It was formed in 1990 by Jimmy Iovine and Ted Field with financial support from Atlantic Records (which owned a 53% stock in the label). Upon its creation, it was initially distributed by Atlantic Records' subsidiary East West Records America.
The label's first release was Latin-rapper Gerardo, who scored a top 5, gold hit with "Rico Suave" in the spring of 1991. More early success came later in the year when the label released the debut album from Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, which went platinum in early 1992. During this time, Interscope also signed rapper Tupac Shakur, Primus, No Doubt and Nine Inch Nails.
Though Interscope seemed to be on a roll with its first few releases, the label was faced with criticism for manufacturing what was considered cookie-cutter hip-hop that many did not take seriously. That changed when, in 1992, Iovine financially assisted Suge Knight and Dr. Dre in the creation of Death Row Records, and arranged for Interscope to distribute its records. The arrangement hit paydirt when Death Row and Interscope released The Chronic, the solo debut album from rapper/producer Dr. Dre. The album was distributed by Priority Records and released in December, became a seminal hit into the new year, eventually going triple platinum, and introduced the world to an up and coming Snoop Dogg—whose own debut album Doggystyle was released in late 1993 and became a monstrous success as well.
Following the success of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Death Row and Interscope became powerful labels in the industry, both collectively and respectively. With this acclaim, however, came criticism from various sources over the gangsta rap image that was being perpetuated. Feeling the heat from activist groups, Time Warner (Interscope's parent company) refused to distribute Death Row's next release, Dogg Food by Tha Dogg Pound, which was originally scheduled for release in June 1995. The album was subsequently pushed back, while Death Row and Interscope made an outside deal with Priority Records to distribute that album upon its release.
The controversy swirling around Death Row and Interscope made Time Warner's shareholders nervous, so much so that in late 1995, the company sold all of its stake in Interscope Records to MCA Music Entertainment (later renamed Universal Music Group). Not wanting to take on the scrutiny that plagued Time Warner, MCA too initially refused to distribute many of Interscope's Death Row releases; including All Eyez on Me, the much anticipated forthcoming Death Row debut album by Tupac Shakur. This forced Death Row and Interscope to strike a deal with Island Records to distribute that particular album outside of its home base.
Death Row began to collapse in 1996 following the death of Tupac Shakur, the incarceration of Knight, and departure of Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg also the previous year after starting his own label. In August 1997, Interscope (under pressure from Universal Music Group) made the decision to sell off all of its share in the label. However, they continue to join forces when it comes to releasing posthumous albums by Shakur with Makaveli Entertainment.
Though Interscope initially made a name for itself as a label dealing heavily in hip-hop and urban music, by the mid 1990s, its range began to expand and, subsequently, the company would eventually experience success with artists in all genres, for example, the Industrial rock artist Nine Inch Nails (Nothing Records). Following UMG's acquisition of PolyGram in 1998, Geffen Records and A&M Records were merged into Interscope—making it the extremely powerful and leading unit at UMG that it is today. In 2000 and later Interscope also has signed to the label Latin artists like Enrique Iglesias & Daddy Yankee. In 2005, Interscope launched a new imprint, Cherrytree Records for emerging artists, beginning with group The Lovemakers. In May 2007, Interscope announced a joint-venture partnership with Justin Timberlake to create a new recording label called Tennman Records.
See main article: List of current Interscope Records artists.
See main article: List of former Interscope Records artists.
See main article: Universal Music Group.
Rapper Ice Cube has criticized Interscope for their use of Tupac Shakur's music in his song "Child Support", he raps the lines "Keep your dumb ass out of that casket/'cause Interscope will spend your money/They don't give a fuck/About a dead rapper/Nigga, they'll chop it up." Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor has also criticized Interscope for overcharging his album Year Zero in Australia. When he asked why it was so much, they replied "Your type of fans will pay anything to get your music". . Nine Inch Nails is now an unsigned band.
At the SXSW conference in 2006, Interscope lawyer Darryl Franklin said during a panel discussion, that the contract with the group The Pussycat Dolls is unique in that its members are actually salaried employees of the record label and, by design, completely interchangeable. This means that in addition to CD sales, the label also controls merchandise, web sites and all other commercial aspects of the group and their income, excluding songwriting.