Bryan “Birdman” Williams is far from your ordinary music mogul. Adorned in tattoos from head to toe, and wrapped in fancy diamonds, his non-traditional look has never been a hindrance to his ear for talent. He’s helped craft the careers of hip-hop’s biggest stars in the ’90s and 2000s. The Hot Boys, Juvenile, Nicki Minaj, Drake, and Lil Wayne (of course) all came up from his tutelage – and his insistence that his talent come as they are. It worked, and it has continued to work, for Birdman in a way that has been unprecedented.
In 2013, however, the stars were aligned in a way that many couldn’t have possibly predicted. Facing the triple threat of Nicki Minaj, Drake, and Lil Wayne, Cash Money had become a juggernaut – toppling over the old guard and providing a musical balance that no other label could muster at the time. As the roster expanded at Cash Money, taking on the talents of Wayne’s Young Money imprint, the hits continued – and the true strength of the label is all over the Rich Gang compilation album. It’s a release that kicked open the door of what a lot of people considered a second peak period in Cash Money’s decades-long reign, and solidified them as one of the coolest brands in entertainment, on and off wax.
By definition, Rich Gang is a combination of the widely expanding roster of the Cash Money/Young Money stars – mixed with some of Birdman’s closest associates and surprise appearances from older acts. It’s an album where he plays coach, putting together unlikely combinations (Birdman and Kendrick Lamar? Limp Bizkit and Flo Rida? All fair game.) and introduced the world to a number of fresh acts. Mystikal kicks off the album with the ferocious “R.G.,” strengthening a bond between the label and their New Orleans roots, while club bangers like “We Been On” and “Panties To The Side” highlighted Cash Money’s past, present, and future. Then-surging Atlanta superstar Future is featured on the poppy first single “Tapout,” where he puts his vulnerability and versatility on full display thorughout the infectious chorus. With impressive guest spots from the likes of Rick Ross, Meek Mill, French Montana, and Busta Rhymes, Rich Gang not only brought the old and new guard of hip-hop together, but proved how essential a Cash Money feature really is.
The album also served as a quick introduction to the multi-talented writer/producer Detail, who is featured all over the album. What’s most striking is that with a number of different styles on the album, it still felt surprisingly fresh, even with a laundry list of features on the tracklist. The only glaring omission from the album is Drake, who Birdman explained was “recording out of the country” while the project was created. Ultimately, it didn’t really matter in the end, Rich Gang compilation was heavily supported by Lil Wayne and his YMCMB collective anyway. With Nicki Minaj starring in the aforementioned “Tapout,” this album also acted as a proving ground for longtime members like Tyga – who was just coming into his own after 2012’s “Rack City” catapulted him into stardom.
Birdman understood the ever-changing climate in hip-hop; 2013 saw the establishing of new norms, some that Cash Money started themselves. To take advantage of how omnipresent his brand had become, Baby quickly launched a YMCMB and Rich Gang clothing line that had everyone from Drake to Justin Bieber rocking it. This was the year that Cash Money, with over 500 million records sold in over two decades, shed the image of a typical “legacy” brand and reimagined itself for the times. And under the vision of Birdman and the wealth of talent at his disposal, nothing seemed impossible.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2018.