How did you sign three different label deals simultaneously?
My solo deal at Koch wasn't an exclusive deal, meaning I could do business wherever I wanted. I thought I was going to get a deal with Warner Bros. after my second album, [Harlem: The Diary of a Summer], but Kevin Liles had something different in mind and offered me an executive position as director of A&R for Warner Music Group. He told me, "Music is not forever. You can do business forever, though.” So I learned the game. I think he didn't believe in my [ability as an artist] until I did "Ballin',” and that really hurt them bad. So Kevin gave me the distribution deal on Asylum. From there, I went around to all the major labels, and nobody wanted to give me the money I thought I deserved… Lo and behold, Hip Hop [Kyambo Joshua] brought me to Columbia and said, "We're gonna make it pop.” Rick Rubin was smart enough to trust Hip Hop's judgment and ultimately gave him the OK to cut the check. I've been waiting for this moment for a long time, as far as being able to run business in a major way. I'm about to give 'em my point of view, our point of view. And I think we're pretty good. I think we might be better than Death Row.

So it paid to hold out until you got the deal you felt you deserved.
You don't get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate. That's business. Most people feel they deserve the world, but they negotiate for nothing and end up feeling like they got jerked. That's why I was able to have three deals and an executive position and whatever I wanted to do at my beck and call. That's what I negotiated.

Did you acquire your business savvy strictly in the streets?
I graduated six months early from high school. I went to a career skills and training organization that helped my business sense, so I'm a little more hip to business than the average person coming into the game. It was a half-a-day thing so I could come back, be outside, hustle. N***as was still in school. At 17, I started making $30K a year doing clerical work in a law firm. After work I'd go on the block with my suit on and hustle crack. Then I stepped full-fledge into the street—all the way in, deep. At 18, I was full-blown gone.

How did you coerce Damon Dash into coming back?
It wasn't too easy. To have him right here helps my brand out a lot. It's like two major corporations joining together. We both know what it takes above anything to succeed. We know what it takes to start your own movement, build a brand and turn it into a conglomerate. We both been through similar things with people we consider to be our close friends, even brothers. I'll tell you, you never know who your friends are until you and your friends get money. Ya dig? But for a hustler, you shake it off and do something different.

What did you learn from Cam'ron about business?
Never mix friendship with business.--Laura Checkoway


To read the full interview, check out KING's big 50th issue--in stores now!