In January 2017, Post Malone's manager Dre London, born Andre Jackson, was in the type of bind typically reserved for action movies: He had to come up with $25,000 cash in 30 minutes to save his client's music video shoot -- and maybe his career.
Following the release of Post Malone's debut album, Stoney, the month before, London says people had become consumed with the holidays and weren't thinking about his artist, let alone "what was next in music for the year." So he jumped on the opportunity to set the tone for 2017, deciding to self-fund a video for the album's fifth and final single, "Congratulations."
The concept was simple but effective: Show Post in the studio intercut with as much on-a-budget celebrating as possible. But all it hinged on a cameo from the track's featured artist, Quavo of Migos. London, 37, got word that Quavo was demanding $25,000 to appear. "I had half an hour to get 25 grand, or there was no 'Congratulations,'" says London, looking at a plaque in his Los Angeles office celebrating the song's 7x RIAA platinum certification. "I had a courier come with half and had to rush to the bank to get the other half. It was crazy."
That video, which currently has 765.6 million views on YouTube, helped the track pick up steam in the new year and, London says, by the time graduation season rolled around that spring, "Every kid across America, parents, whoever they were, was all singing 'Congratulations.'"
The song's success is one of many landmarks tied to valuable lessons he's learned since arriving in New York a decade ago on a one-way ticket from London with some savings and a commitment to learning the music industry. He wound up linking with French Montana -- who gave London his nickname -- during the rapper's Cocaine City DVD days and helped connect him with producer Harry Fraud, which would mark the beginning of a fruitful working relationship. And through his street-level experience with an act just starting to gain recognition, London learned the importance of making sure to get credit for your work.
Years later, in 2014, London was in Los Angeles for the Grammys when he visited a house in Encino where various young creatives were living. He says there was a lot of potential in the house -- from producers to gamers to artists -- but he only saw one person. "All Dre London had in his brain was Post Malone, Post Malone, Post Malone," he says. London wound up moving into that house with Malone and his crew, and by the following February he found himself managing one of hip-hop's hottest new acts, as the single "White Iverson" began gaining traction on Soundcloud.
But for all the acclaim that followed, so too did skepticism towards this outlandish white rapper from Texas, and London says the two have had to grind relentlessly for the success they've achieved. It's paid off: In October, the 22-year-old had his first No. 1 on the Hot 100 with "rockstar," which spent eight weeks in the top slot and helped usher in Malone's sophomore album, Beerbongs & Bentleys, last month. That set is currently enjoying its third consecutive week atop the Billboard 200 chart, having debuted with the biggest streaming week ever for an album and setting a new record for the most simultaneous top 20 entries on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart, with nine. Needless to say, more plaques are on their way.
"I got more," says London, looking around his temporary live-work space in The Montage Beverly Hills (he's in the process of building a creative compound). "Be careful what you wish for, because this is Plaque City right now."
What impact did your time in New York, before you connected with Post Malone, have on your career now?
I think a milestone was the change when it went from DVDs to YouTube to Worldstar, because it was a weird time. With a change in anything that's going on in life, there's an opportunity. I looked at the change from DVD to Worldstar to making sure you knew the guys who had the internet sites that was clicking, and I was very intrigued by that. That was the same transition I saw when we put out "White Iverson" and we hit Soundcloud. Spotify wasn't [as established] in America, there was no Apple Music. I was just listening and thinking, "Everyone's playing music on SoundCloud, I need to find out now how this SoundCloud thing works, how we can get this as big as possible." And we just came at a time when it was just perfect.
"White Iverson" reached No. 14 on the Hot 100, but a lot of people assumed Post was a one-hit wonder. How hard was it to gain traction?
Really, all I had to do was put online everything that I was seeing and keep screaming about how he was the next best thing in the world. In the beginning, people looked at me crazy because I'm this black guy with an English accent telling everyone that Post Malone is going to be the next biggest thing in the world. People looked over and they saw a white guy with Allen Iverson cornrows and gold teeth, and they didn't take me serious.
