kevin liles executive of the year
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Revealed: Billboard's 2020 R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players — In A Year of Activism

In a year that tested the industry and country with both a pandemic and racial-justice reckoning, the genres continued to thrive — and change the culture — thanks to the executives on Billboard’s annual list, led by 300 Entertainment’s Kevin Liles.

Kevin Liles
Founder/CEO, 300 Entertainment

Flo Ngala
Kevin Liles photographed on October 21, 2020 in New York. Grooming by Laura Costa at Exclusive Artists.

Midway through Megan Thee Stallion’s performance of her hit “Savage” on Saturday Night Live’s October season premiere, the sound of gunshots cut the music short. Audio clips of an iconic 1962 Malcolm X speech and of Black Lives Matter activist Tamika Mallory played, followed by an impassioned speech from Megan herself, calling for justice in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s death in March at the hands of Louisville, Ky., police — and for the protection of Black women and men in this country.

For Megan, 25, it was a powerful statement made on the biggest platform of her career, and the highlight of a year in which she topped the Billboard Hot 100 twice — with her “Savage” remix alongside Beyoncé, as well as the jaw-dropping Cardi B collaboration “WAP,” which also ruled the first-ever Billboard Global 200 chart in August. For Kevin Liles, the founder/CEO of Megan’s label, 300 Entertainment, it was further proof that nothing — not even a global pandemic — could slow down his newest superstar.

“She’s in there every day, going through it and having the conversations and working hard,” says Liles, 52, who co-founded 300 alongside Lyor Cohen (now YouTube’s head of global music), Todd Moscowitz (now Alamo Records’ CEO) and Roger Gold (Camila Cabello’s manager). “And her greatest time, right now, is during a pandemic. She’s still evolving and telling the story, and she hasn’t even put out an album yet.”

As Liles sees it, Megan’s banner year is also the epitome of 300 in peak form: generating hits, breaking artists and overcoming odds, while maintaining a social conscience and putting people — both artists and employees — first, even in difficult times. “We’ve all had a hell of a year,” says Liles with a self-deprecating laugh. “I might have just had a good business year, too.”

Read the full profile on Liles here.

Brianna Agyemang
Co-founder, #TheShowMustBePaused; senior artist campaign manager, Platoon
Jamila Thomas
Co-founder, #TheShowMustBePaused; senior director of marketing, Atlantic Records

Agyemang and Thomas made history when they shut down the entire music industry on June 2 — the start of their #TheShowMustBePaused initiative to end systemic racism. Phase two of their plan, delivered 90 days later, outlined action items, including equitable pay. Thus far, over $1 billion in commitments from corporations has been made in support of racial justice. “Our mission,” the two say in a joint statement, “is to hold accountable major corporations and their partners who benefit from the efforts, struggles and successes of Black people.”

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “With Black musicians dominating the charts, how can they be afforded the same opportunities as their non-Black counterparts?” - Agyemang and Thomas

Binta Niambi Brown
Co-founder/co-president, Black Music Action Coalition
Willie “Prophet” Stiggers
Co-founder/co-president, Black Music Action Coalition
Shawn Holiday
Co-founder/executive vp, Black Music Action Coalition
Ashaunna Ayars
Co-founder/vp, Black Music Action Coalition
Courtney Stewart
Co-founder/vp, Black Music Action Coalition
Caron Veazey
Co-founder/vp, Black Music Action Coalition
Jamil Davis
Co-founder/secretary, Black Music Action Coalition
Damien Smith
Co-founder/treasurer, Black Music Action Coalition

Less than a month after George Floyd’s suffocation beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer ignited ongoing protests and a long-overdue reckoning with systemic racism, the Black Music Action Coalition launched June 19. It has since aligned with over 200 artists, producers, DJs, managers, lawyers and industry professionals to “help end the systemic racism that’s baked into the music business,” says Prophet. Brown notes that BMAC has developed voting/ election initiatives, a new Black Music Matters campaign and an independent research study analyzing the history and effects of racism in the music industry — gaining “more than 60,000 followers and enabling BMAC to reach over 1 billion impressions across platforms worldwide.”

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “The biggest issues are the same issues facing this nation. The music industry reflects the same racism, disparities and inequalities that exist within this society.” - Prophet

Sean “Diddy” Combs
Founder, Combs Enterprises, REVOLT Television, Bad Boy Records

Combs was honored with the 2020 Grammy Salute to Industry Icons award on Jan. 25 in recognition of his work as a hip-hop pioneer and activist. That evening, he pulled no punches in taking the Recording Academy to task for its lack of diversity and transparency: “Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys,” he said at the event. “Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be … and that stops right now.” Combs has also called for the creation of a new political party focused on the needs of the Black community.

