From left: Michael Papale, Step Johnson, Brenda Romano, Ted Field, David Cohen, Steve Berman, Jimmy Iovine, Tom Whalley, Lori Earl and Nino Cuccinello photographed on Jan. 26 at Thom Thom Club in Santa Monica.
From left: Michael Papale, Step Johnson, Brenda Romano, Ted Field, David Cohen, Steve Berman, Jimmy Iovine, Tom Whalley, Lori Earl and Nino Cuccinello photographed on Jan. 26 at Thom Thom Club in Santa Monica.
Austin Hargrave

Classic Power Squad: Interscope Key Players Reunite, Remember Telling Time Warner to 'F--- Off' in the '90s

When Interscope launched in 1990, it wasn’t supposed to work. The umpteenth new label in a sea of startups cashing in on the arrival of the CD, “We were the last people you would’ve bet on -- a ­motley band of folks,” says co-founder/chief financier Ted Field.

“There were no lines in terms of an urban department, a pop department, a rock department,” recalls Tom Whalley, who was hired to head A&R. “We could sign whatever we wanted. If we believed in the music, we just went for it and no one got in our way.”

If there was one unifying idea, remembers co-founder Jimmy Iovine, it was that “we wanted to build a company like Atlantic around 1970, where you had great, powerful rock bands and also the best urban music.”

Interscope’s first releases -- Gerardo, of “Rico Suave” fame, and 4 Non Blondes among them -- proved to be commercially successful, but it wasn’t until Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg joined the roster (through the label’s affiliation with Death Row Records) that a cultural movement found its voice. When public opinion turned against gangster rap in 1995 and the genre was decried on the U.S. Senate floor for glorifying violence and degrading women, the label stood its ground, extricating itself from a partnership with Time Warner. “They told us to take lyrics out, and we were like, ‘F— these guys,’ ” says Iovine. “At times, it got ugly as hell, but we always managed to laugh.” 


MICHAEL PAPALE

THEN: Promotion head handling alternative rock. 
NOW: Owner-operator of his own management strategy firm, Michael Papale & Associates.


STEP JOHNSON

THEN: Head of promotion, and also worked records by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur.
NOW: An entertainment consultant based in Atlanta.


BRENDA ROMANO

THEN: Promotion executive who worked records like Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” 
NOW: President of promotion at Interscope Geffen A&M, she works hits by Selena Gomez and Machine Gun Kelly.


TED FIELD

THEN: Co-founder and primary backer for Interscope. 
NOW: A successful film and TV producer, his company Radar Pictures is rebooting Jumanji.


STEVE BERMAN

THEN: Head of sales and marketing.
NOW: Vice chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M. Recent successes include Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles.”


DAVID COHEN

THEN: Head of business affairs. “My job was to decipher for people, ‘What did Jimmy really mean?’ ” 
NOW: Retired.


JIMMY IOVINE​

THEN: An accomplished producer (Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Dire Straits) turned co-founder. 
NOW: Still title-less, he guides streaming service Apple Music.


LORI EARL

THEN: Head of publicity who championed No Doubt, Marky Mark and Iovine. “It was the Wild West,” she says. 
NOW: Independent communications strategist and health and wellness advocate.


TOM WHALLEY

THEN: Head of A&R who brought in Nine Inch Nails and Tupac Shakur. 
NOW: Founder of Loma Vista Recordings, home to St. Vincent and Local Natives.


NINO CUCCINELLO

THEN: Intern hired by the late Marc Benesch.
NOW: Head of rhythmic/crossover promotion at Interscope.


This article originally appeared in the Feb. 18 issue of Billboard.