Jive Records was formed by Clive Calder in 1975 in London, on Willesden Street, which became the label's publishing company—and was launched in the United States as a branch of the Zomba Recording Corporation in 1981. The word "jive" was inspired by Township Jive, a form of South African music and dance. The labels early roster included Whodini, Tight Fit, A Flock of Seagulls, Billy Ocean and Samantha Fox.

Upon its launch, US distribution would be handled by Arista Records until 1987. Following the creation of BMG the same year, distribution of Jive switched to RCA Records. Free from the authority of Arista head Clive Davis (who at the time was known to be opposed to hip-hop music), as the 1980s drew to a close, Jive went on to sign a plethora of hip-hop acts, including: Too Short and Schoolly D. By the early-mid 1990s, Jive had become a premiere label in the genre of hip-hop, thanks to the success of acts like Whodini, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, E-40, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, and R&B acts such as Aaliyah and R. Kelly.

By the mid-late 1990s, despite its reputation for dealing heavily in hip-hop, Jive signed pop acts Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, and Britney Spears—all of whom achieved massive success as the 2000s dawned, and would become the three best-selling acts in the label's history.

Jive's distribution deal with RCA expired in 1991, at which time BMG purchased a large minority stake in the label. Also in 1991, Barry Weiss became CEO and president of Jive Records. Jive operated as an independently managed label, with distribution of its releases handled by BMG directly, until 2002—when Bertelsmann Music Group acquired the remainder of Zomba for US$3 billion, which was at the time the largest-ever acquisition of an independent label with major-label distribution. The company was reconfigured and renamed Zomba Label Group, under which Jive continues to operate.

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