I remember one day picking up Post from the airport and ["White Iverson"] was on Power 106 and he looked at me and said, "What did you do?" This was like eight, nine months [after the song came out]. Because we ended up killing the internet and then started killing the clubs, radio had to play it. He didn't have a record label; it was fighting for each crumb. It was me, Post, my backpack and a dream. I was doing seven jobs -- emails, assistant, manager, security, agent, PR, record label -- we put out the song on TuneCore. It was that era where we just had a hunch and we had a vibe and knew that something was totally different.
Artists now are getting higher royalty rates and shorter contract terms. What did you push for in Post Malone's record deal with Republic?
It's so funny, because Post called me the other day about one of those [new artist deals]. I said, "Believe it or not, you started this craziness." In the beginning I remember telling Post, "We've got two ways we can do this: We can go like Chance [The Rapper] and Pat [Corcoran, his manager], or are we gonna get signed?" Post was just like, "Let's not even have a conversation unless it's over $1 million." At the time, I didn't really want to sign to a label because we was already doing everything independently. But signing to a label amplified the knowledge of who he was by "White Iverson" banging on the radio.
"Congratulations" was the fifth single from Stoney, after three others that didn't land as well. Why did that stick?
[Prior singles] "Go Flex" and "Deja Vu" were the first records where I admit I took my foot off the gas. I thought, "Now we're signed to a label, I'm good." I drank the Kool-Aid, like, "Yo, we OK right now -- this is gonna be alright." But that was the thing that gave me drive, those two songs not blowing up. When "Congratulations" came out, I knew it was a big record, I knew the moment, I knew the vibe. I took it back to the time of "White Iverson" in the viral stage, making sure everything was done myself. Don't get me wrong, the label was doing their thing at the same time, but I was pushing and pushing and pushing. I started getting back with my guys who do viral marketing stuff and just coming up with mad different ideas. And after two or three months of pushing, everyone started coming back at me. It was a crazy reaction.
Around that time, a video of a mariachi band performing "Congratulations" went viral. What was the impact of that?
Crazy. That's what I'm talking about where we went back to our viral moments, where we started doing things that was like, "How could we get the masses?" That whole mariachi thing was an idea with Postmates. Post didn't know, because it has to still be natural and we do these little crazy things sometimes that could get fucked, because Post could flip out. But the majority of the time we get it right. So we Postmate'd a mariachi band to the show and they started playing "Congratulations" and it went viral. Now, Post was never known in Mexico. All of a sudden, guess what? "Congratulations" started hitting Mexico charts. I was seeing the impact of how to hit certain things. But it has to be genuine -- you can't fake it.
As a matter of policy, Republic Records says it "does not comment on any artist agreements or financial estimates." But according to Billboard's estimate, which was confirmed by two music-industry financial executives at different companies who regularly assess digital revenue using a blend of paid and free streaming rates, "rockstar" as of February had generated approximately $4.86 million in revenue in the U.S. from digital services for Republic, before deducting artist royalties, recording and marketing costs and other expenses. How much of that went to Post Malone?
We're still waiting on that "rockstar" royalty check to find out. I'm gonna give you the honest truth: That's still a grey, cloudy area when you sign to a label. Some might not like me saying it, but I'm gonna be honest. Because you've got to go through all these things, how much it costs to do this, how much this costs. And by the time you make it out, you could turn around and be looking, "Where's mine?"
With Beerbongs & Bentleys out, where does he go from here?
Movies. Post has a movie idea right now and he and well-known writers are going to get together and write it. And it's a great movie idea, and I've been begging him to play a role in it because he's good at acting. I think I've just managed to twist his arm enough to play a role -- it might come in disguise, or something where we find out it's him afterwards. We do want to do stuff on television, but he wants to do his own stuff, stuff that we own, where a part of that comes from our vision, our creation. Nothing corny, stuff that just fits his brand and his character, just like how you see him with a Bud Light in his hand. He drinks Bud Light -- it's natural. So why wouldn't we go out and speak to Bud Light and tell them why it's so important to have him drink their beer and why it's important to align the two of them together? It just made so much sense.
Post Malone is starting his own label, and he gets a lot of it now. He's seen the music business inside out and now he wants to start his label. We're going to do it how we been doing it from the beginning, and obviously a distributor is going to come along. Let the bidding begin.