Michael Mauldin
Founder/co-chairman, Black American Music Association
Demmette Guidry
Founder/co-chairman, Black American Music Association

The Black American Music Association (BAM) is dedicated to protecting Black music, its creators and cultural communities. The nonprofit launched in June 2018 and is guided by a 16-member executive committee that includes BlackRock’s Frank Cooper, Interscope Geffen A&M’s Nicole Wyskoarko and Spotify’s Chaka Zulu. Beyond championing Black music’s influence and economic impact, BAM strives to increase awareness of racial and social injustices to “create positive change in the larger community,” says Mauldin. The organization recently partnered with the Voting Rights Are Civil Rights initiative to engage Generation Z voters and protect the vote in 14 swing states and 54 counties with large African American and Latino populations.

The Song That Inspires Me: “Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’ It gives me hope and inspiration as it emotionally acknowledges our trials and tribulations.”

LaTrice Burnette
Executive vp/GM, Island Records
Jermi Thomas
Senior director of A&R, Island Records

Since Burnette joined Island in 2018, her focus has been to “create and foster the hip-hop and R&B music division and culture” at the label, she says. A&R and strategy lead Thomas worked with her on the release of Jessie Reyez’s debut album, Before Love Came To Kill Us, which peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard 200 in April, and Skip Marley’s collaboration with H.E.R., “Slow Down,” which made him the first Jamaican artist to top the Adult R&B Songs chart.

We'll Know Change is Really Happening When: “We see more Black women and men running companies, departments, divisions and having the ability to make decisions without being questioned. Complete autonomy to win and freedom to be great.” - Burnette

Scott Dudelson/Getty Images
Jessie Reyez

Katina Bynum
Executive vp East Coast labels, urban, Universal Music Enterprises

After joining catalog specialist UMe in October 2019, Bynum, who worked with Drake, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne at Cash Money, has spent the year shepherding Nelly’s deluxe edition of Country Grammar (and the July release’s accompanying MelodyVR performance) and Mariah Carey’s 16-album vinyl reissue series that began in October. “It’s not your father’s catalog,” she says. “An album is considered catalog after 18 months. And the pandemic is a great time for catalog because everybody’s at home.”

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Save their money and invest. [The pandemic] caught everybody by surprise. It will make everybody think about, ‘Do I buy that Rolex watch, or do I invest it or just save it?’ Because you don’t know what the next six months has in store for you.”

Sambou “Bubba” Camara
Co-CEO/CFO, Highbridge the Label
Quincy “QP” Acheampong
Co-CEO, Highbridge the Label
Michael “Emm” Acheampong-Boateng
COO/management, Highbridge the Label

In February, Highbridge the Label star A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie released his third album, Artist 2.0, featuring collaborations with DaBaby, Khalid and Young Thug. Co-produced by QP and Bubba, it hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Rap Albums chart and No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The Bronx label’s roster includes Don Q and Trap Manny. “Start now,” says Emm, 37, offering advice to up-and-coming artists. “Build your team and get to work.”

We'll Know Change is Really Happening When: “The C-suite at labels, digital service providers, publications and radio becomes more representative of the artists that are in the business.” - Emm

Don Cannon Leighton
“Lake” Morrison Tyree
“DJ Drama” Simmons
Co-founders, Generation Now

Folahanmi Olawole
From left: Generation Now founders Lake, Drama and Cannon.

It's the late 1990s, and Southern rap music is beginning to bubble up in the mainstream. In New Orleans, Master P’s No Limit Records is gaining steam on the heels of his “Make Em Say Uhhh” and Cash Money Records is thriving on buzz from Juvenile and Lil Wayne. Memphis is entering the fray with the emergence of Three 6 Mafia. And in Atlanta, OutKast is making a bid for hip-hop’s crown, following its seminal album Aquemini. Throughout that city’s historically Black college campuses, students are looking to break into the scene — including three young men who will one day help change the sound of hip-hop.

At Clark Atlanta University, Tyree Simmons studies communication by day; by night, as DJ Drama, he crafts mixtapes with the hottest new tracks. His Clark classmate and friend Don Cannon, who’s studying business management, lives in a dorm full of aspiring rappers, so he starts honing his own DJ skills and begins producing, eventually hooking up with Drama and DJ Sense to form a crew called The Aphilliates. Just a few blocks south, at Morehouse College, Leighton “Lake” Morrison — a political science major who dreamed of being an MC since age 15 — takes a job at a nightclub, where he meets Cannon and, later, Drama.

