Priority Records is a United States-based record label, owned and operated by EMI, and has made a name for itself primarily in hip hop music. Priority has also provided distribution for other labels such as Ruthless Records, Death Row Records, No Limit Records, and Roc-A-Fella Records.
The Los Angeles-based company was formed in 1985 by three former K-tel executives: Bryan Turner, Mark Cerami and Steve Drath. Seed funding was provided by R-tek, a company headed by former K-tel board members: Ray and Harold Kives, and their company acquired an initial 50% stake in Priority. Priority bought out R-tek's interest in 1987.
To support early operations, Priority licensed others' repertoire and released compilation albums, but soon began developing its own roster of major artists. Priority was able to achieve unparalleled success as an independent label by developing an underground "street-based" marketing formula that set precedents and bypassed mainstream radio. His unique approach allowed Priority to sell millions of records without getting into the fiercely competitive battles of the major record labels for airplay. Priority's strategic marketing team was developed by Vice President Alyssa Pisano, who led Priority's Marketing and Creative Services Department from 1987 to 1996. Priority's roster featured numerous gold, platinum, and multi-platinum artists, including N.W.A, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Master P, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Mack 10, Westside Connection, Eazy-E and Ice T.
In the early 1990s, the label entered into a distribution deal with EMI, while continuing to operate independently. EMI bought a 50% stake in Priority in 1996 and the remainder in 1998. Despite EMI's full ownership, Priority remained an independently managed company until 2001, when its operations were merged with EMI's main US subsidiary, Capitol Records. Priority was absorbed into Capitol Records in 2004 and ceased operations.
In late 2006, EMI revived Priority Records. The first act signed to the newly reorganized company is C-Murder (who, in the mid-late 1990s, recorded for the label through No Limit Records.)