How could accepting a $1M offer have killed Percy “Master P” Miller’s career? The legendary rapper and businessman, tells the story of how he bet on himself instead. Learn about his passion for brand creation, economic empowerment, and creating other millionaires today.
This transcript has been generated by an AI tool. Please excuse any typos.
00:09 - 00:30
Hi everyone and welcome to the big stage where we talk to athletes, artists and entertainers about their legacy and impact. I'm your host, Adam Sansiveri, managing director and co-lead of sports and entertainment at Bernstein. Back with me today is one of our all time faves Grammy nominee, former music manager and Bernstein advisor Dan Weisman. Dan, thanks so much for being here again.
00:30 - 00:30
00:31 - 01:29
We are thrilled to have an absolute visionary with us today. None other than Percy Master P Miller. You may know Percy as a rapper, an entertainer, a record executive, a businessman, a self-made multimillionaire, a philanthropist or a former NBA player. And whichever label you go with, you're not wrong. He is the founder and mastermind behind No Limit Records, a record store turned record label, one of the biggest independent labels of all time, selling as many as 100 million records. In 1998, Forbes magazine ranked Master P 10th on its list of highest grossing entertainers. And from the start of his rise to the top of the hip hop scene in the nineties to his long list of successful business endeavors today, Percy has never stopped expanding his empire and looking at the bigger picture. We can't wait to dive into this incredible journey with you, Percy. Thank you so much for joining us on the big stage.
01:30 - 01:31
Yes, sir. Thank you for having me.
01:32 - 01:50
Well, so let's start right at the beginning. You're from New Orleans and you grew up in one of the poorest, most notoriously rough housing projects in Louisiana. You knew you wanted out of those circumstances, but you weren't sure how you do it. I actually read a quote that basketball saved your life. Is that right?
01:51 - 02:47
Yes. Basketball took me on that journey. I was able to see other things. And I think kids that growing up in poor environments, when you look at a lot of the NBA players right now, you'll see that they've been through a journey to get to their destination. And for me, basketball, what took me out of the ghetto, I was able to see other things and it motivated me to who I am today to say, you know what? It gave me that team atmosphere and let me know that I could go out and chase my dream. So yeah, basketball was my way out and then I got into the music app that got hurt. So I think a lot of people don't know. I think when you talk about basketball, I tell people all the time, that journey wasn't easy for me because even that failure getting hurt, I had to start over, had to rehabilitate myself, and then I got into the NBA. So I was a super rookie by the time I got into the NBA. I started at 29 years old to get back on that journey to get to the NBA. So it was a journey for me.
02:48 - 02:48
02:48 - 03:04
Percy We've gotten to know each other a bit over the last year, and your stories always blow my mind. But legend has it that your grandmother laid out a black dress for you after your knee injury that halted your hoop dreams. And the rest is history. Can you tell us about that incident with the dress and how it really changed the course of your life?
03:04 - 03:48
Yeah, well, you know, after I got hurt in college, I went back home to the projects, had to start over. You know, like any other kid, you hang around the wrong people getting into trouble. And my grandmother was like, You better than this. You don't need to be hanging with those guys. You're going to get in trouble. I'm going to wear this dress to your funeral or not. I sit in a room and cried that day and say, You know what? I don't want to die young. I don't want this. I need to figure out something else. And I started changing my life and I got into the music industry. I didn't never think that I was never going to play basketball ever again. And once I start rehabilitate myself, I got into the music industry, I was successful in the music industry, and then I started back chasing my passion again, which is basketball.
03:48 - 04:13
Then I end up playing in the minor leagues. Everybody think that I just got into the NBA in a game like some ten day and and with no it was so many talented guys from Nick, Ben Nixon to Sam Cosell to Baron Davis, continued Mobley, Steve Francis, Andre Miller, all those guys I played with Steph Curry daddy at the time, and nobody wanted somebody that come from the music industry to outdo them.
