25. Stu Fine
Title(s): Founder of Wild Pitch Records
Artists They Worked With: Gang Starr, Main Source, Lord Finesse, The Coup
Stu Fine should not have been a great rap A&R guy. But he was.
Before he founded Wild Pitch Records in the late 1980s, Fine was an A&R man for K-Tel Records. (For young’ns who don’t know about K-Tel, they were infamous in the 1970s for creating compilation albums of hit records and selling them like Ginsu knives via corny TV spots.)
Fine and his graphic designer wife, Amy, ran Wild Pitch Records out of a spartan two-room office in Manhattan. With little connection to anyone in the thriving New York hip-hop scene, Fine was able to create, in classic hip-hop fashion, something out of nothing. Who else would have had the chutzpah to take a DJ from Houston and an MC from Boston and put them in the studio together? The two guys, Chris Martin and Keith Elam, had never met each other. But together they became known to the world as Gangstarr, separately as DJ Premier and The Guru.
For plucking these guys from obscurity alone, Stu Fine should be in the hip-hop hall of fame. But Fine was also responsible for some other folks you might know: Lord Finesse. Main Source featuring Large Professor. UMCs. The Coup. O.C. Chill Rob G. That famous ‘90s refrain, “I got the power”? Stu Fine found and signed that record before another, bigger label muscled Wild Pitch’s version off the charts.
Stu Fine’s career was marred by poor relationships with many of his artists. The kind of person Fine was (somewhat rigid, champion of the old school cheap deal) and the kind of people his artists were (kids from the street who wanted to look and be large, and be justly rewarded for their ample talents regardless of what it said on the paper they signed) ended more than a few times in violence, threatened or real.
But Stu Fine’s legacy is clear. Primo, in particular, damn near shaped the sound of hardcore hip-hop for a decade, and can still make hits when the mood strikes him. Without Stu Fine’s ears, the culture would have sounded very different. Plus, as Public Enemy’s producer Bill Stephney once observed, he’s got the best rapper name for a non-rapper, like, ever.