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Former NBA Star Zach Randolph, Marcus Howell, & Moneybagg Yo’s NLess Entertainment Is Coming for the Throne

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There’s much to be said about the deep lineage connecting the symbiotic worlds of basketball and hip-hop. Former NBA star Zach Randolph is looking to write a chapter in that book and add to his own decorated legacy with his NLess Entertainment record label.

Going on his fourth team in as many seasons, the power forward affectionately known as Z-Bo arrived in Memphis in 2009 as a polarizing 28-year-old with a chip on his shoulder. The blue-collared city wrapped its arms around the burly Randolph, who became the face of Memphis’ Grit N’ Grind era. 

After stops in Portland, New York and Los Angeles, Randolph helped lead the Grizzlies to seven straight playoff appearances in the 2010s. His jersey now hangs in the FedEx Forum rafters after the franchise retired his famous No. 50 last year. 

A few years before closing the book on his NBA career, Randolph already had his next endeavor lined up with the launch of NLess Entertainment in early 2016. The Michigan State alum co-founded the independent label alongside Marcus “Head” Howell, and made Memphis rap staple Moneybagg Yo its inaugural signee.

Z-Bo and Head bonded over their love for exotic cars, and they now own a used car dealership together in Memphis. They initially met through a mutual friend and Memphis native by the name of Qyntel Woods, who was drafted in the first round by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2002, a year after Randolph joined the West Coast team as a heralded rookie out of Michigan State.

Moneybagg Yo was creating a buzz for himself around Memphis in the mid-2010s, and a local DJ by the name of Larry brought the neophyte to Z-Bo and Head’s car dealership in late 2015 to gauge their interest in potentially signing him.

The NLess heads weren’t completely sold, until heading to a Thanksgiving weekend concert where Moneybagg rocked the stage opening for Young Jeezy and had the entire crowd shouting every lyric to his Relentless mixtape trap anthem “I Need A Plugg.”

“When I came to the show, everyone in the whole club was singing his ‘I Need A Plugg’ song word-for-word,” Head recalls. “I got back in the car and told Zach, ‘We need to sign this kid tonight.’ He’s like, ‘You sure?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, we need to.’ I had him come back to the [car] lot the next morning and we drew up the paperwork. Moneybagg pulled back up, and we got the business part done and we was a family.”

There wasn’t much hesitation on Bagg’s part in putting pen to paper on a deal with Z-Bo and Head to run the three-man weave at the top, as he felt the spirit was “genuine” from the start since their initial meeting at the car lot office.

“I felt the vibe,” Moneybagg states on Zoom. “I’m good with people’s intentions, and they had nothing but the best for me. Even before teaming up with Gotti, this situation happened off mutual relationships with each other.”

With the label finally taking shape, the NLess Ent. execs suddenly had to deal with a pair of devastating losses. Bagg’s right-hand man Muhammad “ELO” El-Amin, along with Z-Bo and Head’s close friend John “King Fish” Jones, were both murdered within weeks of each other in December 2015. The tragedies only made the bond between the NLess bosses that much stronger to power ahead.

Moneybagg Yo kept his foot on the gas, and he continued his ascent in 2016 by flooding the streets with another four mixtapes, and pledged his allegiance to the Collective Music Group family by year’s end when Yo Gotti planted $200,000 in cash in front of him.

Head, Z-Bo and Moneybagg Yo were all complimentary of Gotti sharing his secrets to success when it comes to navigating the cutthroat music business. “[Yo] Gotti took me all around the world and under his wing and showed me a lot about the music business,” Howells adds. “I understood the game through Yo Gotti.”

Of course, Zach Randolph wanted to show off having one of the hottest rappers in the city signed to his label, so he’d often bump Moneybagg Yo’s music before games on the team’s speaker system — but not all of his Memphis Grizzlies teammates were impressed. Some (like defensive stalwart Tony Allen) were non-believers, and often tried to turn off the hometown rhymer’s tunes. (“Ay Z-Bo, did you tell ‘em when you used to bump me in the locker room they would turn that off?” Bagg reminds Randolph matter-of-factly on the video call.)

