LVRN, Interscope Enter New Venture, Launch Creative Hub In Atlanta

BB17 2017 - DO NOT USE
Chris Stanford
Balogun, Ramong, Baiden, McNichol and Abaidoo (from left) photographed July 7 at LVRN. 

The collective behind DRAM and 6LACK leveraged indie success into major-label-backed freedom -- and a new Atlanta studio

Judging from the abandoned hookahs and busted railing, the July 7 grand-opening party for LVRN Studios, dubbed Kids Against Cubicles, was a rousing success. Standing tall is a lush, floor-to-ceiling art installation creeping out of the 3,000-square-foot artist collective's brick wall; above the artwork's tree, in glowing neon, is the mantra for the space: "You're safe here."

Three flights upstairs, LVRN's five co-founders -- Sean Famoso McNichol, Justice BaidenCarlon RamongJunia Abaidoo and Tunde Balogun -- are crashed out on plush velvet couches in the Moulin Rouge-inspired Studio B. From the expansive open kitchen and the basketball hoop in the living room downstairs to the coziness of the recording studios, LVRN (which stands for "Love Renaissance") has a relaxed feel. The party the night before celebrated the company's recent partnership with Interscope Records, which includes its new headquarters in Atlanta's burgeoning West Midtown neighborhood and the launch of LVRN Records -- the latest branch of the full-service creative agency, which also houses management, creative direction and production services under its roof.

The brain trust of LVRN, who are all between 25 and 29 years old, met as rival party promoters at Georgia State University in Atlanta and steadily developed a reputation for finding undiscovered talent. In 2012, the crew teamed up with then-15-year-old Tucker High School student Raury. By the time LVRN released his critically acclaimed debut album, Indigo Child, in 2014, it had already secured him a deal with Columbia Records. Next up was management client DRAM, whose Atlantic/EMPIRE single "Broccoli" (featuring Lil Yachty) climbed to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 last fall. Then, in late 2016, LVRN and Interscope released the debut from their most recent signing, 6LACK. Lead single "PRBLMS," written and recorded while 6LACK was couch surfing with LVRN staffers, hit the Hot 100 following a marketing/promotion push via Apple Music's Up Next.

Despite its success, the collective had resisted a major-label deal, preferring to individually cater to each artist. But when Interscope executive vp Joie Manda offered creative autonomy, a financial stake in LVRN's artists and money to bankroll the new space, McNichol and his partners finally said yes. "[Interscope] saw that we weren't just getting lucky finding talent," says McNichol. "They saw that we were transforming artists into something the world wanted. Joie trusts that we know what we're doing. We're learning from each other."

The LVRN team also found a kindred spirit in Interscope CEO John Janick, who started the independent label Fueled by Ramen (Paramore, Twenty One Pilots) as a college student in 1996. "Even now that I'm running this big company, I always want to think as an entrepreneur," says Janick. "When we sat down with the LVRN guys, we said, 'We don't want to change anything that you do; we just want to support and help amplify.' I think that resonated with them."

Both Janick and Manda see such a partnership as a model for deals in the future, despite one problem. "Young entrepreneurs who are this talented, business-savvy and plugged-in are rare," says Manda. "If there were more guys like this, there would be more deals like this."

"What we're doing isn't a flash in the pan -- it's about developing artists for the long run," says Balogun. "That's Interscope's goal as well. That's why this works."

For an artist who recorded a platinum record in a kitchen, 6LACK is enjoying working on his sophomore album in the luxe red-hued, relaxed vibe of LVRN’s new Studio B. “In addition to being a business, LVRN is also a family,” says 6LACK. “The relationship with Interscope is the same as with LVRN. There hasn’t been any pressure to do anything that doesn’t come naturally. We have the product and Interscope has the supplies and the reach.”

Another opportunity the Interscope deal offers LVRN is a chance to reinvest in Atlanta’s music scene for the young creatives coming up behind the LVRN guys. “We’re all natives of Atlanta and if you look at the charts, about 70 percent of what’s being listened to is either performed, written, produced or has a vibe inspired by Atlanta,” notes McNichol. “The companies should be here. I shouldn’t have to go to L.A. to get a check.”

Adds Balogun: “[Atlanta] is a dominant force in the industry. Imagine if we had the infrastructure in place here? Imagine if the industry had to come to us instead of us going to them? This building, this deal with Interscope is a step in that direction.”

This article originally appeared in the July 22 issue of Billboard.