According to WBR chairman Tom Corson, "anything that shows promise is being snatched up. We're definitely in the middle of a very competitive and expensive moment here with hip-hop acts."
Connor Lawrence woke up on Feb. 15 to a text from his friend, Jacob Moore, founder of the popular hip-hop blog Pigeons & Planes: "Have you heard of this Juice WRLDguy?" Lawrence, chief marketing officer of music-data company indify, had not. He scrolled through indify's rankings and realized the 19-year-old suburban Chicago rapper was at No. 60 and rising. Ten days later, video blog Lyrical Lemonade posted the rapper's animated, childlike "All Girls Are the Same," directed by the site's founder, Cole Bennett. That, says Lawrence, was all Juice WRLD needed to "explode."
"All Girls Are the Same" racked up over 4.7 million YouTube views within a month, and Juice WRLD was quickly at the center of a bidding war. "Every label tried to get in -- you rarely come across an artist and songwriter that has that much potential," says one major-label source, though an executive at another label that met Juice weeks before the video posted wasn't convinced. By March 12, Interscope had signed him to a deal that sources tell Billboard amounts to $3 million.
Juice WRLD is one of a slew of new rappers in recent months who have jumped from pop obscurity to seven-figure major-label contracts -- Los Angeles' 03 Greedo told Billboard that his December deal with Alamo/Interscope was for $1.7 million, and Lil Pump re-signed with Warner Bros. Records in early March for $8 million, say sources. Also landing deals worth over $1 million during the past year have been Lil Xan (Columbia), City Morgue's ZillaKami and Sos Mula (Republic), Shoreline Mafia (Atlantic) and SahBabii, who Warner Bros. Records signed for about $2 million, according to other sources. It's a bidding-war frenzy reminiscent of the 1990s, fueled by the streaming-revenue growth in the record business and suddenly potent marketing outlets like Pigeons & Planes and Lyrical Lemonade, which have helped break Lil Pump, Ski Mask the Slump God, Lil Xan and Lil Skies.