While he’s now a proven commodity and pre-game playlist favorite for plenty of hoopers league-wide, the trio can laugh off the early doubters filling the Grizzlies’ locker room. I used to put it in their face, and a couple of the guys like [Tony Allen] and a few more [didn’t like him],” Z-Bo remembers about trying to put his teammates on. “They wouldn’t get out of line with me, so whatever I wanted to do, I did. I knew he was so talented listening to him. The sky’s the limit for him — and you see what he’s doing [now].”

Moneybagg Yo has developed into a bonafide rap titan, and has played an integral role in Memphis’ streaming era renaissance over the last five years or so. Bagg’s even bossed up in his own right, with the creation of his Bread Gang label imprint, in addition to his NLess and CMG affiliations. 

The 31-year-old cemented his star status with 2021’s Billboard 200 chart-topping set A Gangsta’s Pain, powered by hits such as the platinum-certified “Time Today” and “Wockesha.” Both records are produced by Tennessee-bred beatmaker Turn Me Up YC, who signed to NLess and Warner Chappell Music in a joint partnership in late 2021.

“My brothers Marcus ‘Head’ Howell and YC along with the whole NLess Entertainment crew have been incredible partners, and we look forward to continuing to rack up the hits with this incredible team,” Warner Chappell Music President Ryan Press relays in a statement.

The budding label has continued to add a mix of talent with a roster that currently consists of BIG30, who signed in partnership with Interscope Records, Big Homiie G, Dee Mula, Lonely Girl, SouljaaOnGo, Leebo, and Mud. Randolph and Head have also beefed up the NLess staff, with a pair of new hires in executive roles. Kemario Brown will serve as the General Manager/Senior Vice President of Business Operations while publicity wizard Breon Robinson joins the team as the Senior Vice President of Branding.

Being a fan of Jay-Z and signed to his Roc Nation Sports agency, Z-Bo is looking to manifest a business meeting with Hov in 2023, where he can soak up endless gems to apply back home at NLess. 

“I’m supposed to be having a meeting with Hov next year to pick his brain and get to chop it up with him,” he says. “I’ll take some gems and some advice. I want to grow this thing internationally and do it big like a Roc-A-Fella.”

Randolph chuckles when the “dinner with JAY-Z or $500,000” debate is brought up. “I’m sitting at the dinner, I don’t need the $500,000,” Z-Bo confidently answers, as someone who made nearly $200,000,000 in on-court earnings throughout his 17-year NBA career.

All three of the NLess honchos tease a banner year in store as Randolph hopes to eventually get the sports agency branch of the business off the ground in 2023 too. The low-post bruiser believes his reputation and relationships around the NBA will allow him to build a strong client list and compete with the premier agencies. 

“Just having a relationship with all these young guys and being a guy in the league that treated everyone with respect, I get a lot of respect back,” Z-Bo explains. “Just knowing I’m a man of my word and 100 percent genuine, so we hang our hat on loyalty and integrity.” (Moneybagg Yo saluted Randolph last year for his being a man of his word, gifting Z-Bo’s daughter a Mercedes-AMG for her sweet 16.)

The Memphis rapper is readying a new album as well, which he has penciled in to arrive in “January or February,” after setting the tone with his Outkast-sampling “Quickie” single earlier this month. “We gon’ be the biggest for sure,” he boldly predicts of his label ventures. “All of our labels. 2023 gonna be the year that I really see this.”

Going back two decades, when a young Randolph suited up for Portland’s “Jail Blazers” era, it would be tough to predict he’d evolve into the ultimate selfless teammate and a beloved franchise player, but he did just that — so he shouldn’t be doubted in his second career here.

“Memphis is on top,” he proclaims. “Teamwork makes the dream work, and the sky’s the limit for us.”

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