While the No Limit Records brand is widely associated with the ’90s New Orleans rap scene, the origins of the label are actually on the West Coast, in Richmond, California to be exact.
Born and raised in the Calliope Projects in New Orleans, Percy Miller aka Master P moved out of his hometown when he transferred to Merritt College in Oakland, California to study business administration.
“I was getting in trouble in New Orleans and I thought I needed to get away,” Master P told XXL. “A lot of my friends were dying young and I wanted to live to be over 19. I thought I was gonna die before I met 19 because all my friends were getting killed — 15, 16, 17. So I jumped in my car and moved to Richmond, Calif.”
After inheriting $10,000 from his late grandpa, Miller opened a record store in Richmond, California called No Limit Records, forming the foundation of the future multi-million dollar rap label. It was his time in the Bay Area where the rapper learnt how to hustle in the music business.
“I learned what Lil’ J was doing with Rap-A-Lot in Houston because I went to the University of Houston to play basketball,” P revealed. “Then in the Bay Area I learned the game from [E-40’s uncle] St. Charles Walter at City Hall Records, In a Minute Records, JT the Bigga Figga, Herm Lou.”
Using the record as his main distribution arm, P hit the road selling his own music out the trunk of his car and got hot enough to start opening up for hip hop acts like 2Pac and Spice 1.
“The same way you would see someone selling cologne or Avon? That’s how I sold it,” Master P boasted to New York Daily News in 1998. “For somebody to sell it out the trunk of their car, you just really know he believes in that product.
In 1995, No Limit Records officially located to New Orleans, where P started signing local talent like Mystikal, Mia X, Kane & Abel, Fiend, and Mr. Serv-On. With multiple releases each year from their roster and a buzzing brand in the street, it wasn’t long until the majors came knocking.
Master P: So when [the record label] came at me, I was getting real hot on the streets and I told them I wanted a distribution deal. And they was like, “A distribution deal?” Jimmy Iovine had offered me $1,000,000 and I ended up turning it down. So [Priority] comes back at me and I say I want a distribution deal. They said, “OK, if you got the marketing money.” I had the marketing money, I was selling CDs out of the trunk in my car, hitting city to city, opening up for all the big acts. The rest was history.Master P Discusses How He Created the Blueprint for Trap Music, Beef With Pimp C and Why Stealing Ideas Isn’t a Problem | XXL
With the help of Wendy Day, Master P was able to negotiate an unprecedented distribution deal with Priority Records which gave the No Limit boss an 80-20 split, as well as ownership of his master recordings. It was a wrap after that.
Over the next few years, Master P would several albums, all of which go gold, platinum or multiplatinum. Ghetto D would go on to sell over 3 million copies, while his next album, MP da Last Don, also his most successful album to date, would sell over four million copies. By the end of their run, No Limit had sold over 70 million records, leaving a lasting legacy for Master P as one of the greatest entrepreneurs in hip hop history.
Master P: The thing about it is, people don’t realize, I consider myself—I ain’t tryin’ to be the best lyricist—I just make music that people could feel. But I am the best businessman, I feel I’m the best hustler in the game. So, I’m always about my business, I think that people didn’t think you could do that, but when you put your own marketing and promotion money up you can control your rights.Master P Talks Selling 75 Million Records | Vibe