Words by Jimmy Ness
Wendy Day has been responsible for over a billon dollars in album sales, meaning she’s involved in shifting units comparable to Jay-Z and P-Diddy combined. But the 52-year-old isn’t a label shark profiting from manipulating artists into bad deals. She’s dedicated her life to building careers, sharing industry insight and negotiating fair contracts for rappers. In 1992, Wendy used her sizable life savings, stocks, Condo and BMW to fund non-profit organization Rap Coalition, a move that former Bad Boy accountant Bert Padell critiqued as “fucking crazy.” Day brokered some of the biggest deals in music history including Master P’s No Limit Records signing to Priority and Cash Money’s $30 million distribution deal with Universal, which allowed them to keep 85% of their royalties. The outspoken industry veteran held nothing back during our chat and has enough stories to fill several autobiographies. In part one of this interview, we discussed what 2pac planned for his next album, the time Freddie Foxx put a gun to Birdman’s head in public, 50 Cent crushing Young Buck, and a possible collaboration between Slick Rick and Kendrick Lamar.
Are rappers making anywhere near as much money as in the 90s or early 2000s, when there was a lot of disposable cash?
No, because the economy has scaled and shifted. It used to be that No Limit would put out an album and it would go platinum in a couple of weeks, if not in a week. To make a comparison, this year in 2014, no [rap] album has gone platinum. The economies are so different. It’s just a different world today than it was back in the mid ’90s. No Limit kind of lost their lustre around ’97 and one of the selling points when I was doing the Cash Money deal was that No Limit was over.
Have you personally seen any criminal activity when dealing with these labels? No Limit and Cash Money both had rumors of illegal dealings.
I heard all the rumors, but I never saw anything blatantly in front of me. The thing about street dudes and guys that sell drugs or rob banks or whatever illegal activity they do, I think they’re smart enough to keep their illegal activity and their legal activity quite separate. So no I’ve never seen it, in working with Cash Money. I heard all the rumours, but I never saw drugs or stolen vehicles. I never even really saw a pile of cash. So if they were doing illegal stuff they were doing it away from me.
You made Cash Money a solid business plan so they could get the $30 million investment from Universal and look like a well-run company, but that wasn’t the reality.
No, and I heard they still aren’t 25 years later. I didn’t spend very much time with them. They were a little bit hard for me to work with. They were not very forthcoming with information. I never knew whether I had to go to Bryan [Birdman] or Ronald [Slim.] I would talk to one and then I would have to talk to the other. It appeared to me that when I was speaking to them, they were never together. I would always have to make separate phone calls. You know it’s very difficult to have a conversation with somebody where you have to repeat everything twice. It’s a little bit challenging. So I kept a little bit of distance, which in hindsight was great because it enabled me to do what needed to be done without any interference. Without somebody looking over my shoulder and asking me questions along the way, and they trusted me enough to let me say no to a lot of the early deals because they didn’t need money.
Initial offers for Cash Money started at $75,000 before skyrocketing to the millions within 12 months, thanks to Wendy’s help.
Due to the millions of dollars at stake in these groundbreaking deals you took part in, were you really stressed at the time?
Not really because I knew the value of them. It’s sort of like if you have a $100,000 Mercedes and you decide to sell it, and somebody offers you $50,000. It kind of pisses you off. You don’t really stop to think about the value of the money. You just know that somebody is offering you half of what it’s worth. For me, I knew their value and I knew what they could be and I knew if they had the right partner they would become a billon dollar company. So no, I wasn’t intimidated by the money. The only time I remember being intimidated or uncomfortable doing a deal was for David Banner. That was because I was so close to him and he was such a good friend. It was negotiating almost for a family member as opposed an artist and that was very difficult for me. But I didn’t have that sensibility in terms of Cash Money and the grandeur of the deal.
[David Banner’s deal with SRC/Universal was reportedly worth $10 million. Wendy also managed Banner during this period and he slept on her couch for months while trying to secure a deal.]
What was your involvement with 2Pac?
Again, I was his friend more than anything. When he was incarcerated I reached out to him. Actually he reached out to me first, I had helped him when he was in New York. He was about to go to court, he had just been shot and I felt that he was really in a foreign city and he was out here alone.
2pac seemed like someone who needed friends and people he trusted because of the trouble he was surrounded by.
