Inside Busta Rhymes' 'Outside the Box' Deal With Cash Money and Google Music

12:18 PM PST 11/23/2011 by Steven J. Horowitz
David Livingston/Getty Images

The veteran rapper split with Universal Motown in May to embark on a surprising and unorthodox business venture.

Last Wednesday, veteran rapper Busta Rhymes appeared at the launch of Google Music to support his partnership with the newly launched platform -- an announcement that came in confluence with his surprise signing to Cash Money Records, revealed the same day.

The former Universal Motown recording artist, whose career-long manager Chris Lighty broke the news of his departure from the shingle in May 2011, has been plotting the alliance since splitting with his former label home. The deal, which Lighty describes as an "outside the box" venture, is a four-album contract with Cash Money, which will handle all physical distribution, as well as a one-off digital distribution agreement with Google Music, which holds exclusive online sales rights for Busta's next album, E.L.E. 2: End of the World (due first quarter of 2012). As part of Google Music, Androids will be the sole cellular devices with access to the platform; it can be accessed via a web browser from any computer.

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With 20 years of experience in the industry, Busta forged the unorthodox deal because of the "newness" and "freshness" that Google Music is bringing to both the digital realm and traditional distribution model. "The climate continues to shift in music and this business, and we always look for new ways to go about being swift and changeable, but being always remainable," he says. "I come from pre-Internet -- not trying to sound like a dinosaur, but the success of [our records] wasn't always determined by how much it spun on the radio. The people are tastemakers, as opposed to politics and budgets and marketing funds and things of that nature. This situation embodies all of that. You have that outlet of 100 million, 200 million Android phones, YouTube, Google itself and every other medium that comes as a perk with the situation. It exposes your music."

The promise of being the sole urban artist on GM's initial platform was added incentive for his team to align with the program. "We're being promoted as one of the main acts with the launch. [That wouldn't] happen at iTunes right now," says Lighty, COO of newly formed management company Primary Violator. "Obviously, iTunes is number one. Google Music presented a viable option for Busta to grow his footprint and it seemed like the right partnership for us to do right now, given where Busta Rhymes' career is, to refresh him digitally."

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The arrangement has already resulted in the digital servicing of his Chris Brown-assisted single "Why Stop Now," released as a free offering with Google Music's launch to anyone with a Google+ account -- a requirement for GM accessibility. Though Lighty wouldn't disclose the impressions-to-date, he insists that it's yielded some of Busta's most significant returns. "It's definitely been bigger than any of our iTunes sales or impressions that we've received in the past," he said. "To be able to be selling them on the phones, to be able to sell them online and on the online market, it's a great opportunity for us."

Cash Money co-CEO and founder Bryan "Baby" Williams was involved in the discussions between Busta and Google Music from the start. Williams had cultivated a relationship with the Brooklyn rapper for many years, placing his rapid-fire rhymes on tracks with CM artists including Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Drake, who performed with Busta at the GM launch party. Though Williams is unsure which company will handle digital distribution post-E.L.E. 2, Google's strategy to heavily promote Busta was convincing enough.

"I just wanted to make sure things were the way they were supposed to be, as far as with the staff promoting him and marketing him. Google was on point with what we wanted to do and we're going to make it work," says Williams. "They're a new brand and I've been doing this. And they respected what we wanted to do, so it's been so far, so good."

A newcomer to the music retail industry, Google opted to focus its energies into Busta after hearing several tracks from his upcoming album and strategizing on how to create unique marketing prospects.

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"When Busta Rhymes played us his new tracks, we saw an opportunity to do something unique with him and offer his music exclusively on Google Music," says Tim Quirk, head of global content programming at Android and Google. "Busta's passion for the project allows us to work together and extend the reach of the partnership through other Google properties, such as YouTube, to offer creative features like 'Spit Like Busta,' " a YouTube competition where users can upload their rendition of Busta's verse from "Why Stop Now" for a chance to be spliced into its upcoming music video.

Busta's deal may be a new model for the music industry, but he's equally anticipating the effect it will have on future distribution models. "This was just another one of those moments that defines a significant turning point in my career, and in music and business," he explains. "It was just an amazing idea to have [Google] willing to partner up with the most powerful record company in music, which is Cash Money. Cash Money is a very unique, special home to be a part of, because they don't do sh-- conventionally, either. So it was just an ideal opportunity and something that's going to go down in the history books, because a deal like this has never been done before."

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