04:13 - 05:00
So it was the toughest time I went to the CBA, the IPL that played for the San Diego Stingrays, the Las Vegas Rattlers. So my journey was difficult, man. I flew on a little small plane. We made like 1500 dollars a month and I end up getting invited out some summer workouts, getting invited to a camp with the Charlotte Hornets and endangered. I'll get upside from that. What people don't realize that I've been on a couple of ten days. I played with Steve Nash when he was in Dallas. People don't know. I played with the Sacramento Kings for Summer League, play with the Denver Nuggets for Summer League. So I don't put a lot of work in and I can't wait to show people that side, too. They they see that man.
05:00 - 05:35
Look at the work this man put in to get to the NBA before I played with Vince Carter in the Toronto Raptors made my. And it was difficult. So I was in and out every minor league. I mean, I played for Kobe Bryant that nobody don't know that with the Los Vegas Raiders. But Gelb being Coach Gelb, he was the nicest guy ever met, the nicest coach album. I could tell why Kobe Bryant was so good. He would push you. He would push you and push you and push you and make you reach those boundaries. That day. It just made you better. So, yeah, I love playing for coaches. Yell at me.
05:36 - 05:36
05:37 - 06:05
I don't think we will have ever had or ever have a guest who has so much insight into both the worlds of sports and music. So but I want to keep us going on track here and go back to when you were 19 years old. Your path to entrepreneurship was very unconventional. So I want to hear what those early days were like and what spurred the idea to open a record store in Richmond, California. And to what do you attribute your success of getting that off the ground?
06:06 - 06:27
Yeah, well, I mean, I contributed to my grandfather, Big Daddy. He was the guy that inspired me. He was a baker. He fought in the Vietnam War. He cooked for everybody in the community. And he told me, say, son, you can't just sit around here. You better do something else. Do something that you love. Do something that you passionate about. And basketball was it.
06:27 - 07:07
But then I realized even while I was playing, basketball always was singing songs, doing music, and now realized that I wanted to be in the music industry. Even as a kid. I used to be five and six years old that I was a little deejay playing the music for my grandparents every time you have parties. So I ended up moving to Richmond, California and opening up No Limit Records, which was a retail store. I mean, I had people come bringing their music to me. I mean, some of the top orders in the world from two part two shot to 840. I mean, it was an incredible journey. I was this 19 year old kid with my own record store in the middle of Richmond, California. So, yes.
07:07 - 07:45
So Percy we had dinner last year and I grilled you with questions that were just on my mind being a longtime fan of yours. And I'm just constantly blown away by your savvy marketing ability, your ability to identify opportunities in the industry at such a critical turning point. And I think about back when I first held Gérard in my hands with that orange that orange jewel case. And I and I asked you, what was that? What was the reasoning behind that? And you had a great a great story for me as to how that came about. And I think a lot of people that, you know, are big fans of No Limit would love to know, like what's with the blue jewel case, the orange jewel case, etc..
07:46 - 08:15
Yeah. So the thing about it, by me owning a record store, retail stores and no lemon was a retail store at first. And when the customers come into the stores, everything was black, everything was either clear and a lot of stuff was getting mixed up. And so I decided whenever I put out a project and I didn't know that I was going to get into the music business, but once I got into AC, I would brighten up this stuff. I want to make it loud. I want people to be able to see my product into the stores.
08:15 - 08:55
I learned that in the first marketing class at University of Houston, it was always like bright colors. Say what? What make people go to McDonald's? The yellow. The red is the consistency. And so my thing was I'm going to make all these loud colored CDs that nobody don't have. So when they walk into the store, the eyes are just going to glued to them out to my product. And I think most people wouldn't understand that then they would want to be like everybody else. And I'm just blessed that that God has blessed me with a talent to be able to see, you know what big difference, be unique, stand out, be bold. And that was the whole thing about this being different.
08:55 - 09:53
And when a kid walk into the store, they see the no limit logo. Though at the time I had like a diamond Rolex and and what the pin pixel and I told those guys I say, you know what? Can you make my album cover bling? And it was like bling. I said, I'm gonna send you a picture of my wife. And then we ended up putting that on that no limit logo. So when a kid welcome to the store see the allow color CD cases with the bling on that automatic like give me that then you know my thing was growing up in poverty. Everybody wanted more for their money. So back then, Ice Cube, Jay-Z, all those guys was putting out 12 songs. I see. I'm gonna give them double, and we give them 20 to 24 songs, a CD, but I'm gonna give them good music. 2422 Sounds good music. And we just changed the game, went from selling no records to all behind a million records. And when nobody believed in us, we just kept the faith, kept marketing it, kept getting out. Then they face and the rest was history.
