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Change Agent: WME's Samantha Kirby Yoh on 2 Chainz's Fashion Turn and Leveraging Synergy

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(Courtesy WME)

2 Chainz at his traphouse party during MADE's 2016 New York Fashion Week at Milk Studio's Jam Room. 

Billboard's Change Agent column looks at music agents who not only drive the live performance industry, but also transcend traditional confines with innovative initiatives aimed at extending and broadening an artist's reach.

"What's going to inspire me today?" That's the question Samantha Kirby Yoh of William Morris Endeavor asks herself each morning as she ponders her clients' next moves. "I'm so blessed that very few of my artists are plug-and-play," she says.

?Indeed, Yoh's projects reach beyond traditional music streams; she brought Bjork's app-based Philomena to a Queens science museum, enabled FKA Twigs to achieve her directorial ambitions with Calvin Klein and facilitated James Murphy's sound experiments with IBM and tennis data.

2 Chainz Donates House to Family of 11

Yoh's credits also include diversifying the resume of rapper 2 Chainz (born Tauheed Epps). In addition to a series of chart successes -- including three top ten albums on the Billboard 200 and well nine singles on the Hot 100 -- he's also had outside projects like a cookbook, a hosting gig on GQ's online video series "Most Expensive Shit" and a well-timed piece of gaudy Christmas apparel.

2 Chainz's dabbing Santa sweater from Christmas 2015 deftly capitalized on two distinct memes: the ongoing tradition of ugly holiday sweaters with their bright hues and headache-inducing patterns, and dabbing, a dance out of Atlanta that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton helped popularize on his way to losing this year's Super Bowl.

The dabbing Santa sweater would lead to 2 Chainz's team assembling a 70-person staff to fulfill the high demand for the season's hottest kitsch garb, while earning the rapper some $2 million. A portion of that went to 2 Chainz's T.R.U. Foundation, which provided aid to a disabled veteran and to a single mother whose house burned down.

"The company has an internal list of acts and their interests," says WME's agent Paul Gongaware who also worked on the project. "Whether it's fashion or in the design space or sports -- you name it. Specifically with 2 Chainz, he had many things that came to light, including a brand and merchandise to highlight along with his CEO Millionaires fashion line, connections to the art world, and friends and family who have done these things in the past."

"Dabbing Santa is initially where the idea started for the New York fashion week event," says Kirby Yoh. "It was like, 'Oh my God, have you seen how people are talking about this sweater? Have you seen how social it is? Which is actually what Cindy [Cindy Agi, 2 Chainz's responsible agent] came to us and asked. We all agreed it would be great to expand upon."

Kirby Yoh credits WME's acquisitions (which, she notes jokingly, has meant an ever-evolving acronym from WMA to WME to most recently WME-IMG). "The key thing is that when WME acquired IMG [the deal closed in May of  2014], there were many other avenues of experts available to our artists" says Kirby Yoh. "Particularly under IMG's fashion portfolio there are various opportunities, including with the Wall Group, Art + Commerce and IMG's 30-plus fashion events around the world like Fashion Weeks in New York, Shenzen and Australia and MADE, which is like a cool incubator."

Inside WME's $2.4 Billion Play for IMG

MADE, which WME-IMG acquired last year and is managed by Barnett Zitron, is known for its disruptive approach to fashion and to incubating the emerging careers of such fashion stars as Jeremy Scott, Public School and Alexander Wang. Earlier on, during the team's brainstorming sessions where different artists and events were discussed, Zitron had a strong reaction to working with 2 Chainz. "He was like, 'Yes, let's take that idea and create it," Kirby Yoh recalls.

The campaign incorporated 2 Chainz's fashion lines, the CEO Millionaires collection and his new brand Strip Club Veterans (formed in partnership with NYC brand REASON Clothing) as well as the 38-year old rapper's Trapavelli mixtape. Now in its third installment, the most recent edition featured such artists as Wiz Khalifa, The-Dream and Kevin Gates, among others. Rather than a glitzy runway show or a fashion party, MADE's concept was to bring 2 Chainz’s Trapavelli mix tapes to life, replicating the scenes 2 Chainz raps about.

Executing the concept meant transforming New York's Milk Studios intimate Jam Room (capacity 150) into a trap house. Mattresses lined the walls and DJ E Sudd spun beats from a prop stove. There was fake lean made from purple Pop Rocks and drinks served in baby bottles. Hired models wore Strip Club Veteran hats and  CEO Millionaire sweatshirts while 2 Chainz, resplendent in a white poncho, rapped tracks like “Birthday Song,” “I’m Different” and “Watch Out.”

Says Kirby Yoh: "MADE took the essence of being disruptive by not doing a runway thing or a PR launch or anything like that, which is how we got people talking."

Word got around in part due to a slew of boldface scenesters who hit the Fashion Week Meatpacking District party, including: Atlanta rapper iLoveMakonnen, musician Mark Hunter, models Shaun Ross, Ali Michael and Carlos Santolalla, Laurence Chandler and Josh Cooper of Rochambeau, designer Gigi Burris, artist Harif Guzman, Internet celeb Cory Kennedy and vintage retailer Brian Procell.

How does one quantify the success of such an event? Yoh says she is confident the increased "conversation and chatter" about 2 Chainz, which included mentions in everything from the New York Times to The Source and beyond, has laid the groundwork for the rapper's future fashion endeavors. "There's more legitimacy behind what's he's doing and how he's creating now that he's had an event at New York Fashion week," Kirby Yoh says.

The collaborations between WME's music clients and MADE continue. Earlier in June at L.A. Live, Tyler the Creator debuted his 2016 Golf Wang collection at a Made L.A. fashion event that featured an intricate catwalk complete with skateboard ramps, stage sets and film elements -- models of varying age, shape and ethnicity, each wearing his playful and colorful unisex clothing. In the audience were Janelle Monae, Solange Knowles and Kanye West, the latter of whom presented Tyler with an envelope revealing a free pair of Golf Le Fleur shoes for everyone.

"It's so great to be able to provide these different experts back to our artists," says Kirby-Yo, "and to connect them and help them realize their vision. It's inspiring for all of us."
 

Change Agent: Samantha Kirby Yoh

Title: Partner, head of New York Music Division, William Morris Endeavor

Roster: Bjork, James Murphy, Florence & the Machine, FKA Twigs, Grimes, Sleigh Bells, Zhu, Kiesza, Alicia Keys, Swedish House Mafia, Kid Cudi and Depeche Mode.

Campaign: 2 Chainz's MADE New York Fashion Week Trap House Event

Team:

WME:
Samantha Kirby Yoh,  Partner, WME
Paul Gongaware, Agent, WME
Cindy Agi, Agent, WME (2 Chainz Responsible Agent)
Justin Nabors, WME

MADE:
Barnett Zitron, Managing Director, MADE

Management:
Tek, Street Execs
Charlie Jabaley, Street Execs
David Leeks, Street Execs

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