Warner/Chappell Music's renewed thrust into R&B and hip-hop is gaining momentum. During most of 2012's first four months, its songwriters had a share in five of the strongest tracks on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart: Wale's "Lotus Flower Bomb," Beyoncé's "Love on Top," Drake's "Make Me Proud" and "The Motto," and Jay-Z & Kanye West's "Ni**as in Paris."
Warner/Chappell Music chairman/CEO Cameron Strang sees this chart attack as a payoff to the company's investment in the genres. "To accomplish this success takes a commitment to growth, a heightened level of service and focus," he says. "Once that starts to happen, it attracts other writers and producers as word-of-mouth spreads, which is why we are starting to see great results."
Billboard Power 100: Cameron Strang
Strang says Warner Music Group's new ownership-Len Blavatnik's Access Industries acquired the company in 2011 and installed Steve Cooper as CEO-has helped the publishing company. But there already was a strong foundation, VP of urban A&R Juan Madrid says, including a stable of such R&B/hip-hop and pop heavyweights as T.I., Lil Wayne, Timbaland, the-Dream, Dr. Dre and Bryan-Michael Cox. "We inherited this roster of great talent," Madrid says, "but we also wanted to continue to freshen things, keeping an eye on the youth movement driving R&B/hip-hop and pop."
One of the first deals he struck after coming to Warner/Chappell was signing Toronto producer T-Minus who, at the time, only had one record, Ludacris' "How Low." Since then, 24-year-old T-Minus (born Tyler Williams) has worked on several of hip-hop's biggest songs, including DJ Khaled's "I'm on One" and Drake's last three singles: "Make Me Proud," "HYFR (Hell Yeah, Fuckin' Right)" and "The Motto."
Other urban signings include Virginian Lex Luger, who has worked with West, Jay-Z and Young Jeezy, and in 2011 was named BMI's producer of the year; Young Chop, an 18-year-old Chicago producer whose credits include hot unsigned rapper Chief Keef; Toronto musician Arthur McArthur, who has credits for tracks on Tyga's latest album, Careless World: Rise of the Last King; and DJ Spinz, who produced current top 10 R&B/hip-hop hit "Cashin Out" by Epic newcomer Ca$h Out. Also on Warner/Chappell's roster: Wiz Khalifa, Rico Love, Trey Songz, Waka Flocka Flame and the Runners production team.
Warner/Chappell's R&B/hip-hop team has also signed several female writers and producers, including EMI Capitol recording artist Priscilla Renea (her credits include co-writing Rihanna's "California King Bed" and collaborations with such songwriters and producers as Rodney Jerkins, Toby Gad and Dr. Luke) and Ebony West, who under the pseudonym Runway Star produced "Teach Me How to Dougie" for rap group Cali Swag District.
In partnership with Dr. Dre, Warner/Chappell signed the producer's protégé, Kendrick Lamar, a West Coast rapper from Compton, Calif., whose Section.80 was one of iTunes' biggest hip-hop releases last year. Another recent signing is Rick Ross, whose Maybach Music joint venture goes through Warner Bros., and through him signed Meek Mill.
"Everybody we're signing is young, under 23 years old," Madrid says. "We're looking for people with aspirations to be the best, people who want to evolve, push the envelope and stretch the limits of what he or she is capable of, someone not afraid to fail and who is also looking for a partner. We want someone motivated. Every time you sign a producer, you think of what could be."
One thing that helps Warner/Chappell A&R executives execute more effectively is a streamlined signing process. "The speed from identifying talent to signing has been reduced dramatically," Strang says. "Previously, we had a structure that required two or three levels of approval and was more centralized." Now the company can make quicker decisions, without waiting for consent from New York.••••