09:54 - 09:54
09:54 - 10:22
Well, speaking of being bold, you are one of the few people who confidently says that accepting $1,000,000 offer would have likely killed your career, too. To give our listeners some context in a. In TV1 uncensored episode in which you star you share an important detail of your musical past, saying that the best investment in your career was turning down $1,000,000 deal offered to you by a major music executive. Can you share some light on that situation?
10:23 - 10:48
Yes. I walked into this office and I was offered $1,000,000 and I knew at the time I was poor. And that's one thing my grandfather told me was like, Never do a deal when you're desperate. I lived in the apartment project wit 16 people. So I'm thinking to myself, I got $1,000,000, but I'm thinking like, if I gave all these people $100,000, then I won't have that.
10:49 - 11:24
I start looking at the contract. And so you definitely have to read these contracts, not just sign a deal and say, Oh, this deal is impossible. When I start reading the contract, I start noticing that I couldn't use my name no more. I lost all the rights to everything that I was putting out, so I had no ownership in the project anymore and start thinking that this is not a deal for me. And when I walked away, Jimmy being told me that you would never get a deal in this town again, you know? But I always put my trust and faith in God. I'm like, I know I'm going to find a deal in knowing your work.
11:24 - 12:13
So I started thinking, if this guy was going to give me $1,000,000, how much am I really worth? Ten, 20, 30, 40, 50. And I kept that type of faith to where then I had to invest $25,000 into myself. I went to see Michael Jackson, the attorney, and he wanted $25,000 to talk to him. And he ended up telling me that it's a deal bigger than what Michael's getting, which was 22% at the time. He was the highest paid artist in the industry. And I asked the Guy X's attorney, I said, Well, what's another deal? I get? He said, get an 8020 deal, which is a distribution deal, but you need $200,000 marketing money. So I kept it on my mind. I started selling CDs at the trunk of my car and the next opportunity I got was a distribution deal and I had the marketing money.
12:14 - 12:54
In a rest was history. I mean, we changed the game and it's just a blessing when when you bet on yourself, you invest in yourself. Stay humble, even till the day. I know that all this is temporary success. So I'm a humble man, even though I'm successful and I teach that to my family, I teach it to my kids. I teach that to the people that are around me. Hard work pays off. Stay humble, keep educating yourself. And so till date, I'm constantly educate myself. I realize that the business is going in a technology atmosphere now, so we got to keep up with the times. So staying humble, doing the right thing and putting the work in your depth to be successful. So let's go.
12:54 - 13:28
Back because we had a conversation about that, that priority deal and that that deal you secured in 1996 was even by today's terms, incredible. I think most artists today wish they had a deal like that, but then that deal allowed you to have true ownership. And in 2003, you sold your your assets to Universal Music. And I guess my question is, were you always planning on building something to sell it, or did it just reach a juncture where you're like, hey, I want to move on to the next the next season of my life?
13:29 - 14:10
Well, the thing about it is, in business, you have to have an exit strategy. And that was my exit strategy out of the music industry, knowing that I've done everything that I wanted to do. And once you get to the top, it just start fading back down. So anybody that own a business before is gone, you need to sell it. And I started thinking like that because the music industry started changing. You look at it right now, I mean, we used to pay producers thousands of dollars now and you could get a song for $50. $100 on an Internet has changed a lot. And I seen it. So I start preparing like, okay, I want to get in a product, I need to get out. It is in. I need to focus and shift my mind.
14:10 - 14:30
As you get older, you start thinking. And I started changing as a person, looking at my values and where I wanted to be at in the next ten, 20 years. And it wasn't the music industry anymore. It was like, you know what? I have kids now. I'm growing up and don't be afraid to grow up. Don't be afraid to change. Don't be afraid to get better.
