When you talk about Hip Hop trailblazers who shook up the music industry and help set a new standard for how success is defined in entertainment, 2017 ESSENCE Festival performer Master P is most certainly a name that sits in the company of those at the top of the list.
From his challenging beginnings as child growing up in one of the toughest areas in New Orleans, to his revolutionary rise in the music industry, to his presence today as a solidified business mogul and respected philanthropist, Master P -- real name Percy Miller--has truly done it all. His story is a remarkable testament to the power of hard work, faith in your God-given life purpose and a genuine desire to build something better for yourself, your family and your community.
We caught up with the man himself as he’s preparing to make this year’s ESSENCE Fest one to remember, in between putting the finishing touches on his new album, Intelligent Hoodlum, and highly-anticipated biopic King of The South. Taking a quick pause from the grind, Master P gave us the real on everything from his inspiring backstory, to his early days as a rising rap artist, to his equally-talented offspring, to his Team Hope NOLA youth charity organization.
While his childhood and early adolescent years were certainly not easy, P says the strong foundation provided by his grandparents served as his earliest motivator to want to do better.
"Well, for an African-American growing up in poverty, especially in New Orleans during that time, there was a lot of prejudice and violence. But I lived with my grandparents and had a good foundation and that was really my first motivator," he tells ESSENCE. "My grandparents had 12 children, we lived in a 3-bedroom apartment, and me and my brother made 14. So, having a good foundation while living in a mental state where you’re in poverty but, knowing, ‘I can get up out of here and better myself,’ made a huge difference in my life. Knowing your circumstances, but also knowing that if you work hard, you can use this as motivation to get out. I didn’t want to be like everybody else. I didn’t want to be trapped on drugs and living in negativity. I would rather make the best out of what I had. So, that was my motivation."
At age 19, P received an inheiritance that would change his life. Although the money itself was what gave the then-budding artist the push he needed to get his first successful business venture off the ground, he says it was his formal college education at the University of Houston and later Merrit College in Oakland, CA that ultimately gave him the mindset to invest the money at a such a young age, rather than spending it unwisely.
"You are your best investor so, you have to find something you like and then find a problem; that’s what I learned in college," he says. "Education will take you a long way. I know a lot of people say technology changes things every year but, I still feel like, once you get that basic education, even though times are changing, you can always go back to that. So, word spread quick that I could get you any music in one day. There was an older record shop in the area who sold a lot of Gospel and R&B but, there wasn’t anything similar for the younger generation, who wanted Hip Hop. So I told my customers, if you pay for the shipping I can get you any record you want overnight and that's when my business just blew up. I went from making no money to making crazy money. For the artists, I was a kid who looked like them so, it was cool. Eventually, I had 2Pac, E-40 and all types of artists dropping off their music at my store."
P believes many of the business lessons he learned as a young person are also keys to success for the Black community in general.
"We have to think how other cultures think. Entrepreneurs in other cultures, they think like, 'Let me get a business to pay for what I want.' We think, 'Let me go buy something,' and then you don’t have anymore money," he continues. "So, we have to start thinking of how to take our money and make more investments, even though we don’t have what we want right now. I knew I had to sacrifice so that once I did have some capital rolling in, I could go buy what I want and have a business that will keep generating revenue. So, that was the mentality. That and just finding good people. I tell people all the time, you have to find good people and product. That’s what you invest in if you want to be successful."
A few years after the opening of his record store, Master P would go on to make his first official mark on the music industry with his debut album and never look back. Today, he's internationally known as a multi-platinum selling artist who helped jumpstart the careers of other successful New Orleans artists including Mystikal, Silkk The Shocker and Mia X. Over the years, he's built No Limit Records into an iconic Hip Hop empire that's since expanded to also include two of his children, Cymphonique and Romeo. For P, a big part of the next steps in his success is ensuring that all of his children are educated, humble, young people who work hard and strive to give back.