Now, after 20 years and various jobs in the music industry, the friendship the trio built has not only survived but thrived — and it’s the foundation of their flourishing label, Generation Now. “Through us all growing in the music industry, we just kept in touch,” says Lake, 41, today over a Zoom call with his longtime friends and partners. “It turned into conversations, and conversations turned into a business.”

Read the full profile on Generation Now here.

Steve “Steve-O” Carless
A&R, Republic Records; founder, S.C. Company
Tyler Arnold
Executive vp A&R, Republic Records
Chris Blackwell
Senior vp creative content, Republic Records
Damion Presson
Senior vp artist relations, Republic Records
Marleny Reyes
Senior vp marketing, Republic Records

Republic won big this year with The Weeknd’s After Hours and Nav’s Good Intentions, both of which clinched No. 1 spots on the Billboard 200 within two weeks of release. Though the pandemic had labels scrambling to alter release dates and nix rollouts, Reyes admires her team’s gutsiness in staying the course. “We stuck to our release dates with everything going on,” she says. “It was when the world needed music the most. We tried to deliver.”

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Patience. Creating a legacy takes time, whether the initial success came overnight or it took a decade. Longevity depends on the same thing in both circumstances.” - Reyes

“Brooklyn Johnny”
Descartes CEO, District 18 Entertainment

Four years after Descartes helped Cardi B land her deal with Atlantic Records, his Bronx-raised business partner reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for the fourth time, with “WAP” (featuring Megan Thee Stallion). Cardi’s four-week reign extended her record as the female rapper with the most No. 1s in chart history. “She just killed it,” says Descartes of her work on “WAP,” which also spent three weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s new Global 200 chart.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Record, record, record and create. You can never know or reach your fullest potential unless you put in the work. Beyoncé still has to rehearse. LeBron James still has to practice.”

Courtesy Photo
Cardi B ft. Megan Thee Stallion "WAP"

Brandon “Lil Bibby” Dickinson
George “G-Money” Dickinson
Peter “Pete” Jideonwo
Partners, Grade A Productions

After the death of Juice WRLD last December, Grade A Productions worked with his mother, Carmela Wallace, to establish the Live Free 999 Fund, which supports youth programs for mental health and substance abuse. In July the label, in partnership with Interscope, released the Chicago rapper’s posthumous album, Legends Never Die, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and “cemented his place among the pantheon of the most important artists of all time,” says Jideonwo. The rapper left behind an “enormous catalog” that has helped the company, founded by brothers Lil Bibby and G-Money, work through their “collective grief in a positive way,” adds Jideonwo. “Juice was happiest when he was in the studio making music.”

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Surround yourself with a team that you can trust. It’s more beneficial than reaching outside your circle to people who might be more connected, but may not have your best career interests in mind.” - Jideonwo

Mitch Dudley
Director of label management, The Orchard
Naji Grampus
Director of urban strategy, The Orchard

The Orchard, the independent distribution division of Sony Music, continued to bolster its R&B/hip-hop roster with the October 2019 signing of West Coast rapper Baby Keem, whose “Orange Soda” went platinum, as well as top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 from Chicago rapper G Herbo (PTSD, which peaked at No. 7) and Joyner Lucas (ADHD, No. 10). Grampus, 31, also led the music industry’s fight against New York State law Section 50-A, repealed in June, which allowed law enforcement to shield police-misconduct records from the public.

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Trendsetting. Whether it’s the shoes on your feet or that new place to eat, your decision to consume was probably triggered by a line you heard in a rap or R&B song.” - Dudley

Phylicia Fant
Co-head of urban music, Columbia Records
Shawn Holiday
Co-head of urban music, Columbia Records; executive vp A&R, Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Azim Rashid
Senior vp/head of urban promotion, Columbia Records
Dave Gordon
Director of sales, urban, editorial and programming, Columbia Records

Columbia returned to a “competitive presence on the R&B/hip-hop charts,” says Rashid, noting Chloe x Halle’s first top five on R&B Digital Song Sales (“Do It”), rapper Polo G’s consecutive top 10 debuts on the Billboard 200 (Die a Legend, The GOAT) and Raphael Saadiq’s highest-charting song in the format (“Something Keeps Calling”). In June, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Columbia’s parent company, Sony Music, established a $100 million fund to support social justice reform and anti-racism initiatives. “Everyone is uncomfortable now, which is a good thing,” says Rashid, “because change — real change — requires discomfort, self-reflection and ultimately sacrifice.”