14:30 - 15:25
And I now realized that I wanted to do a different thing with my life. And I'm able to do that now, create brands and enjoy my life. I think anybody you know, you want to work, work, work, then hopefully be able to to grow up, get on a boat is sailing in the sun. And I think that was that was the thing for me. I realized that music was a blessing for me and I'm thankful for that time that that I have in the music. And now like, like me and Snoop, you know, we do it for fun now. Like, I don't do this to try to be the. Biggest audience in the world is like therapy for me now. So the game has changed and I'm grateful that I had a great time. I was able to help a lot of people, help my family, help a lot of the families and and then be able to grow up and go beyond the music and get into the product business.
15:26 - 15:46
So with the music industry in your rear view, your focus now is creating brands and products like Soldier Snacks, and you're currently really taking over grocery stores, I guess. Why grocery stores and how are these brands really working towards your overall mission of promoting economic empowerment? Because I know you're a firm believer that product outweighs talent.
15:47 - 16:25
Yeah. So when you look at the music industry, like I got into the music industry for the diversity, it was the lack of African-American owners in the music industry. Same thing in a grocery stores. I feel like for us to build economic empowerment is going to have to be more African-Americans in, more Latinos, more minority owners of a product. And my motto is, the more we make, the more we give and we're going to build economic empowerment, then we have to have some ownership of products in these grocery stores. I feel like I'm the next Kellogg's. And the reason why I say Kellogg's, because Kellogg's have multiple products and brands out there.
16:25 - 17:09
And so just next was built on my grandfather, Clyde Miller. So let's say Sergeant Clark, he fought in the Vietnam War and he fed everybody came back home to the community, fed people, and he started deep fry in what we call now pork rinds of pork skins. But he was taking baked a deep frying and making snacks for the community. And I'm just thankful and grateful that I could let his legacy live and and keep it going and feed the community, feed the people and also be able to give back to forces of honor, which is the mission, is to help the kids and the families of our fallen heroes that lost their lives trying to protect our country.
17:09 - 17:54
So I feel like this is a blessing. This is another passion of mine to keep my grandfather legacy going and to do something great and to make a difference at the same time. So when people buy these products, they know that they're not only getting good flavor products, but they're making a difference at the same time. So soldiers next go to this next become make a difference with us and be a part of the movement. I'm going to all the military bases being able to to sit down with these soldiers and be able to share, you know, our journeys together and be able to give them opportunities and jobs to veterans with the brand soldiers next. So it's definitely a blessing and I'm gonna keep my grandfather legacy going.
17:55 - 17:56
That's great to hear.
17:56 - 18:15
And Percy, you've said that if you can't create other millionaires in your mind, you're not successful. That's such an inspiring mindset. Educating the next generation and making a difference is obviously a huge priority of yours. So what lessons are you most trying to drive home or what do you want your legacy to be?
18:15 - 18:51
To be a good teacher, you have to be a good student. And so when you look at everybody that come to my university, no limit university, you look at like Snoop Dogg. The reason why Snoop Dogg is is a great boss because he was able to be a great student at the same time. And my thing is, when you're successful, you measure your success by what you give, not by what you have and the people that you are able to create. And that's why I say it's so important to me to know that if I'm creating other millionaires, then I'm on the right track of being a great boss is all education.
18:51 - 19:47
Oh, education is so important. I don't pray for money. I pray for wisdom, knowledge and information. When you educate yourself, the money will come in. And I realize when you help others, the blessings will continue coming to you. I always say that you measure a person's success by what they give it. My whole thing is giving a blueprint, giving again to our culture, to our people. And I'm color blind. I just love being around good people. So I want to have a great business. I wanted to be a minority owned business because we need diversity. But my brands to sell to the world, to sell all people, whether you African-American, white, Latino, Asian, I just love that people. And I think that's what it's about. And that's why I say when I talk about my brands, we talk about so just that it's America's snack is not just catered to one culture, a people is catered to everybody. And I just think that it's an imbalance.