"I always said that when I became successful, I wanted to build generational wealth and to do that, I have to prepare my kids," he says. "Even though they’re in the entertainment business and making money, every last one of them have to go to college because I feel like, what if you fail with entertainment or sports? With me, you can take the entertainment side away from me and I’m still going to be successful in another way. I tell my own kids and the kids I work with in my Team HOPE NOLA foundation, if one of you guys make it, come back and help the next person. If one of us learns something, we have to come back and teach it to the next generation. I feel like that’s how we need to operate as a Black community also. All the experts and the smart people that we know, most of them die with all this secrecy. I want to be an open book so we can keep it going. I want to change the way people look at Hip Hop families. People say, 'Oh, he’s from the projects so we expect his kids to be wilding out.' Nope. We’re going to be humble, we’re going to be educated and we’re going to break this stereotypical cycle that they associate with us."
Most importantly, P is proud to see his children working to inspire their peers and younger generations with positivity.
"It’s harder for a celebrity kid now to come up off of their parents' name because social media is not going to give them a break," he continues. "I’m just blessed that my kids have real talent, they’re being themselves, and they’re not trying to love off of my name. My son Romeo is doing what he has to do as a young man and I’m proud of him. Same thing with my daughter Cymphonique; she’s doing what she has to do as a young lady and I’m proud of her. With Cymphonique, I was never a vocalist or a dancer, so to pursue that, she had to have natural talent and she does. She could really be the next big star because of that, combined with how hard she’s working and sacrificing. I tell her all the time that she can be a role model for these young girls choosing to do right or wrong and you’re going to be blessed. Be proud that you have a good start and you can keep it going. Your dreams and your rewards are going to be bigger by staying on the right track. A lot of these kids think they have to be negative to be cool but, I’m telling my kids, let the world know you're educated, let the world know you believe in God. Those things are big-picture things. You’re not living for a car or a house because you have all that, you’re living to make a difference. You could help change millions or hundreds of kids' lives if you do the right thing."
A proud product of the south, Master P says he was elated to team up with fellow southern songstress and 2017 ESSENCE Festival performer Solange to appear on her Grammy Award-winning album, A Seat At The Table. Having worked with Destiny's Child in their early days, P has a history with the Knowles family and was happy to see Solange win.
"I’ve always believed in Solange," he says. "I always felt like she never really got a chance to show the world how beautiful and great and talented she is until now, but she's really always been just that beautiful, natural Black woman. When we got together, we originally were just going to do one song for her album but, then in the moment, we began celebrating each other and that’s what we did on her record."
And what does P believe is the call to action for his hometown?
"Celebrating the people that are doing the good things. Even on the news….we celebrate people doing negative stuff," he says. "Why don’t we celebrate the people doing great, positive things? If you show a drug dealer with his cars and money and all that, we’re really painting a certain type of picture in a kid’s mind of what success is. We have to celebrate the people in the community doing the right thing and still owning businesses. That woman who owns a local restaurant might not have the biggest house or nicest car but, she's feeding the community. Or the little lady who owns the bookstore, she might not be rich but, she's doing great and educating the community at the same time. Or even artists who might not be making a whole lot of money yet but, they're coming back picking up these kids and letting them see another side of life, taking them on the road. So, that's what I want to do and see us do more of; celebrate the culture that is doing good because that’s what I ended up doing -- coming back and uplifting the community."
Above all else, P says his hometown and life journey have taught him to never give up, appreciate what you've been blessed, work hard and always know that there's a chance to rebuild.
"Even though they show a lot of the negative side, people form NOLA will make something out of nothing and have a good time with a little bit. New Orleans is a different place. You're going to find the best of the best. Hard working, talented people, of course, but the love outweighs everything and thats what we want to show this year at ESSENCE Festival. When people leave New Orleans, we want them to leave knowing that when we all come together, the love wins. Us getting together for the No Limit Soldiers Reunion, we want to show the world that no matter what, we always come back together. When you leave that Superdome, you're going to say, "Man, those guys been through a lot and they're still standing together. "
Be sure to grab your tickets to see Master P and his No Limit team light up the stage, alongside more of the biggest names in music, at the 2017 ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans this July.