Priority high for Capitol

Music company shells out $35 mil to acquire leader in rap/urban genre

Capitol Records has completed its purchase of the remaining 50% of rap/urban powerhouse Priority Records. The closing of the multimillion-dollar deal further bolsters Capitol’s return to the genre and is being positioned as the cornerstone of a new black music arm at the Tower.

The deal, which EMI sources said is worth north of $35 million, completes the purchase of Priority, which began in November 1996.

EMI, Capitol’s parent, bought 50% of Priority as part of a contract clause in its distribution agreement with the potent label (Daily Variety, Nov. 13, 1996).

The pact also sets in motion the creation of a Capitol Records Group, which sources said has been on the drawing board for several months. Plans include incorporation of some of the comglom’s labels under Capitol’s roof and the aegis of label prexy/CEO Gary Gersh. Capitol already counts Blue Note Records, Grand Royal and Java Records among its ranks.

Insiders suggest that the widening of Capitol’s scope within the EMI empire represents an unwavering vote of confidence for Capitol brass from conglom chieftains.

It also reflects the vision for the label being carved by Ken Berry, chairman/CEO of EMI Recorded Music, and Gersh. The label is currently riding high with the “Scream 2” soundtrack and discs from Marcy Playground and Everclear.

The formation of the new group, sources said, had been expected to be completed by the end of the year. But shifts in the parent company by Berry have forced the restructuring to be pushed back to the early part of 1998.

Priority a hot property

Priority, perhaps best known as the home to rap music groundbreakers N.W.A, will maintain its autonomy as one of the genre’s leading labels, but will now be part of the Capitol portfolio as part of a structure orchestrated by Berry and Gersh. Its sales, marketing and promotion staffs are considered top-notch.

The Bryan Turner-led Priority is also consistently ranked as one of the 10 most successful rap labels in the industry. In addition to its own potent roster, which includes Mac 10 and Lench Mob, Priority also distributes product for more than a dozen other labels.

Sources said Gersh and other Tower execs are actively seeking talent and producer deals with players in the genre and are in the process of inking D’Angelo to a long-term recording pact.

The arm was jumpstarted earlier this year with the inking of Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Blessid Union of Souls (Daily Variety, July 28). The acts were jettisoned by EMI Records in the wake of the label being shuttered as part of a cost cutting move.

Capitol, whose roots in black music reach back to label co-founder Buddy DeSylva, jettisoned its black music arm in 1993 as part of a cost cutting move spearheaded by Charles Koppelman, then chairman/CEO of EMI-Capitol Records Group. Koppelman ankled his post May 30 as part of a reorganization.

The label’s arm boasted MC Hammer, Freddie Jackson and BeBe and CeCe Winans, among others.

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