Gotti, Irv 1971–
Irv Gotti 1971–
Record company executive
Irv Gotti’s record label Murder Inc. rose from a boutique rap imprint in 1999 to become one of the most successful record labels in the industry by 2003. In 2002 Gotti’s artists and productions dominated music charts worldwide. Barely a week went by that not at least one top ten track owed its production in some aspect to Gotti. He was the man that had brought rap superstars DMX, Jay-Z, and Ja Rule to the public. He was the magician behind Ashanti’s incredible rise to pop stardom. He was the wizard that revitalized rap with a serious infusion of R&B. And he had achieved it all by the young age of 32. In an interview with Billboard, he revealed the drive behind his success. “I come up with a vision, a concept, a style—I come up with everything. My whole thing is that I want to win. I want that record to be a big record because that will keep me on top and keep me alive. If someone calls me, I’m giving them 110%, because I want to make hits—and that’s it! That’s the only thing that matters. Without hit records, we’re finished. Either you make hits in this game or you get the hell out of this game, and I don’t want to get out yet.”
Irv Gotti was born Irving Lorenzo in 1971 in New York, the youngest of eight kids. He was raised in Hollis, Queens by his cab driver father and his mother. Times were tough, but the family stayed tight. “I was fortunate my mother and father stayed together but we really didn’t have no money,” Gotti told the Guardian, adding, “So that contributes to my hustler attitude.” Opportunities were few in his neighborhood and drug selling offered easy cash and street credibility. For a while, Gotti was lured in. “It was crack and coke, [stuff] like that. I had my hand in it,” he told the Guardian. However, a run-in with federal agents caused him to retire from drug-dealing almost as soon as he had begun. By all accounts he remained straight even though he counted several neighborhood gang-bangers among his friends. Gotti soon turned his attention to music and became DJ Irv. “Irv was a street DJ,” rapper Jaz-O recalled to MTV.com. “He was doing all the street [mixtape] stuff before DJ Clue and all of them. He was doing those little cassette tapes with
At a Glance…
Born Irving Lorenzo in 1971, in Hotlis, Queens, NY; married Debbie Lorenzo.
Career: Record producer; Blunt/TVT Records, A&R rep, 1995; Def Jam Records, A&R rep, 1995-99; Top Dawg Productions, CEO/founder; Murder Inc. Records, CEO/founder, 1999–.
Awards: Received two BMI Urban Awards, one BMI Pop Award, 2002; nominated for Producer of the Year, Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards.
beats and mixes, selling them to the hustlers throughout Queens. He had a big name for himself in Queens and was getting some paper, too.” “It was something for me to do with my life,” Gotti told MTV.com. “I went at it hard.”
Gotti’s talent combined with his relentless self-promotion got him noticed around the neighborhood—which in addition to drugs was feeding the rap industry with raw street talent. Gotti aligned himself with New York MC Mic Geronimo and as DJ Irv produced a few tracks on Geronimo’s 1995 debut album. His skill in the studio landed him his first music industry job as a talent scout and Artist and Repertoire (A&R) rep for Geronimo’s record label, Blunt/TVT. Soon after, he hooked up with rapper Jay-Z, who suggested DJ Irv change his name to Irv Gotti after notorious mob kingpin John Gotti. Gotti’s production wizardry appeared on Jay-Z’s debut album which soared to the top of the charts and became an instant rap classic.
Gotti’s talent soon drew the interest of rap heavyweight Def Jam Records which invited him in for an interview. Head honcho Lyor Cohen asked Gotti for his five-year plan. Gotti recounted his answer—now the stuff of rap legend—to the Guardian, “I’m gonna become you, and I’ll destroy you. I’m from the ’hood. You can’t know more about hip-hop than me.” Cohen offered Gotti a $30,000 a year A&R job on the spot. It was a smart move. Gotti almost immediately delivered up rapper DMX, whose 1998 album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot became one of the most influential rap albums of all time. It soared to number one on the pop charts, as did DMX’s following two albums. Next, Gotti got old pal Jay-Z to sign on and soon he was also releasing multi-platinum albums for Def Jam. Not only did Gotti have an eye for talent but he had a knack for making hit music. “I’ve been in the game for 10 years and I’ve done songs with some of the biggest and greatest, but I didn’t know what a producer was until I worked with Irv Gotti,” rapper Fat Joe told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s got great vision. And he makes huge songs, music for the masses.” Fat Joe also echoed the thoughts of many industry insiders when he added that Gotti and his crop of new talent “probably saved Def Jam Records” which had lost much of its sheen since the glory days of Public Enemy and LL Cool J. Cohen and Def Jam founder Russell Simmons agreed and in 1999 advanced Gotti $3 million to launch his own label with Def Jam a 50 percent partner. With that Murder Inc. was born.
