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Last year, the label extended its reach across the Atlantic by signing Jay Sean, an R&B singer raised in West London who is the son of Indian immigrants. Having already sold hundreds of thousands of units in the U.K., Sean released his U.S. debut, All or Nothing, in November, and his up-tempo, Auto-Tuned track "Down" went to number one.
More recently, Young Money signed Nicki Minaj, a curvaceous MC with a flirty voice. Boosted largely by her buzz, the compilation album We Are Young Money recently debuted in the Top 10. (That album is the reason you have that dumb line "Call me Mr. Flintstone/I can make your bed rock" stuck in your head.) In a genre that remains as male-dominated as ever, Minaj is something of rap's next great female hope, and her debut is due out this year.
But by far, Cash Money's most high-profile recent signing has been Drake, a Toronto actor best-known for playing a student in a wheelchair on Degrassi: The Next Generation. A rare talent who can also sing and rap credibly, he brings a charismatic presence and clean-cut good looks to the label, which reportedly signed him for millions. The move has already paid off: Drake was ubiquitous on radio in 2009, despite not having yet released a full album.
According to Baby, desirable artists are flocking to Cash Money because it takes a "hands-off" approach with its musicians. "We believe in giving a youngster an opportunity to [express] what their vision is," he says. "To corporate, you're just an artist in a box. But when you fuck with us, you inherit a family." Superior artist development is possible because the label keeps its ears to the streets, he explains. "Corporate will never be able to fuck with us, because we're in touch with the young world."
Sure, Baby is undoubtedly good at what he does. But the bigger question is this: What continues to drive him? Having helped sell some 60 million albums, by his own estimation, he has more money, bling, and possessions than he could ever dream of. (Growing up, his family didn't have a TV set, he says, so now he has 40 or 50 in his home.) Once you've reached the top of the game, why continue busting your butt?
"I want to do more in the business than anyone ever did," he says. "I feel like people died for our success." He's referring, in part, to early Cash Money rappers Pimp Daddy, Kilo-G, and Yella Boy, who were killed before the label came to prominence. This is why, Baby says, he's utterly ruthless when it comes to business dealings. In his book Do You!, Russell Simmons calls Baby's negotiating style "gangster." "Nobody else deserves this," Baby concludes.
In fact, he's even reconciled with some of Cash Money's original stars. B.G. and Juvenile are both onboard for a Hot Boys reunion, though that will be put on hold at least until Lil Wayne finishes a one-year prison sentence on a gun charge. When it comes to old collaborators, it seems that success — even more so than time — heals all wounds.