Movies & TV Shows

10 Best Documentaries About Music Labels (Including The Murder Inc. Story), According To IMDb

Among the most interesting documentaries to be released this year is The Murder Inc. Story, which chronicles the rise and fall of the once-dominant music label, Murder Inc. Headed by producer Irv Gotti, the label helped establish the careers of Hip Hop superstars such as Jay-Z and DMX before signing a new roster that colonized the airwaves in the early 2000s. Regrettably, a federal investigation coupled with strong competition from 50 Cent’s G-Unit caused the glory days to end.

The documentary’s tale is a fascinating one, and on IMDb, the reviews have been great. While it’s rare for fans to be served behind-the-scenes tales like these, The Murder Inc.Story isn’t the only project of his kind. Over the years, there have been a couple of other interesting documentaries about music labels, and through IMDb, the most recommendable ones can be sieved out.


10/10 Blue Note Records: Beyond The Notes (2018) – 7.3

Stream On Amazon Prime Video

Beyond The Notes traces the glory years of one of the best-ever Jazz labels. Events stretch through 80 years.

The documentary’s coverage of a niche genre explains its lower score, but viewers will enjoy Beyond The Notes because it’s a slow voyage meant to educate rather than entertain. The history lesson is rich, detailing Blue Note’s ties to the Holocaust (Jewish refugees founded it) and its role in the birth of Hip Hop. Patches of vintage footage also eliminate any doubts about whether what’s being said actually happened. There are tips for musicians and executives too on how to maintain harmony, something Blue Note managed all too well.

9/10 EMI: The Inside Story (2016) – 7.3

Stream On BBC iPlayer

For a long time, EMI was Britain’s prominent music label, managing superstars such as The Beatles and Queen. The Inside Story finds those with inside knowledge about the label and allows them to lay out their version of events.

Most documentaries try to dig through the events in a decent manner but The Inside Story opts to go the tabloid route, packing in as much gossip as possible. This is something that might have prompted some fans to give it a lower rating, but there’s no denying that the rumors are juicy. They are somewhat believable too since they come from former employers as well as members of groups such as Sex Pistols and Pet Shop Boys.

8/10 Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (2013) – 7.4

Stream On Apple+

The person at the center of events is Shep Gordon. In the 70s, the artiste manager managed to strike the best deals with the best labels for his clients.

More of a tribute than a tell-all, Supermensch shuns negativity and paints Shep in good light. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Anyone watching gets to learn from him rather than come out with more gossip to add to the grapevine. The star-studded interviewees give the documentary a blockbuster feel too. Some big names include Michael Douglas and one of the greatest action stars, Sylvester Stallone.

7/10 The Black Godfather (2019) – 7.4

Stream On Netflix

Events in one of the best Netflix music documentaries revolves around Clarence Avant. Though not well known by the public, Avant helped push Black musicians into the mainstream.

The Black Godfather does a great job of showing how Avant was a Jack of all trades and a master of them all. From managing musicians to setting up record labels to organizing concerts, Avant did it all. The mogul is constantly acknowledged for achievements such as brokering the first deal before a Black musician and a major record label as well as helping push music by minorities through his radio station.

6/10 Before The Music Dies (2006) – 7.6

Stream On Amazon Prime Video

The documentary touches on the increased commercializing of music. The major point emphasized is that money is the priority, not the musicians.

There has been a long debate on whether quality has been sacrificed for quantity. Here, it’s stated that that is indeed the case. Watching how stars are forced to put out more music than they wish is sad, and so is them being forced to make radio records as opposed to artistic ones. More unfortunate is the declaration that no one is powerful enough to change the new trend.

5/10 Artifact (2012) – 7.9

Stream On Amazon Prime Video

Artifact charts the legal dispute between the record label, EMI, and rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars. It’s directed by the band’s frontman and of the Hollywood actors with both Oscars and Razzies, Jared Leto.

As they enjoy the music, fans rarely get to know the business challenges that their idols face behind the scenes. Well, Artifact offers such insights. Like Jared Leto’s Hollywood projects, there is a hero and a villain who is none other than EMI. Will the hero get around the $30 million lawsuit? Well, the feelings of anxiety and hope that viewers get to experience explain why many have voted for Artifact on IMDb

4/10 The Death Row Chronicles (2018) – 8.0

Stream On BET+

Legendary producer Dr. Dre teamed up with mogul Suge Knight to form Death Row records in the 90s. The label signed stars such as Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg, but a feud with members of the P. Diddy-owned Bad Boy Records led to deadly consequences.

It’s a good documentary because no important detail is left out. Just about everyone that needs to give their side of the story does so, including Suge Knight, who was in jail at the time of filming. Interestingly, the Suge Knight interview led to his fiancé Toi-Lin Kelly getting jailed because carrying a camera violated a court order limiting his prison communications (via Consequence). The controversy aside, the rivalries make up the most interesting parts of the documentary. Viewers not only get to see how greed led to the business partners falling out but also get to know exactly what led to one of the biggest feuds in Hip Hop history, a feud that resulted in the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.

3/10 Slave Trade: How Prince Re-Made the Music Business (2014) – 8.1

Stream On Tubi TV

Slave Trade tells a similar tale to that of Artifact. The focus here is on Prince and his major fallout with Warner Bros. Music.

There is a flood of information in the documentary that is as shocking as it’s gratifying. The Employer vs Employee war here is tenser than what Jared Leto and his colleagues went through hence much more entertaining. What’s fascinating is the fight that Prince puts up, going as far as to scribble “slave” on his forehead and changing his name to a hieroglyph to free himself from contractual obligations. It’s hard not to feel happy for him when he emerges victorious more than a decade later.

2/10 The Murder Inc. Story (2022) – 8.4

Stream On BET+

After his first signees, Jay-Z and DMX go their own way, Irv Gotti forms Murder Inc, which dominates the airwaves in the early 2000s, until a federal investigation messes everything up.

What the documentary does best is take viewers down a nostalgia path. Though Ja Rule and Ashanti might no longer be relevant musically, genre fans are reminded of just how great their contribution was. To prevent the proceedings from being monotonous, the music stories are seasoned with yet another major tale about a relationship between Gotti and Ashanti, something that made other signees on the label feel sidelined. Interviews with influential rappers such as Nas and Jay-Z give the docuseries more weight too. Additionally, the federal investigation, which was influenced by the label’s poor name choice, drives up the project’s entertaining value, placing it at par with some of the best crime dramas.

1/10 Broke (2011) – 8.6

Stream On Amazon Prime Video

Will Gray has to deal with hostile label executives as he records his debut album. Success eventually comes, but not without much sweat.

It’s perfect viewing for anyone wishing to get into the music industry as it goes the harsh reality route by making it clear there’s no cream and roses ahead. Musicians such as Kelly Clarkson and John Legend give their insights, too, confirming that making it big is not easy. But what’s emphasized is that everything would be easier if the people in suits were a little more empathetic.

Next: 10 Hip-Hop-Themed Reality Shows

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