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Get financially literate. Anyone being given huge sums of money needs to understand taxes, savings and investing. After art, the second most important aspect of this business is commerce.” - Rashid

Elliot Grainge
Founder/CEO, 10K Projects

Following the success of its early breakout stars Tekashi 6ix9ine and Trippie Redd, 10K “continued to build our roster and find creative ways to help our artists build their audiences,” says Grainge, 27. “Finding the right collaborations has become a cornerstone of artist development.” The next-generation label is now striking big with its new class of charttoppers, led by iann dior, whose single with 24kGoldn, “Mood,” hit No. 1 on the Hot 100, and Internet Money, whose “Lemonade” (No. 7) has earned 220 million global streams, says Grainge. “To take this ride with Taz [Taylor of Internet Money] and [co-producer] Nick Mira in creating a brand-new artist project has really been a thrill for everyone at 10K.”

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Punk rock.”

Alan Grunblatt
President of urban music, eOne

With both new releases and catalog titles putting numbers on the board for eOne, Grunblatt’s department is having a great run. Brandy’s B7 debuted in the top 10 on both the Top R&B Albums and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts, while Blueface’s 2018 mixtape, Famous Cryp, is still paying off thanks to a deluxe version that arrived in July. Plus, upcoming releases from Juicy J, Sevyn Streeter and Latin trap artist Bryant Myers are expected in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, eOne’s catalog, which now includes Death Row Records, has earned a catalog market share of nearly 1% — putting it among the top independents — thanks to the arrival of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic on streaming services widely in April. “We are doing more mature hip-hop, R&B and Latin, and we are even doing an [audiovisual] comedy project with Lil Duval,” says Grunblatt. “Being diverse is our twist.”

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Do it on your own, at least in the beginning. Learn the business, and start your own fan base, no matter how small.”

Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Brandy

Ethiopia Habtemariam
President, Motown Records; executive vp, Capitol Music Group
Gelareh Rouzbehani
VP A&R, Motown/Capitol Music Group; founder, Rouz Group

In addition to co-launching Motown Records U.K. with EMI Records president Rebecca Allen in September, Habtemariam oversaw a busy year for the legendary label. Highlights included a successful partnership with Atlanta-based Quality Control Music, home to Lil Baby, whose My Turn debuted atop the Billboard 200 in March and returned to No. 1 in June after the release of a deluxe edition. R&B soul singer Kem returned with his first Motown album in six years, which yielded the smash “Lie to Me,” his first chart-topper on Adult R&B Songs in over five years. Rouzbehani has joined Motown and Capitol Music Group in an A&R role, while songwriters she represents through her Rouz Group worked on hits from Drake and Future (the “Life Is Good” remix) and Megan Thee Stallion (Suga) this year.

Tiara Hargrave
GM, Alamo Records
Nigel Talley
VP A&R, Alamo Records

At Alamo, launched in 2016 by Todd Moscowitz (who previously co-founded 300 Entertainment), Hargrave and Talley helped drive the success of Rod Wave (Pray 4 Love) and Lil Durk (Just Cause Y’all Waited 2), both of whom debuted in the top five of the Billboard 200, while Houston singer-songwriter Trevor Daniel’s 2018 TikTok-propelled emo smash “Falling” has racked up 629 million U.S. streams. Overall, Alamo has released three top 25 Hot 100 hits and 12 total entries, according to the label.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Having more women executives, specifically women of color, in the corporate ranks. We are still hearing words like ‘first African American.’ ” - Hargrave

Jeffrey Harleston
Interim chairman/CEO, Def Jam Recordings; general counsel/executive vp business and legal affairs, Universal Music Group
Rich Isaacson
Executive vp/GM, Def Jam Recordings
Nicki Farag
Executive vp/head of promotion, Def Jam Recordings
Dominick Mormile
Executive vp, West Coast, Def Jam Recordings
Rodney Shealey
Executive vp, Def Jam Recordings

Harleston assumed the Def Jam helm in February, without giving up his role as UMG’s top lawyer. In between delivering chart-topping albums from Justin Bieber, Jhené Aiko, Teyana Taylor, Logic and Big Sean, Def Jam used its social media platforms to log over 5.5 million impressions for internal task force Def Jam Forward’s voter education and registration initiatives. “Our significant accomplishment since the pandemic,” says Harleston, “has been watching this company come together as a team and as a family.”

