Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and Top Dawg Entertainment’s Anthony Tiffith tell the full story of how L.A.’s unexpected indie label rewrote rap’s rules
TDE has drawn comparisons to Death Row Records, the notorious ’90s California hip-hop label that fueled the growth of Interscope with hits from Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac and others. “We don’t sound nothing like them; we didn’t do it like them, didn’t come up like them,” says Q – though the Interscope connection of both labels hardly is a coincidence.
“Top Dawg’s direction is based on a lot of stuff Interscope has been a part of for the last 20 years,” says Jimmy Iovine, chairman and CEO of Interscope. “Top has been a great student of what Dre has done with classic labels like Death Row and Aftermath, and now he’s taking that game plan with modern music and approaches.”
“I learned a lot from being around Jimmy and Dr. Dre,” says Tiffith. “Those dudes took over the world. I want to create my own Beats!” Henderson points out, however, that Q and Lamar are the only TDE artists currently being worked through the major-label system, and TDE has yet to strike an overall deal with a major partner.
In 2014, TDE hopes to lock and load its most ambitious slate of releases: Rashad and the label’s first nonrap signing, New Jersey-based female singer-songwriter SZA, will be coming with albums, as will original team members Jay Rock and Ab-Soul. Meanwhile, Free thinks the long-awaited debut from Black Hippy – the supergroup featuring Lamar, Q, Rock and Ab-Soul – is likely to appear in 2014; Tiffith indicates that TDE is planning to release a new Lamar album this coming September, too.