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WMG tunes out Tommy Boy

Staff of about 80 employees let go last week

Warner Music Group and storied Gotham hip-hop imprint Tommy Boy Records have severed ties after more than 15 years together, in the latest of WMG topper Roger Ames’ aggressive moves to trim or eliminate underperforming ventures.

Under terms of the split, Warner will hang on to Tommy Boy’s catalog of record masters and music publishing rights. The major also will retain about a dozen Tommy Boy acts, including trailblazing Long Island hip-hop trio De La Soul and rap-rocker Everlast.

Label founder Tom Silverman will get a one-time payout, said to be less than $10 million. The label reportedly had been valued at 10 times that sum in its mid-’90s heyday. The joint venture’s entire staff of about 80 employees was let go last week, employees close to the situation said.

Meanwhile, Silverman will hang on to the Tommy Boy brand name and several artists, including club DJ Junior Vasquez, the Sneaker Pimps and German dance-pop chanteuse Amber. Exec said he plans to offer some of Tommy Boy’s axed staffers a home at the label’s new incarnation.

Rumors surfaced Monday that Silverman could seek a new partner for his Tommy Boy in DreamWorks Records, which is run by his mentor, former Warner exec Mo Ostin. Silverman acknowledged he’d talked to Ostin about the Warner split a few weeks ago, but said he plans to carry on as an independent for the foreseeable future. Ostin wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Little disruption

Silverman said the artists staying with his newly independent label won’t be any worse off for the departure of Warner Music, as the major had been largely a passive investor. Tommy Boy worked out its own distribution deals with retailers in addition to running its own marketing and promotion campaigns, he added.

“Besides, if you look at what’s happening with consolidation at the majors right now, an independent can actually give artists a whole lot more personal attention,” Silverman said.

Exec plans to put out several new titles this spring under the Tommy Boy imprint, including Amber, Vasquez and electronica DJs Thunderpuss.

Dance moves

Silverman’s label now is skewed more heavily toward dance artists and boasts some of the genre’s founding fathers — including Vasquez as well as Little Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez, aka Masters at Work. Exec plans to leverage that talent in part through a series of club-music compilations.

WMG boss Ames has been on a cost-cutting tear over the past year at the major, whose labels include Warner Bros., Elektra and Atlantic, streamlining the group to weather a tough music market and flagging economy.

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