Hip-Hop Label 101: Cold Chillin' Records

Hip-Hop Label 101: Cold Chillin' Records

Published Wed, December 31, 1969 at 7:00 PM EST

To fully understand the impact and importance of Cold Chillin' Records, one must understand the individual separate elements that enabled Cold Chillin' artists to experience high visibility years before the label was a reality.

Cold Chillin' principles Tyrone "Fly Ty" Williams, John "Mr. Magic" Rivas and Marlon "Marley Marl" Williams were all instrumental on New York radio, namely WBLS, while Pop Art, NIA and Prism Records released most of the early recordings by individual members of the Juice Crew. Fly Ty was a sports reporter at WBLS, while Marley, (who Mr. Magic dubbed "The Engineer All Star"), manned the turntables. Mr. Magic was the on-air personality.

The original Juice Crew was formed by Disco Fever club owner Sal Abbatiello and was originally called "The Fever Crew." It consisted of a fraternity of friends who hung out at the legendary Bronx club. The name "Juice" originated with Mr. Magic, who dubbed himself "Sir Juice." Sal, Mr. Magic, rap stars Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash, Whodini and June Bug were all members of the first Juice Crew. It would be many years later that Marley Marl, Roxanne Shanté, Biz Markie, MC Shan, Craig G, Tragedy and others adopted the name for their rap collective.

The name 'Cold Chillin' Records' came from MC Shan. I needed a name for the label and I called Shan one day and asked what he was doin.' He said that he was 'cold chillin.' And I said 'That's it!'"

- Tyrone "Fly Ty" Williams (co-founder, Cold Chillin' Records)

In 1984, Philadelphia-based record label Pop Art Records released "the shot heard 'round the world" in the form of a 12" single titled "Roxanne's Revenge." Pop Art was an independent label founded by Lawrence Goodman and his wife Ann; before releasing rap records they'd released R&B records by artists like Galaxxy, Eddie D, Mikki and Richmond, VA's Major Harris. Cold Chillin' co-founder Tyrone "Fly Ty" Williams explained the genesis of the relationship between himself, Marley and Mr. Magic to The Foundation in 2020.

"There was a time when we left WBLS and went back to WHBI, where Mr. Magic started,"he explained. "Charles Warfield, the general manager of WBLS, was trying to kill rap. He offered Magic a daily spot playing the 'Quiet Storm' format if he would stop playing rap. He said 'Magic you're the biggest thing in rap. If you stop playing it, the kids will think that it's over, and we can get back to normal.'"

WHBI was a station where you paid for broadcast time. We were making zero dollars, but independent labels like Sugar Hill, Tommy Boy and Profile paid for the time, because they needed their music played."

- "Fly Ty" Williams

After refusing the offer to help "kill" rap music, Ty says that the trio was approached by Dana Goodman (brother of Pop Art founder Lawrence Godman) shortly after their return to WHBI.

"Dana said that he can get us a job on WDAS, a commercial station in Philly," Ty remembers. "At the same time, Shanté made a tape with Marley dissing U.T.F.O. It was just a tape. When we went to WDAS, we played it and Dana loved it and wanted to know what label it was on. We told him that it was just a tape. We gave him the tape and they pressed it up. We didn't have any paperwork, no deal, nothing. You can even hear the famous "world premiere" intro and Mr. Magic says "oh my goodness" at the end of the song. That's from the radio broadcast! Originally Magic said 'Oh my goodness U.T.F.O. you better look out' but they cut it. That recording became 'Roxanne's Revenge.'"

"Roxanne's Revenge" was a runaway hit and Shanté's mother asked Fly Ty to manage her then 14-year old daughter. "We weren't thinking about record deals, we just knew that we were on two different markets now",Ty said. "We were still thinking radio and because of Roxanne Shanté, our show The Rap Attack was in 20 markets."

Between 1984 and 1987, Pop Art Records released several singles by Roxanne Shanté: "Roxanne's Revenge", "Queen of Rox" "Bite This", "Run Away", "The Def Fresh Crew (featuring Biz Markie)" and "Pay Back." They were all underground hits, which helped to establish Pop Art as a legitimate Hip-Hop label. The Philly label also released "Shout," "Transformer" and "Oh Veronica" by Juice Crew member Craig G. Marley Marl also released a single titled "DJ Cuttin" under the pseudonym NYC Cutter in 1985. Marley Marl had a relationship with The Aleem Brothers and their independent NIA records. Fly Ty explained that "Magic brought Marley in as a producer to do "Release Yourself" by The Aleems on NIA Records." Marley also released "The Tragedy" by The Super Kids on NIA, featuring the youngest member of the Juice Crew, Tragedy aka Tragedy Khadafi aka The Intelligent Hoodlum. 1985's "The Marley Scratch" with MC Shan was released on NIA, as well.

We had a good relationship with Pop Art, and they put records out fast. If you gave them something today, its out before the end of the week"

- "Fly Ty" Williams

Ty, Magic and Marley finally decided to start their own label called Bridge Records through the Goodman's and Pop Art. Their first and only release on that imprint was MC Shan's single "The Bridge"/"Beat Biter."