He did and more importantly, he needed protection because he didn’t know who was trying to kill him. He just knew that he had been shot, he had his suspicions, but nobody knew for sure. I felt like he was out here alone and he shouldn’t be. At the time I had a relationship with the Fruit of Islam, who are the protection side of the Nation of Islam. So I reached out to my friend who is very high up in the Fruit of Islam and I just asked if they could protect him for 24 hours until he went to court because we all knew that he was going to be found guilty. He was too famous and he was really hanging out with the wrong people. It was no surprise, but for 24 hours I just felt like if they could travel with him to court then he would be safe. I did it anonymously. I asked for it as a favour and it didn’t cost me anything other than a phone call. They were kind enough to just surround him and protect him. When he got to Rikers Island, he wrote me a letter thanking me for doing that for him. I didn’t realize that they had told him and he said “it feels good to have somebody be such a fan of my music that they would do this for me.” Well I’m very outspoken and I speak my mind and I was not a fan of his music at the time, I really thought he was an asshole. I took the opportunity to write him back and correct him and say “dude I’m not a fan of your music, first of all. Second of all, every time I’ve ever seen you at a club you’re always loud and obnoxious.” I said “you know, you attract trouble because you’re really kind of an asshole.” I was honest with him. I said “I’m sorry if I’m hurting your feelings, that’s not my intention, but I didn’t want you to think I did this because of your music. It has nothing to do with your music. I did this because you were on foreign soil and kind of out there alone and I just didn’t feel that anybody should be alone, you should have some kind of protection.” I wanted to clarify that because I didn’t want him to have any false understanding of why I did it. I didn’t do it as a fan. I did it as a human being that felt sorry for another human being. He wrote me back and was like “oh my god, you’re so honest. I’ve never met somebody that was so honest. I really like that, I’m the same way and most people can’t handle my honesty.” I was like “same here, I lose friends because I tell people what I think and how I feel.” Now in my age as I’ve grown older I’ve learned to be a little more diplomatic, but I’m still pretty much the same way. I still tell people what they don’t want to hear and if they can’t handle it that’s too bad.
You helped 2pac with his career and also worked on a business plan together that unfortunately he died before he could fulfil. What was that business plan?
It was for his company to set up day-care centres, a record label and community centres. The name of his company was Euthanasia.
Crazy right? His goal was to fund that company, which was an altruistic company to help people, with his record sales. Unfortunately he passed away before I could even start shopping it or finish the business plan. He was shot and killed in Vegas. It was very disheartening.
His plan, even though he was being very divisive and was sort of pitting the East coast against the West coast, was to bring that back and bring everybody together. By the way, that album was going to be called One Nation and he recorded some of it. I don’t know where it is today, but it was an album that featured East and West coast artists together. I do know that he had started to record, but like I said I don’t know what happened to it after he passed away.
There’s other people that were privy to it, some of the producers that worked on it. I know Buckshot, from Black Moon, has spoken about it and he recorded a track.
[Tracks from 2 Pac’s intended One Nation album have leaked online and it was still intended to be released following his death with guest spots from Busta Rhymes, Big Daddy Kane and Boot Camp Clik. This video of him meeting with Duck Down Records was revealed last year.]
You said in a previous interview that Young Buck was the strongest person mentally you have ever met.
He is the strongest person. He can take so much pain, it’s un-fucking-believable to me. I’m so glad that you mentioned that, because I didn’t know if anybody has ever heard me say that or not. I worked with Buck for 4-5 years up until the point before he went to prison and I watched what he was going through with G-Unit when they were at war. The emotional beating that man could take was beyond anything that I’ve ever seen in my life. They really crushed him and he kept going. The IRS stepped in and took everything he owned, and he kept going. He faced a gun charge after that because the IRS found a gun in his house that he didn’t even know was there and he kept going. This man can take more pressure than any human being I think I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s an amazing, amazing man. I’m not talking about the artist side, I’m talking about the human being, David Brown. The person behind Young Buck, not the façade that’s the rapper. I’ve never seen somebody get shit on so many times and in so many different ways and still be able to get back up and be positive and move forward without putting a gun to their head or slitting their wrists. The abuse that man can take is just amazing to me. I’m so thankful you said that.
I’ve heard that when 50 Cent beefs with someone, he doesn’t just do it as a game for the media but he actively attempts to destroy their career, livelihood, reputation, everything.
