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N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Master P, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Scarface, the Geto Boys, Westside Connection, Eazy-E, Ice-T—how’s that for a roster?

THE PRIORS ON PRIORITY

Bryan Turner Built a Jaw-Dropping Roster and Made a Killing Steering the Famed Indie Label Through the Final Years of the Music-Biz Boom

Yesterday’s announcement that Priority is being relaunched under the Capitol Music Group umbrella, presumably as an EDM label (see 7/22 Rumor Mill item), got us thinking about the good old days, as we are wont to do. The label was formed in 1985 by onetime K-tel execs Bryan Turner, Mark Cerami and Steve Drath. Initial funding was provided by K-tel spinoff R-tek, which took a 50% stake in the new label, but Priority bought out the investors in 1987.


At first, the fledgling label licensed outside repertoire and put out compilation albums but soon began to develop its roster, and what a roster it was. Because of acts like N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Master P, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z (whose 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt was released on Roc-A-Fella/Priority), Scarface, the Geto Boys, Westside Connection, Eazy-E and Ice-T, combined with an innovative street-marketing strategy that bypassed radio, Priority became one of the most successful indie labels of the ’90s.


For a time, the label also had a distribution deal with Suge Knight’s Death Row, releasing controversial records that WMG and later UMG wanted no part of. To cite a particularly noxious example, in 1999 Priority released the universally derided compilation Suge Knight Represents Chronic 2000: Still Smokin’, while Knight was serving hard time for a parole violation. We’d put a joke here, but we value our thumbs.


EMI bought 50% of Priority in 1996 and the remainder two years later, but it continued to operate independently under Turner until 2004, when it was absorbed into Capitol, then led by Andy Slater, who immediately pulled the plug. But the EMI deal had made Turner a rich man, and he then went into the movie business, forming Melee Entertainment, which released such films as Friday, Next Day Air and You Got Served. Rumors of a forthcoming docudrama about UMPG called Jesus, I’m Fucking Wasted couldn’t be confirmed at presstime.

 

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