"We started Bridge Records and we thought that it would bring us money like a cash cow," Ty said. "Pop Art and the distributors did whatever they did, and we didn't get paid like we were supposed to. We looked at it like an education, we learned from it and it wasn't gonna happen again. Me ,Magic, Marley and Shan were sitting around deciding how we wanted to this and we decided that we needed a white guy as a fifth partner."

Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records, Cory Robbins of Profile and Fred Munao of Select were all willing candidates, but they decided to go with Lenny Fichelburg because he had retail experience as his father owned Sams - a chain of New York record stores.

"We needed someone with wholesale and retail experience that we could keep near us, and we all started Cold Chillin' Records," Ty recalled.

Although Howie Tee and Kangol Kid of U.T.F.O. chopped and resequenced drum sounds on 1984's "Roxanne,Roxanne", 1986's "The Bridge" with its A side "Beat Biter" is the record that is credited with ushering in new sample sample techniques that ultimately brought about rap's "Golden Era". Marley's chopping and reprogramming of the drums from "Impeach The President" by The Honey Drippers would not only score a hit and change production on "The Bridge", the technique and those drums would become a staple in his production for several of his artists for quite a while.

Fitchelburg founded Prism records in 1978, and they specialized in what Tommy Boy founder Tom Silverman described as "White,gay disco music." Prism had success with a group called Warp 9 and their hit "Nunk (New Wave Funk)". Pure Energy also had a hit with "Party On" on Prism. Prism wished to move more into Hip-Hop and in 1986 Ty structured a deal, releasing "Make The Music With Your Mouth Biz" in that year and the Big Daddy Kane penned "Nobody Beats The Biz" and "Pickin' Boogers" in 1987. According to Goin' Off The Story of The Juice Crew and Cold Chillin' Records by Ben Merlis, all of the Juice Crew members were under on roof and Cold Chillin' was official by the end of 1986.

Warner Brothers offered us 30 percentage points. We were already getting 100. Why would we accept 30?"

- Tyrone "Fly Ty" Williams

Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo's "Its A Demo/"Im Fly", Shante's "Have A Nice Day", "Juice Crew All-Stars" and Shan's "Jane, Stop This Crazy Thing"/"Cocaine" were all released under the Cold Chillin' Banner by 1987. According to Fly Ty, Warner Brothers became interested in partnering with Cold Chillin' on the strength of MC Shan and Shante's success. After Ty turned down a deal for 30 percentage points, Warner Brothers offered a joint venture, where Warner Brothers would distribute Cold Chillin' Releases for five years. Under the deal, Warners only promoted albums for Cold Chillin', while they were allowed to do their own singles.

"Warner Brothers only wanted Shan, Shante' and Biz originally," Big Daddy Kane told Ben Merlis. "They didn't want me." Prism became the label where artists would prove themselves with singles, (for instance, Kool G Rap's "Poison" was released on Prism), then move up to Cold Chillin.' Once Warner Brothers heard Kane's "Raw," they wanted to include it on the soundtrack for the gritty urban drama Colors, and repackage it with the Warner Brothers logo.

Full-length albums by Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap and Marley Marl solidified Cold Chillin' as the premiere label of the late 1980s. Between 1987 and 1993 Masta Ace, Roxanne Shanté, Kid Capri, The Genius (later the Wu-Tang Clan's GZA), Granddaddy I.U., Diamond Shell and 2 Deep released full-length albums on Cold Chillin' and Warner Brothers. By the beginning of the 1990s, the big hits had stopped rolling in at Cold Chillin.' Albums by Masta Ace's Take A Look Around, Kid Capri's The Tape, MC Shan's Play It Again Shan and Words From The Genius by The Genius were all considered commercial flops.

Masta Ace recalled a list from Warner Brothers with a line that states everyone under it was being dropped from the label. He was under the line, and he says that Granddaddy IU was right above it. "I was ready to leave. Cold Chillin' was a boat with a hole in it," he said.

Kane and Biz's impact on the label was so huge, it was almost like they WERE the label."


MC Shan was also on the list to be dropped along with Roxanne Shante'. Ty set up "Livin' Large Records to distribute records by Shane, Shante' and YZ. Shante's The Bitch Is Back from 1992 was released on Livin' Large and made considerable noise, but the label was dissolved in in 1993. Kane's DJ Mister Cee told Merlis "Cold Chillin' wasn't the same label towards the end. Great records, but the label wasn't as strong. Then here comes Bad Boy, the Def Jam is getting stronger. Death Row. Those labels came in and was taking over.

Ironically, the era often referred to as "The Platinum Era" which replaced the "Golden" was directly birthed by Cold Chillin' artists, and influenced by their sound. Jay-Z was Kane's mentee in the early 90s, as Kane shopped Jay's demo to Def Jam (the label that Jay-Z would one day become president of) and other labels. Kool G Rap has a huge influence on Nas, whose demo G Rap shopped. The influence of Cold Chillin is still felt in the best of what rap music has had to offer for the last two decades.

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