It was a lot more serious than people knew. I’m a very fair and a very just person so I have to tell you that Young Buck did things that were wrong too. I never want to paint it like it was one sided and 50’s just a bully. What I will say about it is that 50 doesn’t have that voice in his head, you know that voice in your head that tells you “ok, enough you’ve gone far enough” or “stop, you’ve gone too far.” 50 doesn’t have that. So when he’s up against an opponent, he crushes and destroys them. Instead of just doing something to show them that he’s angry, he’s got destroy their career, their livelihood, their home life, their children, their children’s children, their aunts, their nephews, their uncles. He’s very extreme and he doesn’t seem to know when to stop, and that’s really the thing that I saw behind the scenes that was hurtful. Even though Buck did some things that he should not have done, it certainly wasn’t a fair fight at all.
You dumped your life savings to create a non-profit aimed at breaking bad deals and helping rapper’s careers. Did that feel like a massive risk?
I think I believed in it so much that it didn’t faze me whether I would succeed or not. It never crossed my mind. I remember thinking when I started the company “oh if this doesn’t work I’ll go get another job, it’s no big deal.” I remember having that mind-set, but when I was in the midst of it I don’t remember questioning if I would be successful. I do know that after I did Master P’s deal and I found out in 2000, I think it was, that he hadn’t paid his artists, it devastated me because at that point in time I had helped him get into a situation where he could be a millionaire and I did it because I knew he could pay his artists and it would be a much more fair situation than some of the other deals that I had seen in the past. It kind of broke my heart that I’d created this monster or I’d played a role in creating this monster that turned around and shit on his artists. Then I had the same feelings with Cash Money, when I heard than Juvenile wasn’t paid properly, BG wasn’t paid properly, Mannie Fresh wasn’t paid properly. Not that it surprised me because they didn’t pay me properly either so it wasn’t shocking that they would do that, but it was heart-breaking because I felt like I’d spent all of this time and energy. It wasn’t just money because it’s been 22 years of my life that I’ve dedicated to this. I chose my company over having relationships. I chose my company over having children. I chose my company over having enough money where I could retire comfortably. I feel like I gave up so much more and it kind of devastated me that I was helping to create or playing a role in creating people that would turn around and shit on their artists and not pay them when it was something that I was so adamantly against.
When Cash Money didn’t pay you, did they give you a reason or just cut off communication?
They just cut off communication. At one point, one of my artist friends bumped into Birdman and put a gun to his head and made him call and apologize to me, which he did. He [Birdman] called me up and said “oh, your friend just pulled me out of Hot 97 and I’m here on the street, on my knees and I want to apologize to you. I really didn’t care about the apology. I wanted to know, why would somebody shit on someone that changed their life for the better? I just couldn’t wrap my head around that and he couldn’t really give me a good answer. Maybe because he was a little scared himself based on the situation.
Well, the gun…
Yeah I can see where that would be a little intimidating. He [Birdman] said to me “sue me, when I have to pay you, you’ll get paid.” He said it very nonchalantly and very matter-of-factly, and as time wore on I saw that he didn’t pay anybody. He didn’t pay the t-shirt manufacturers, he didn’t pay the Fruit of Islam for security, he didn’t pay security guards for security, he didn’t pay his staff, he didn’t pay his office rent. They didn’t pay anybody.
That was part of No Limit’s downfall – not paying their artists. So it’s crazy Cash Money has survived this long with the same business model. It’s even strange that no one has attempted to kill Birdman or Slim as they’ve screwed a lot of people.
I’m a little surprised by that myself. It’s a testament to their luck because they screwed over a lot of people. It is very surprising and I’m thankful that nothing bad has happened to them because they’ve made a lot of great music over the years and I love being able to say I helped create that. I helped build that company so I would never want something bad to happen but it’s amazing to me that even today they still have the same mentality like I’m still hearing people say “I wasn’t paid properly.” A couple of years ago we heard Drake say “they’re not paying me, I’m not getting paid properly.” So it’s like damn, Drake too? After all these years you haven’t learned? It’s just crazy to me.
Who was the artist that put a gun to Birdman’s head?
It was actually Freddie Foxx and I think that he has spoken about it so I don’t think it’s incriminating, plus more than seven years have passed.
Wow Freddie Foxx, he always comes up in interviews for having done some wild stuff.
