The Lil’ Wayne-founded label YMCMB is the last of a dying breed: the radio-ruling vanity rap dynasty. But before we say goodbye to those fading empires, let’s take a stroll down Memory Lane and remember the vanity rap labels that had the airwaves, Walkmans, Discmans, car stereos, home systems, and iPods on lock in their prime.
  1. Def Jam
    Def Jam has sold more than 100 million records in 32 years of existence spanning from the very beginning of rap to artists that maintain the label’s relevance today. It is by far the most successful and longest-running label in hip-hop history. No other label can boast playing an integral role developing rap in its infancy while still housing artists that push the boundaries of the genre today, both culturally and sonically.
  2. Aftermath
    Aftermath has earned platinum plaques or higher on 16 of its 22 releases in nearly 20 years of operation. If King Midas’ touch turns things to gold, then Dr. Dre has him beat. Dre’s ear for talent is debatably unparalleled, beginning with his foresight to trust in his own abilities enough to leave Death Row without fighting Suge Knight for rights to any of the music he created there. With his business sense and platinum touch, another decade of relevance is not farfetched.
  3. Death Row
    Despite its heyday coming to an abrupt end, Death Row sold a lot of records in the short period from its inception in 1991 to Tupac’s death in 1996, and even saw success into the new millennium with a couple of posthumous Tupac releases and Snoop and Dre reissues. With 13 diamond, platinum, and gold albums and soundtracks collectively from ’91-’98 Death Row saw the most success of any hip-hop label in the shortest amount of time.
  4. Roc-A-Fella
    With 18 plaque-earning albums on the wall and a string of radio hits in the early 2000s, Roc-A-Fella records carried the torch for the East Coast along with Ruff Ryders. Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, Damon “Dame” Dash, and Kareem “Biggs” Burke launched Roc-A-Fella in 1996 as an independent outlet for Jay’s classic Reasonable Doubt. Off of Jay’s strength as an artist, the label signed a deal with Priority Records and proceeded to build a roster that would include N.O.R.E, M.O.P., Cam’ron, and more.
  5. No Limit
    Percy “Master P” Miller came a long way from selling tapes out his trunk in Richmond, CA. In an interview last year, Miller referred to himself as “the Michael Jordan of street hip-hop” and claimed to have sold more than 75 million records on his No Limit imprint, ultimately losing count of the exact number. Considering he sold more than 11 million albums himself, and he released more than 100 albums even before rebranding as No Limit Forever in 2010, that number seems fairly accurate.
  6. Cash Money
    Though Cash Money was founded by Birdman and brother “Slim” only a year after Master P’s No Limit imprint in 1991, it took longer for the label to begin to find mainstream success. Today, however, Cash Money boasts 32 gold and platinum albums. No Limit opened the door for Cash Money by making the country pay attention to the South as more than slow half-steppers, but Cash Money took it a step further by showing the South could set trends.
  7. Young Money
    Since its inception in 2005, Young Money has had a consistent presence on the radio and moved a notable number of units in a shifting climate where record sales are dismal. The Young Money core members of Lil’ Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Tyga have registered 143 songs on the Billboard Hot Hip-Hop/R&B charts, and this number is not accounting for their numerous features that have hit the charts as well. Young Money has also sold more than 18 million records, including nine #1 albums.
  8. Bad Boy
    The residual effects of Biggie Smalls’ success and Sean Combs’ vision led to the ascension of rappers the LOX, Lil’ Kim, Ma$e, Black Rob, Shyne, and even Yung Joc. R&B acts like Faith Evans, Total, 112, and Carl Thomas also rode the wave from the splash made by the Notorious B.I.G. To date, Bad Boy has 39 plaques to its name, 19 of which are by rappers or are compilations featuring rappers. The commercial success of Diddy’s business mind is undeniable.
  9. Ruff Ryders
    Ruff Ryders’ brand of Tims-and-hoodies rap was distinctly, unapologetically East Coast, and the country loved it. Yonkers was represented with DMX and the LOX; Eve was holding it down for Illadelph; Drag-On and producer Swizz Beatz were representatives from the Bronx. Swizz’s sound would permeate throughout New York’s scene as well, also becoming a part of the signature Roc-A-Fella sound that would shape the East Coast radio aesthetic in the early 2000s.
  10. Shady Records
    Dr. Dre’s artistic family tree is ripe with American music royalty, and Eminem’s branch has grown heavy enough to break off entirely. Shady now boasts 19 diamond, platinum, and gold albums collectively. Seven of those belong to Eminem, and four belong to 50 Cent jointly with Aftermath Records. But the other eight albums alone cement a stronghold that belongs solely to Shady. Apparently, Dre schooled Em on the business of music and helped hone his eye for seeing viable talent in others, too.