19:47 - 20:10
So we have to change that. We know that all these big companies and brands miss assessable for a long time, but now it's time for us to educate ourselves and get a chance to sit at that table and to be able to get a piece of the pie to help more people. That's the way we eliminate poverty, crime and. All these different things that we're dealing with as people right now.
20:11 - 20:28
I know philanthropy plays a big part in your life, even related to soldiers tax. And last year I encourage you to join the board of the Equity Alliance, the Tennessee based civil rights nonprofit. And you did, thankfully, which is awesome. But what would you say is the common thread of all your nonprofit endeavors?
20:29 - 20:58
Yeah, I think I think the most important thing for me is I focus on that. You you talk about education and I focus on the elderly because people forget about the wisdom that people have been in our lives, that people have been there before us. And I feel like those two things is what I want to focus on. And I want to change the negative things that a lot of these inner city you go to. And it's all about preparing and educating.
20:59 - 21:33
And then when you talk about the elderly, I mean, why why are the people that been there for us is still hungry? Like, we need to change that. So I'm focusing on those two things in the end, and it's what I'm passionate about. I've been doing this for over 25 years and and I'm going to keep doing it. This this is what makes me happy when I get up in the morning knowing that I can do my part. I feel like I'm a servant. This is my most important job is not to be an entertainer, a business man. My most important job is to be a servant, and that's what I'm doing.
21:34 - 21:58
Percy It seems like every single thing you do, you use the word passion. I would also use the word like innovative. And one of the things that stood out to me recently is that you joined the board of directors of AGC Automated Grading Systems, the first company in history to use artificial intelligence to grade collectable cards. So a future in tech is something on the radar as well?
21:58 - 22:19
Yes, I'm definitely passionate about that. And especially coming from where I come from and not seeing a lot of African-Americans dealing with these different companies. When you talk about technology is definitely a game changer. Being a part of that environment and having mobile African-Americans to be on boards like that is is so important.
22:19 - 22:37
I couldn't agree more. So. Okay, Percy. One can argue that through drive, passion and savvy, you've experienced incredible economic success because our listeners always benefit from hearing this question. I always love to ask, What's the best piece of financial advice you've ever received?
22:38 - 23:20
Don't be afraid to fail. Don't be afraid to to invest in yourself. I think we invest into a lot of other people. But know your business, know your work, invest in you, and don't be afraid to. To know that it's going to take time, but show consistency will get you to your dreams and your goals is not going to happen overnight. It's a marathon. If you want to be successful with some. That's why. I mean, we talked about this being passionate about what you're doing. So even when you talk about your finances, don't just jump in and still say, I want to make a lot of money to do this. Do it because you love doing it. And then the money is going to come because you're going to invest your time into it.
23:21 - 24:07
So I tell people all the time, you need to work with the pigeons, the fly with the eagles, and if you want to fly with the eagles, you're going to be on your own, like because eagles fly alone. So think about it. At the end of the day, when you make an investment, you know that in order for it to be successful, you're probably going to end up alone. So. So be prepared to believe in what you're doing instead of just doing it because you think you're going to make a lot of money. Most of the time it don't happen overnight. You know, when you look at crypto currency and all these different things that's going on, a lot of people got into it for a quick fix and then so many people lost. And so that's why that's why I always educate myself from my failures and just realize this is all temporary success and we can't take it, which.
24:08 - 24:19
Well, Percy, you've got us all believing and flying with the Eagles today. This was such an awesome conversation, man. You're so inspiring. Dan and I, we just can't thank you enough for joining us and spending some time with us. Thanks for being on the big stage.
24:20 - 24:21
Thank you guys for having me.
24:22 - 24:44
Thank you all for listening. This has been the big stage. If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to subscribe, please go to Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Please email us with your thoughts, questions and any feedback to insights at Bernstein dot com and be sure to find us on Twitter and Instagram at Bernstein p w m No Limit.
24:44 - 24:58
Put out 23 albums, ten of which went platinum and 11 of which went gold and album. The last Don went number one on Billboard after moving 500,000 copies in its first week and sold four and a half million copies overall.
24:59 - 25:00
What a boss.
- Adam Sansiveri
- Senior Managing Director