We Know Change is Really Happening Because: “The representation of Black executives at companies like mine has shown a significant increase. I’m talking about senior positions, with creative and [profit and loss] responsibility, reporting lines and real authority.” - Harleston

Mark Hill
Head of urban, Create Music Group

R&B/hip-hop already accounted for a third of Create Music Group’s estimated $100 million in annual revenue. But in 2020, Hill’s division took its marketing capabilities to the next level with two big records: Tekashi 6ix9ine’s single “Trollz” (featuring Nicki Minaj), which debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100 while the album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 in September, and Tory Lanez’s DAYSTAR, which debuted at No. 10. Meanwhile, Create is still helping build DJ Chose’s “Thick” (featuring Beatking), which has racked up 31.2 million U.S. streams. Essentially, says Hill, Create is showing what an indie distributor can accomplish: “To reach No. 1 on the Hot 100, distributed by a fully independent company, we are proving that we can put something at the highest level.”

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Brand and advertising dollars. Major brands need to give more respect to hip-hop the way they do to other genres’ artists in presenting opportunities.”

Avalon/PYMCA/Gonzales Photo/Per Lange/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Tekashi 6ix9ine

Jaha Johnson
Head of A&R, Hitco Entertainment

After songwriter SAINt JHN’s single “Roses” came out independently in 2016, Johnson, 45, signed him to Hitco. A 2019 remix of “Roses” by DJ Imanbek steadily bloomed into a No. 4 peak on the Hot 100 and a No. 1 spot on Hot Dance/Electronic Songs. The track also earned the distinction as the longest-running No. 1 on Shazam’s Top 200 Global chart. No surprise, then, that Johnson says his power move of 2020 was “discovering and signing SAINt JHN,” giving the company its biggest hit to date. Hitco also has another star on the rise in Yella Beezy, whose 2019 single “Bacc at It Again” featured Quavo and Gucci Mane.

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Honesty.”

Michael Kyser
President of Black music, Atlantic Records
Juliette Jones
Executive vp urban promotion, Atlantic Records
Lanre Gaba
GM/senior vp A&R, Black music, Atlantic Records
Kevin Holiday
Senior vp urban promotion, Atlantic Records
Dallas Martin
Senior vp A&R, Atlantic Records

Atlantic has had success this year on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and the Billboard 200 with Roddy Ricch, Meek Mill, Gucci Mane, Lizzo, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Cordae and Lil Uzi Vert, among others. And then there’s the phenomenon of “WAP” from Atlantic’s Cardi B and 300 Entertainment’s Megan Thee Stallion. The song debuted in August at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming just the 42nd song to debut atop the chart. It also racked up the most first-week streams ever (93 million), the most weekly streams of 2020 and the biggest sales week for any song in over a year.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Read Donald Passman’s All You Need To Know About the Music Business.” - Gaba

Kevin Liles
Co-founder/CEO, 300 Entertainment
Rayna Bass
Senior vp marketing, 300 Entertainment
Selim Bouab
Head of A&R, 300 Entertainment
Leesa Brunson-Boland
Senior vp, head of A&R operations and A&R administration, 300 Entertainment
Mark Robinson
General counsel, 300 Entertainment
Geoff Ogunlesi
VP A&R, 300 Entertainment; vp, YSL Records

(See Executive of the Year section above.)

C.C. McClendon
Executive, 12Tone Music

During the past year, McClendon has worked with Aftermath Entertainment and Full Stop Management to help build on the chart success of Anderson .Paak, who won the Grammy Award for best R&B album in January for Ventura, his second 12Tone release in six months. In 2019, 12Tone saw .Paak’s album reach No. 4 on the Billboard 200. “We added to his radio chart achievements and expanded his format acceptance,” says McClendon, as the artist’s “Make It Better” (featuring Smokey Robinson) hit No. 2 on the Adult R&B Songs airplay chart in October 2019.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Lack of diversity. [Minority] executives need the opportunity to be heard and have their opinions carry equal weight.”

