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Top Dawg Entertainment is a new and improved version of Death Row Records, according to Snoop Dogg. The Doggfather sat down with Terrence “Punch” Henderson, Jay Rock, SZA, Moosa Tiffith, and Brandon “Big B” Tiffith to discuss the making of the label during “The Making of TDE” at REVOLT Summit in L.A.
It started in 1997 when Anthony “Top” Tiffith built a studio in the back of his crib in Carson, California. By 2004, TDE had become official and would go on to make itself the anchor of west coast hip hop with artists like Kendrick Lamar, SZA and ScHoolboy Q. Jay Rock — Watts native and TDE’s first artist — spoke about how his patience was essential in finding success. Brothers Brandon and Moosa spoke on how Rock was grinding for years before his rise. The two executives watched their father and his artists grow over the years, and learned from their wins and losses. Jay Rock came to embody the ideals TDE represents as a company.
Big B took TDE to the next level by getting his Master’s degree, while Moosa works in A&R at the company. TDE is a family-run label and intergenerational wealth is key to their business model. The bond that was created by Top could be felt in the room. The man that inspired Kendrick Lamar’s “Duckworth” helped open doors for SZA and others to come.
She came out as a surprise and took Snoop’s seat. After getting her shine on, she talked about how she worked with Punch for years crafting her sound, as well as the push and pull that defined their working relationship.
”I’ve come chin-to-chin with pretty much every man on this stage, especially Moosa,” she joked. The two had an obvious inside joke about who dunks on who. But overall, they communicated that TDE artists treat each other like royalty, even when they disagree. SZA mentioned Punch giving her creative freedom to experiment with ideas, even if they seemed wack. “If that’s what you want. If that’s your sound” would be his reply. Having that kind of creative support helped her be 100% comfortable with her unique sound and be comfortable being different. She passed that advice along to the audience when asked about being a different type of artist who’s trying to fit in.
When asked about what TDE looks for in an artist, Moosa highlighted character and integrity as most important. Artists must also have a different sound and the skills to meet TDE’s expectations. But above all, they need to have qualities like Jay Rock. He is the measure of character at TDE. Other TDE artists include SiR and Reason, who both made appearances throughout the weekend, and they performed on Saturday night. Their content and vibe reflect the TDE ethos of character and talent.
When producing and directing music videos, the process includes TDE, the artists, and a mix of other professionals to create formulas. That delicate balance is what’s behind much of the success of the label according to Punch and his team. “It’s a team game,” according to Moosa.
That team mentality led to the epic Black Panther soundtrack. The project was a secret even inside the label. Jay Rock talked about how he just happened to get in on those sessions, not knowing Kendrick was working with the monumentally successful Marvel film. Apparently, Jay Rock’s feature on “King’s Dead” was a happy accident. Snoop joked how they had to get all of the Avengers together to outsell Chadwick Boseman’s blockbuster — a reference to the latest Avengers: Endgame movie.
Snoop’s moderation went off track at times, but the conversation always came back to the core values that make TDE an enhanced version of Death Row Records. One of the audience members asked to smoke with him and he granted her wish. Numerous producers handed over thumb drives of beat packs to the executive team and Moosa admitted to scouting producers on Twitter.
TDE’s bond serves as an example of how to build a hip hop label today. Their ability to blend family ties with the rap game would make a show way better than “Empire.” Seeing them with the home crowd made the future of L.A. hip hop feel bright as ever. There were projects mentioned that can’t be talked about yet, so we’re keeping an eye out and our ears open for future surprises from TDE. Every L.A. studio is full of rappers who want to join TDE and if they follow the leads of its artists today, there is sure to be premium hip hop coming out of SoCal for a long time.