While he's never achieved the mass-market pop-culture visibility of Dr. Dre or Puff Daddy, in the 1990s Master P quietly became the biggest underground mogul in hip-hop, winning a fervently loyal fan base and building a multimillion-dollar empire (in 1999, Fortune Magazine estimated his worth at 361 million dollars) based on a string of platinum-selling albums dealing with the gritty realities of street life in the Dirty South.
Master P was born Percy Miller in New Orleans, LA, on April 29, 1970. Miller and his four siblings were raised in a housing project in one of the city's most crime-ridden neighborhoods, and after his parents divorced, Miller shuttled back and forth between New Orleans (where he attended high school and lived with his father) and Richmond, CA (where he spent summers with his mother). While Miller was tempted by the lure of the street hustling that was a part of life in inner-city New Orleans, he developed an entrepreneurial streak early on, as well as well as a passion for sports. Miller used his skills as a basketball player to earn a college scholarship to the University of Houston, where he studied business; in time, Miller left Houston and moved back to California, where he continued his studies at Merritt Junior College in Oakland.
In the late 1980s, Miller inherited $10,000 from his grandfather, and used the money to start a record store in Oakland, No Limit Records. Running the store allowed Miller to closely monitor what was selling in the growing hip-hop market, and in 1991 he cut his first album, Get Away Clean, under the name Master P for the tiny In A Minute label. While the first two Master P albums sold negligibly at first, he was quickly learning the rudiments of both the record business and the hardcore rap market, and in 1994, Miller observed that while major labels were shunning hard-edged "gangsta rap" in a desire to avoid controversy, there was still a large and loyal market for street-level hip hop. That year, Master P dropped his third album, the more accomplished The Ghetto's Tryin' to Kill Me!, on his own No Limit Records label. Initially selling the album out of the trunk of his car, Master P avoided mainstream media outlets and instead promoted the album to independent record stores through word of mouth; The Ghetto's Tryin' to Kill Me! and its follow-up EP, 99 Ways to Die, together sold an impressive 250,000 copies without the benefit of national distribution. No Limit Records then signed a distribution deal with Priority Records, and in 1996, Master P's The Ice Cream Man debuted at number three on Billboard's R&B charts, despite receiving practically no mainstream radio or video play. Master P quickly expanded his label, first by releasing the top-selling hip-hop compilation West Coast Bad Boyz, and then by signing his brothers to No Limit, who recorded rough-and-tumble gangsta rap not unlike Master P's, under the names C-Murder and Silkk the Shocker. The three Millers also recorded together under the blanket name TRU, while rappers Mystikal and Mia-X also recorded platinum-plus releases for No Limit.
After No Limit's almost identical sounding releases became mainstays on the hip-hop and R&B charts in the mid-'90s, Master P next set his sights on expanding into filmmaking. In 1997, he wrote a screenplay about New Orleans street life called I'm Bout It, but was unable to interest a studio in the project. Undaunted, Master P financed the project himself, serving as producer, director, and star. When Master P was unable to find a distributor for the feature, he released it himself on home video through No Limit; while reviews were less than enthusiastic, I'm Bout It shocked industry experts by topping the Billboard home video charts, selling over 300,000 copies in its first month of release. Master P's next film, 1998's I Got the Hook-Up (which he wrote, produced, and starred in, but did not direct) attracted the attention of several studios, and received a theatrical release through the Miramax-owned Dimension Films, earning a respectable $10 million gross on a $3.5 million budget. Master P and No Limit next began to take a two-tiered approach to film production, making lower-budgeted direct-to-video films tied into albums by No Limit artists, such as MP Da Last Don and Da Game of Life (the latter starring Snoop Dogg), while spending larger sums on more elaborate projects with at least a token theatrical release in mind, such as the action opus No Tomorrow and the comedy Foolish. Master P also began appearing in other people's screen projects, appearing on the HBO series Oz, playing the recurring role of "Patience" on the sitcom Moesha, and appearing in a supporting role in the film Gone in 60 Seconds.
When not busy with his other projects, Master P remains a passionate sports fan, launching an athlete's management firm and playing professional basketball with the Continental Basketball Association's Fort Wayne Fury and the NBA's Toronto Raptors. He also markets and designs men's clothing.