hop artist of all-time and the rest, as they say, is history.

During the interview, Rifkind also revealed that he had the chance to sign Jay Z after Dame Dash brought him a rough version of Reasonable Doubt before it was independently released. "I could have burned the building down, I wanted to sign Jay Z," said Rifkind. "RCA wouldn't let me have it. I had too much power up there and they said if he's going crazy over this... I was a terror. They were trying to control me."

Label execs have "almost" signing stories for days, but had Eminem and Jay Z both signed to the same record label in 1995, Loud Records, not Def Jam or Roc-A-Fella or Interscope or Aftermath, might be viewed as the greatest rap label of all-time.

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