Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) has enjoyed platinum success with Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Given that the label is based in Southern California and that Kendrick Lamar is from Compton, California, some have drawn comparisons between TDE and Death Row Records, the imprint run by Comptonite Marion “Suge” Knight that released albums from Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur and others during the 1990s.
“I respect Suge for what he’s done in music,” Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, says during an interview with VIBE as part of its “New Juice: 8 Influential People To Watch” feature. “He had the coast booming. They had a star roster; I think I have a star roster. Shit was a lot wilder back then and I think shit got a little out of control in certain situations. I try to stay calm. I try not to have the big entourage because sometimes when people see so many dudes moving they want to challenge you. We got a lot of similarities, but we don’t club like they clubbed ‘cause you always got someone that want to come and try some shit. Then you have to put a demo down on somebody and then the following week you gotta put a demo down on his brother, then his cousin. It keeps going and brings negative attention. We had that attention early in the game with Jay Rock—everybody thought [we was] gangbanging. We couldn’t get no shows; everybody was scared for us to show up at events. We learned from that too.”
Tiffith also says that he learned several lessons from his first major label contract. TDE had a deal with Warner Bros. Records for Jay Rock that lasted from 2006 until 2010, according to the VIBE article.
“One thing I learned is don’t chase radio or follow the artists that the label follows,” Tiffith says. “If it’s hot, that’s what they’re on. They make me fuck up my acts ’cause I’m telling them to follow that when they should be doing their own thing. Two, don’t depend on nobody else to do things for you. The label is there, but they don’t know shit ‘cause they not in the streets. Spinning out of the WB situation, we realized that the Internet was really becoming big and that became our focus.”
Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith Explains Launching Kendrick Lamar’s Career
Tiffith applied that focus to launching the career of Kendrick Lamar. Tiffith says that he was impressed with the then-aspiring artist the first time they went to the studio together.
“When he first came to the studio,” Tiffith says, “I put him in the booth and put this double time beat on, trying to throw him off. He went in there and started going off! So I’m trying to play like I’m not paying attention. He notices I’m not moving and starts going crazy. So I look up and I’m like, ‘God damn. He’s a monster.’ So the next day I had a contract for him [Laughs].”
“Oxymoron is about to be a real problem,” Tiffith says. “Q sits back and watches what Kendrick does…so he’s already got his game plan. For a minute, I was on his head like, You need to do this, do that, but I’ve been riding to it lately and that shit is sick. The fans are gonna get an album they can ride straight through. It’s gonna be just like GKMC or better.”
Tiffith says that his goal as a label is to have each member of Black Hippy reach the commercial success Kendrick Lamar has achieved.
“I want to get Jay Rock, Soul, Q these platinum records and just sit back,” Tiffith says. “Those are the four dudes that I been with forever and these are the dudes I want to see rich. Eight to 10 years is a lot of time to be messing around with these niggas, man. [I want] each of them to get they own label, branch out limbs from TDE.”
As the TDE brand continues expanding its reach, Tiffith says that he is open to counsel from outside sources.
“I like when people call and give me advice, but I still like to go my route,” he says. “Baby called me and paid me some respect; I done talked with Diddy. Me and Fif [50 Cent] have two and three-hour conversations—he a real dude. He knows everything that’s going on.”