In 1971, South African musicians Clive Calder and Ralph Simon began a publishing and management company. It was named Zomba Records and relocated to London, England, four years later; their first client was a young Robert "Mutt" Lange. Zomba originally wanted to avoid record labels, choosing instead to focus on their songwriters and producers while allowing other established labels to release the material. Later that decade, the company opened offices in the US, where Calder began a business relationship with Clive Davis, whose Arista Records began releasing material by Zomba artists. In 1981, Zomba formed Jive Records, whose operations began with the release of British dance and pop music such as Q-Feel, A Flock of Seagulls, and Tight Fit. Its name was inspired by township Jive, a type of music that originated in South Africa. Davis had hoped that Zomba's connection with Mutt Lange would help alleviate the difficulties Arista was having finding potentially successful rock acts.
By 1982, Calder was introduced to Barry Weiss, a young college graduate who took Calder out to hip-hop clubs in New York City for his job interview with Zomba. He was immediately impressed: Together, they began grooming musicians for what would eventually become Whodini. After two days, the group created and recorded its hit single "Magic's Wand." While the group would eventually leave Jive, the early success allowed the label to focus on hip-hop artists throughout the 1980s. In 1987, Jive cut distribution ties with Arista, effectively separating them from Davis's authority, who eschewed hip-hop. As the 1980s drew to a close, the label entered a distribution deal with RCA Records, and it continued to sign hip-hop acts including DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, The Skinny Boys, Too $hort and Schoolly D. By the early 1990s, Jive had opened offices in Chicago as well and had also become a premiere label in the genres of R&B and hip-hop with the success of D-Nice, E-40, A Tribe Called Quest, Hi-Five, KRS-One/Boogie Down Productions, R. Kelly and Aaliyah.
By the late 1990s, Jive began signing pop acts Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and Britney Spears. All three achieved massive success as the 2000s dawned, becoming the three best-selling acts in the label's history. In 1991, Barry Weiss became CEO and president of Jive Records. After two decades, he left Jive in March 2011 for Universal Music Group. The company was later reorganized with some artists moving to a restructured Epic Records, while others stayed with Jive as it moved under the RCA Music Group. In April 2011, it was widely reported that Jay-Z had outbid executives at Jive to acquire independent record label Block Starz Music. On October 7, 2011, it was announced that Jive, along with Arista and J Records would be retired to refresh and re-brand RCA Records by not confusing or diluting it with other labels. All artists on those labels were moved to RCA Records.
Today, the Jive brand is being exclusively used under the Sony Music France division under the name Jive Epic in France.