[laughs] And he’s such a good friend. He’s somebody that really looks out for me. He’s not somebody that I’ve ever been able to help in my career, he’s just a good friend.
How did you learn about No Limit and Master P?
I had pulled a group in New York called The Chameleons. They were signed to Zoo Records and I pulled them off of Zoo Records. One of the rappers, and it’s funny because I’m still friends with him today 22 years later, he introduced me to his cousin and his cousin who’s name is escaping me right now, was working with Master P. His cousin called me based on a referral, who said “call this woman she might be able to help you.” [No Limit’s] concern was there was an artist named E-A-Ski signed to Priority Records and their concern was E-A-Ski was trying to help do their deal, but he was trying to sway them to the label that he was signed to. So it looked a little bit shady to them and they were a little bit nervous and they asked me to take a look at the paperwork and help them negotiate their deal so that they would have somebody they knew was 100% on their side. As it turns out, the deal was fine. E-A-Ski was doing what was best for Master P, very much so. So in hindsight they didn’t really need me involved. I’m glad that I was involved because it was a very important deal for me to be involved with. It proved to me that we could ask for the masters and get to keep them so there was a lot of benefit for me doing that. But I was doing it as a favour to an artist that I had just pulled out of a bad deal. I never made a dime on the Master P deal.
Wow, overall you made no money from the deal?
None, but I wasn’t supposed to. It wasn’t like they didn’t pay me, I was doing a favour for a friend. It was a very nice entry on my resume. It enabled me to go on and do Eminem’s deal, Twista’s deal. It was my first deal and I showed no fear, and I was rewarded. It taught me that I can get what’s fair for artists.
Do you currently manage Slick Rick?
I don’t really manage Slick Rick, his wife Mandy manages him. Back in 1998, I started a company called Visionary Management. The goal of Visionary Management was to train managers, who already had artists that were signed to labels. I worked with Black Rob’s manager. I worked with Wu Tang’s manager. I worked with Mandy, Slick Rick’s manager. The company, after about two years, I folded it. I was training all these people to be great managers, Mona Scott was helping, Chris Lighty was helping. There were a lot of managers that were donating their time, Michael Blue Williams as well. There were a lot of people that were really helpful in this quest, but everybody that I trained went and took a job at a label. It got to be that all these people that I had trained as managers as soon as they had value to the label, the label would hire them from under the artist. At this point in time there was more money working for a label then there was managing a rapper. It was very frustrating.
We did help train Cedric Mohammed and he co-managed Wu Tang Clan. He ended up leaving and starting a website called BlackElectorate.com. It was just very frustrating to be training people for free and then they would leave and do other things. So I folded the company because it didn’t make sense to keep doing it, it was like hustling backwards almost. But I stayed friends with some of the people like Cedric Mohammed. I’m still friends with Mandy to this day. So I built relationships over the years and Mandy still calls me for advice. [Slick] Rick is doing a song with Kendrick Lamar and two days ago she called me and said “hey, this what we’re thinking about charging. This is what we’re thinking about doing, what do you think?” I thought the price was a little bit high and she should come down a little and here I am ten years later still giving advice to somebody was part of my training program. I don’t manage Rick per say, I really just help Mandy her manager.
I wish Rick was more prolific, he’ll drop a great single or feature from time to time and then he’ll disappear for the rest of the year. I think it was Russell Simmons that said he was very hard to keep track of.
I knew they had a very tumultuous relationship, I actually pulled Rick off of Def Jam. I actually broke that contract and it was heart-breaking because it’s such a big part of history. But I do know that Rick is almost 50 years old now and rap has changed so much. I could see where he might be a little bit jaded with how rap has changed since he started in the late ‘70s/‘80s. Remember when he did it, it wasn’t about money and now it’s all about money. It’s so different, back when he was at the height of his career there was more camaraderie. They were like a family and it was like a new art form. People were doing it for the love and today no love is involved, so I could see where he might be a little bit disenchanted with it. I don’t know that he is because I’ve never had this conversation with him so I could be putting words in his mouth. But if he were disenchanted and this is why he didn’t rap every day, I could totally understand where he might be a little bit disgruntled where rap has gone.
That was really interesting, thanks Wendy.
Look out for part two in the next few weeks where we discuss Wendy helping Dr Dre discover Eminem, Pimp C catching the subway in New York and more.
UPDATED: Read Pt. 2 now
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