Early today, Def Jam Recordings announced that longtime Warner Bros. Records executive Joie Manda will be the label's new president -- the first since Jay-Z vacated the position on Christmas Eve, 2007.
Although it's unclear when talks began, a source close to the situation told Billboard.biz that Manda's move wasn't totally unexpected, but still came as a surprise. During Manda's time as head of Urban Music at Warner Bros. Records, a post he assumed in 2010, he worked with Rick Ross on the label's deal with the rapper's Maybach Music imprint and brought over employees to Warner from Def Jam, an open connection the source says probably played a role in his new job.
"I think people had a feeling that maybe something was happening, but nothing was in stone. [The announcement] kind of came out of nowhere," the source said. "Just knowing how integral what he was doing with Def Jam and responsible for bringing some of their marketing people and A&Rs to Warner, it kind of makes sense. Especially with Rick Ross not working too much with Def Jam, Joie was kind of his liaison for them. [Ross] dealt with some of his obligations over there through him."
Manda and reps for Warner and Def Jam declined or had not responded to Billboard.biz's requests for comment at press time.
Manda had worked with Ross in signing the rapper's Maybach Music Group artists Wale, Meek Mill and Stalley to Warner, as well as Waka Flocka Flame, Jill Scott and Curren$y. Given Manda's relationship with Ross -- who is rumored to be on rocky terms with Def Jam -- it's possible that executives at the hip-hop label saw Manda's hiring as added incentive to keep Ross on their roster.
"I guess there were talks about what was going to happen with the future of Ross at Def Jam," the source continued. "So maybe this was a way of them being like, maybe this is a way of keeping him over here."
A major-label executive, who asked to remain anonymous, said it's likely that co-president/CEO Todd Moscowitz advised Manda about his decision to move to Def Jam. Manda began his career working closely with Funkmaster Flex, who then consulted for Loud Records. Shortly after, Lyor Cohen and Moscowitz hired him to re-activate Asylum Records as an urban label under WMG in 2004.
"He was tied to Todd Moscowitz at the hip," the source said. "I would be surprised if he didn't talk to Todd every step of the way through this move, but in the end I would guess [Manda's Warner role] would lose out to being president of Def Jam. How could Todd begrudge him that position? Manda is the relationship guy. Todd does the deals but then Manda maintains the relationships. He is much more on the creative side and well tied to that community. Now that he is at Def Jam, I would view him as true competition." Moscowitz sent the Warner staff a heartfelt memo about Manda's departure this morning.
Manda first entered the industry as a party promoter and worked at New York City club the Palladium. After becoming acquaintances with Funkmaster Flex, who deejayed there on Friday nights, he formed a partnership with the Hot 97 on-air DJ, leading to an Associate Executive Producer credit on the 1999 album The Tunnel (Def Jam) and additional Flex releases.
"I think this guy lives and breathes urban music," says the source. "He did a lot of events promoting in New York. That's how he came up in the ranks. He also basically A&R'd The Tunnel. He was A&Ring at the time, so Joie has a nice rapport with artists that they don't see him as an executive type."
It's that comfort with talent that could make Manda a star at Def Jam. "You'll never see him in a suit. He's just a fan of the music, so he's someone that artists can relate to," says the source. "But he talks about the artistry of what they're doing and how to make them grow and how to make them work. I think Joie's definitely at the forefront of getting that done."
Manda's feelings about the legacy of the label he will soon run is clear from his Twitter page, which features a vintage photo of Def Jam founders Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons and a tweet from yesterday that simply says "Shakir Stewart," referring to the label's former executive VP, who died in 2008.