Epitaph Records is a Hollywood, California based record label owned by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz. The label was originally "just a logo and a P.O. box" created in the 1980s for the purpose of selling Bad Religion records, but has evolved into a large independent record label. Gurewitz took the name from a King Crimson song of the same name. Throughout the 80s and 90s most of the bands on Epitaph were punk rock groups, while it is now primarily made up of alternative rock bands. Several sister-labels also exist, such as ANTI-, Burning Heart Records and Hellcat Records, that have signed other types of bands.
In 1987, Epitaph released its first record as a proper label. It was the band L7's self-titled album, and it was distributed by Chameleon. The first album that was both released and distributed by Epitaph was Suffer by Bad Religion.
In 1994 Epitaph received widespread fame, both within and outside the punk community, when NOFX, Rancid and The Offspring all released hit records. This was a big year for punk in the mainstream; Rancid appeared on Saturday Night Live the following year, playing "Ruby Soho" and "Roots Radicals". The Offspring soon left for Columbia Records in a contract dispute, but their album Smash lived up to its name and quickly became Epitaph's all time best selling album, with more than 11 million units sold worldwide to date.
Although Bad Religion was the founding band of Epitaph, releasing their early records through the label, they switched over to Atlantic in 1993, with Recipe For Hate being their first record outside of the label. Brett Gurewitz is thought to have left Bad Religion as a result of internal disputes, but actually left the band in 1994 so he could run Epitaph full time. This came after lead singer Greg Graffin said he wanted to tour more and quit school to do so. The band responded by filling Gurewitz's place with Brian Baker. In 2001, Brett returned to the band and Bad Religion once again signed to Epitaph Records, releasing The Process of Belief in 2002, The Empire Strikes First in 2004, and New Maps of Hell in 2007
In January 2002 Brett Gurewitz was quoted saying that "I had multiple offers for $50- and $100 million for half of my business". He never took any of them.
In 2003, Epitaph sparked some controversy among its fans by signing Emo and post-hardcore acts as well as alternative hip hop artists such as Atmosphere and Sage Francis and grindcore band The Locust, leading to debates about what constitutes the true nature of "punk" music, this has caused much criticism within it's faithful punk base but so far the new groups seem to feel at home on the label. The label also signed Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon in 2007.
In mid-2005 Epitaph was added to the official list of RIAA members along with several other high-profile independent labels. The reason for the listing is not clear, but one source points to an agreement for internet P2P distribution. Another source claims label management joined RIAA in order to get certified sales awards (i.e., official "Gold" or "Platinum" record status) for releases. This sparked some controversy as some feel they should no longer be labeled independent if they are a member of the RIAA.