Title(s): Founder of TNT Records
Artists They Worked With: 2Pac, Digital Underground, MC Smooth, Above The Law
Atron Gregory—a mild-mannered college grad with one degree in business and four on his karate black belt—got his start in the music business as a road manager for N.W.A. After returning to the Bay Area to start a label, TNT Records, he signed Oakland-based Digital Underground, would do so well independently that it got picked up by Tommy Boy Records and went on to Platinum triumph.
But Gregory’s adoption of a young rapper from across the Bay would turn out to be momentous.
A community activist named Leila Steinberg first brought 19-year-old Tupac Shakur to Gregory’s attention. Gregory paired Shakur with Digital Underground as a dancer at first, then promoting him to MC. When Gregory decided it was time to shop Shakur as a solo artist, he had few takers. Tommy Boy wasn’t interested. But in 1991 he eventually found enthusiastic ears in Tom Whalley and Ted Field, who were starting Field’s new label, Interscope Records.
Though Jimmy Iovine and Suge Knight eventually moved Gregory out of the picture by taking advantage of Shakur’s insecurities and dangling beats from Dr. Dre as bait, Atron Gregory deserves everlasting credit for bringing to the world the man who became a global icon of both genre and generation.