The final nail in Irv Gotti’s coffin was the federal investigation, which ultimately caused Gotti’s record label, Murder Inc. Records, to lose their distribution deal with Def Jam. Even before the federal investigation, Irv Gotti and Murder Inc. were highly unpopular, due to their high-profile feuds with 50 Cent, Eminem, and Dr. Dre. In 2005, no one wanted to be a part of Irv Gotti’s movement.
However, it was not always like this for Irv Gotti, as he helped to save hip hop nearly two decades ago. A Queens hip hop head, Gotti got his start as DJ Irv, soon becoming friends with Jay-Z, when he was still a rising street rapper. When Jay-Z began working on his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, he recruited DJ Irv for production. During this time, DJ Irv was in the process of changing his name to Irv Gotti, as he landed an A&R role with Def Jam.
Russell Simmons had just sold Def Jam to MCA, now Universal Music Group, and the label was struggling. LL Cool J, the first flagship artist of the label, still managed to sell records, but outside of him, there were no major sellers. Irv Gotti convinced Jay-Z to sign with Def Jam, along with DMX, a Yonkers rapper he was working with. At the time, Irv Gotti had formed Jay-Z and DMX, along with Queens rapper, Ja Rule, into a group called Murder Inc. Each of these artists were eventually added to Def Jam by Irv Gotti.
In 1997, Jay-Z released his platinum Def Jam debut, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 and DMX followed in 1998 with two multi-platinum albums. For his hard work, Def Jam granted Irv Gotti his own label, which he named Murder Inc. and made his third Def Jam signee, Ja Rule, the face of. The next four years would be among the greatest in Def Jam history, as Ja Rule would eventually gain more popularity than both Jay-Z and DMX, but this was the beginning of the end. During the early days of Murder Inc., Queens rapper 50 Cent began feuding with Ja Rule and Rule had also burned bridges with Jay-Z and DMX.
Ambition is what landed Irv Gotti on top so quickly, this same ambition would cause everything to fall apart. For a short period of time, Irv Gotti was one of hip hop’s most-powerful figures. Several artists wanted an Irv Gotti beat, along with a Ja Rule verse. During this time, Gotti would charge $50,000 just to discuss business over the phone. This attitude turned many away from the shrewd producer, as backlash built against the label. By 2001, Irv Gotti had nixed Murder Inc. collaborator, Lil’ Mo and signed Ashanti, forming the Ja Rule/Ashanti duo, which released several hit singles. This focus left many Murder Inc. rappers out in the cold.
While Murder Inc. enjoyed pop success, 50 Cent was taking over the streets, eventually signing with Interscope Records and dethroning his rivals at Murder Inc. Not only did 50 Cent win the lyrical war with Ja Rule, he also teamed up with Jay-Z, DMX, and Busta Rhymes, former affiliates of Irv Gotti’s label. Out of anger, Ja Rule also dissed Dr. Dre and Eminem, which led to more issues. Meanwhile, DMX and Busta Rhymes joined 50 Cent on Murder Inc. diss records. Once everything was over, the Murder Inc. name had been tarnished. All of their hit records were overshadowed by their tragic feud with Shady/Aftermath/G-Unit.
Ja Rule did his best to mend fences, brokering truces with DMX, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Jay-Z, and Dr. Dre. Irv Gotti also made peace with several rivals. However, the issues with the federal investigation still haunted Murder Inc., as Irv Gotti began the 2007 comeback for the label, placing them under Universal Records. The future appeared bright for Murder Inc. until Universal Records shelved Ja Rule’s album and did not properly promote Ashanti and Lloyd. Eventually, the artists signed to the Murder Inc. label left for other labels, or to start their own companies, including Ja Rule.
During the height of Murder Inc.’s success, they signed veteran femcee, Charli Baltimore. The original plan was for Murder Inc. to release albums from Charli Baltimore, Vita, Caddillac Tah, and Black Child, along with releases from Ja Rule and Ashanti. When Irv Gotti released the second Murder Inc. compilation album, the solo releases were intended to follow. However, distracted by the beef, Irv Gotti became consumed with stopping 50 Cent. Charli Baltimore said this in a recent interview, without mentioning names. Among the most-important rules in business is to never take things personal, which Irv Gotti did, and eventually lost.
Irv Gotti has been making noise, in recent months, speaking out about how Def Jam is being mismanaged. Since October, Irv Gotti has discussed his continued involvement in the industry, showing he still has a considerable amount of power. The Murder Inc. CEO revealed he was behind the deal that landed The Diplomats on Interscope Records. Irv Gotti also revealed how he and Jay-Z reconciled and appeared at the reopening of his 40/40 Club. For months, Irv Gotti has been flexing his executive muscle, but can he return to the glory which was once his. Will Irv Gotti be able to gain his former position in the game, with his impulsive personality, having a known beef, and rumored ties to organized crime?