“The early hurdle of Murder Inc. was just getting over the name and respecting us for our talent,” Gotti told MTV.com. However, Gotti stayed true to his vision. “When I thought of the name Murder Inc., I wanted it to be shocking and bold. I wanted people to hear it and remember it,” he told Billboard. His recording artists would be known as murderers and the company slogan became, “It’s Murder.” However, he continued “I knew I had to come with the right music. All of that [stuff] that I just said didn’t matter if I didn’t come with the right music.” Music would not be a problem. Murder Inc.’s secret weapon was Ja Rule, a rapper Gotti had met a few years earlier. “As soon as I met Ja, our chemistry clicked,” Gotti told MTV.com, “If I was doing something with DMX, if I was doing something with Jay-Z, I would take Ja with me. He had that star quality from the door. The voice, the presence, the persona. Everybody loved Ja.” The rap star had already recorded his best-selling debut, the confrontational rap album Venni Vetti Vecci, for Def Jam, but for his second album, he joined Gotti at Murder Inc. This is where Gotti worked his magic. “When I initially started the label, I looked at the success of [both] Death Row and Bad Boy, and I wanted to form a bridge between the two,” he told Billboard. Death Row Records was famous for hardcore gangsta rap, while Bad Boy excelled at hit records. “I definitely looked at their success and borrowed from both of those companies.” Gotti wanted to infuse rap with a shot of R&B soul and Ja Rule’s second release Rule 3:36 would be the first result. Fueled by two rap-tinged ballads, “Between Me and You” and “Put It On Me,” the album debuted at number one and soared through triple-platinum sales. Ja Rule and Murder Inc. were a lethal combination and soon dominated the rap industry. Under Gotti’s guidance Ja Rule’s third album Pain is Love also went platinum.
Gotti repeated Ja Rule’s incredible success with his next superstar, Ashanti. “Ashanti is the one that personifies what [Gotti’s] vision is for Murder Inc.,” an industry insider told the Los Angeles Times. “He took the imagery and aesthetic of Death Row, and the use of melody and R&B flavor from Bad Boy. Ashanti is the perfect mix.” Before the 2002 release of her self-titled debut album, Gotti—in one of his trademark savvy moves—had her appear on releases by both Ja Rule and Fat Joe, ensuring her name was already familiar to the public. When her album was released it went straight to number one, earning double-platinum sales, and garnering five Grammy nominations. Even more astonishing, within weeks Ashanti would have no less than three singles in the Billboard Top Ten—a feat not accomplished since the Beatles. Though she lacked the talent of the Beatles, she did have something else—Gotti’s Midas touch. “He pulls certain things out of you to make you your best,” she told MTV.com. “He’s like a genius when it comes to creativity, to music, concepts of videos and the business.” Not long after the ascent of Ashanti, Gotti and Def Jam renegotiated their deal and Gotti walked away with an additional $5 million advance. He more than deserved it. In his first eight years with Def Jam, only one album he worked on did not go platinum—Irv Gotti Presents The Murderers only went gold.
By the end of 2002, Gotti had become nearly as famous as his chart-topping artists. He had become an entertainment industry mogul approaching the magnitude of a Russell Simmons or Phil Spector. In addition to Murder Inc., he headed up Top Dawg Productions which created tracks for artists like Toni Braxton, Eve, and Mariah Carey. Already heavily involved in video production, he told Billboard of his plans to expand into film: “We have a lot of great ideas that are already in the mix. I want to learn more about directing, and the more I know about directing, the better I’m going to get.” Also, in an interesting role reversal, Ja Rule was launching his own record label, Murder Inc. 2 (MI2), and Gotti was planning to step out from behind the scenes and pick up the microphone to debut as one of Ja Rule’s first artists. He had already rapped on “No More Love,” a Toni Braxton single. He told MTV.com that when he stepped on stage, “I feel the people got love for me and I feel the people. It’s almost like they’re calling me to say eight bars or they’re calling me to make a record. I’m serious.”
Whether he makes it to the top of the charts may depend on the outcome of a federal investigation into Murder Inc. that was launched in February of 2003. After discovering that convicted felon and former drug lord Kenneth McGriff was one of the producers of Crime Partners, Murder Inc.’s first foray into film, investigators became suspicious. During his heyday, McGriff was pulling in close to $200,000 a day from drug sales. The feds wanted to know if Murder Inc. received any of that money or if the company provided money laundering services. They also wanted to prove MCGriff was on the company’s payroll under a fake name. Computers, files, and financial records were seized from Murder Inc.’s offices as well as from partner Def Jam and parent company Vivendi Music. The self-avowed loud talking Gotti had remained mum on the investigation. However, fans, friends, and business associates were convinced that he was not guilty of anything more than friendship—Gotti and McGriff had grown up in the same neighborhood and had been friends as youths. It was also hard for industry insiders to believe that a man as savvy and business-oriented as Gotti would be foolish enough to jeopardize his company by becoming involved with drug money. Whatever the outcome, nothing will diminish the impact that Gotti has had on the rap industry. He will always be known as the man that murdered the musical charts with his vision, creativity, and commitment.
Billboard, December 7, 2002, p. 48.
Guardian (London, England), October 24, 2002, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2003, p. C1; January 22, 2003, p. C3; February 1, 2003 p. E1.
New York Times, January 7, 2003 p. B3.
“Irv Gotti, Murderous Power,” AskMen, www.askmen.com/toys/interview/47_irv_gotti_interview.html (March 22, 2003).
“Murder Inc, In Gotti We Trust,” MTV, www.mtv.com/bands/m/murder_inc/news_feature_071902/index.jhtml?_requestid=899806 (March 22, 2003).
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