Dijon “Mustard” McFarlane
Founder, 10 Summers Records
Meko Yohannes
Co-founder, 10 Summers Records; manager, Mustard & Ella Mai

It has been a promising year for 10 Summers, the label artist-producer Mustard co-founded with Yohannes, 35, who also manages Mustard and Ella Mai. Coming off a successful 2019 — which included launching the sold-out Summersfest in Los Angeles and Mai’s Grammy-nominated debut album going platinum — “we made a conscious decision to keep our foot on the gas into the new year,” says Yohannes, noting that Mustard’s Grammy-nominated hit “Ballin’ ” (with Roddy Ricch) went quadruple-platinum in March while his Perfect Ten album is now platinum.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Individuality. R&B is a specific genre, and hip-hop is a different genre. Though they live in similar spaces, it’s important artists feel free to be just one or the other.” - Mustard

Julian Petty
Executive vp, head of business and legal affairs, Warner Records
Chris Atlas
Executive vp, urban music and marketing, Warner Records
Norva Denton
Senior vp A&R, Warner Records

Petty joined Warner Records in 2019 after spending 15 years in private practice and helped build the label’s R&B/hip-hop roster by negotiating the signings of Freddie Gibbs, Lil Zay Osama, Chika and NLE Choppa. Atlas has guided the returns of Saweetie and Wale, as well as shepherding Choppa’s label debut, Top Shotta, and his singles “Walk Em Down” and “Camelot.” Denton helped bring Freddie Gibbs to Warner and co-produced Wale’s “On Chill” (featuring Jeremih), which reached No. 22 on the Hot 100.

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Dominant.” - Atlas

Mark Pitts
President of urban music, RCA Records; CEO, ByStorm Entertainment
Tunji Balogun
Executive vp A&R, RCA Records; co-founder, Keep Cool
Geo Bivins
Executive vp urban promotion, RCA Records
Carolyn Williams
Executive vp marketing, RCA Records
Camille Yorrick
Executive vp creative content, RCA Records

Chris Brown’s “No Guidance” broke the record for longest-running No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart at 27 weeks, besting the mark set by Miguel’s “Adorn,” another RCA hit. And the breakout success of Doja Cat, whose Hot Pink moved 848,000 equivalent album units seven years after she signed to RCA at age 17, is an example of the label’s faith in artist development — but for Pitts it’s also part of a crucial cultural shift. “All the women artists and MCs that are coming to life — I haven’t seen that since [Queen] Latifah and Monie Love,” he says. “And us having three of them — Doja Cat, Flo Milli and Mulatto — we’re having a great year.”

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Not being able to perform. R&B — I want to hear it, but I also need to feel it, see it. And hip-hop is suffering because a lot of records you don’t get until you’re in the club. You need to hear that bottom, that bass vibrating on your back.” - Pitts

Kevin Winter/BBMA2020/Getty Images for dcp
Doja Cat

Sylvia Rhone
Chairman/CEO, Epic Records
Traci Adams
Executive vp promotion, Epic Records
Ezekiel Lewis
Executive vp, head of A&R, Epic Records
Ericka Coulter
VP A&R, Epic Records
Jennifer Goicoechea
VP A&R, Epic Records

Rhone’s Epic team kicked off 2020 with Future’s multiplatinum “Life Is Good” from High Off Life, his seventh No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. Meanwhile, the ever-prolific Travis Scott’s “Highest in the Room,” “The Scotts” (with Kid Cudi) and “Franchise” (featuring Young Thug and M.I.A.) all debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100, making Scott the only artist to have three songs debut atop the Hot 100 in under a year. And 21 Savage, who in January won the best rap song Grammy for “A Lot,” debuted atop the Billboard 200 with his Metro Boomin collaborative album, Savage Mode II, in October, bookending a highlight-filled year for the label.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Don’t be afraid to bring 100% honesty to your art, even if it makes you vulnerable. The tentacles of ‘truth-telling’ are far-reaching, and people relate greatly to authenticity.” - Lewis

Arnold Taylor
CEO, South Coast Music Group
Daud Carter
Executive vp, South Coast Music Group; CEO, Social Currency Enterprises

Interscope partner South Coast Music Group became a major player in 2019 when DaBaby earned his first Billboard 200 No. 1 album with Kirk and a top 10 single on the Hot 100 with “Suge.” This year, the MC solidified his standing among rap’s elite by notching his second consecutive No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with Blame It on Baby, then dominated the summer when his first Hot 100 No. 1, “Rockstar” (featuring Roddy Ricch), ruled the chart for seven total weeks and earned the title of Billboard’s Song of the Summer. South Coast’s Toosii is also gaining steam after his Poetic Pain debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 in September. Rising on the roster: Blacc Zacc, TiaCorine and Big Mali.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Artists not knowing the business and not knowing their value. We have to bring attention to the fact that the industry needs artists just as bad as artists need the industry.” - Taylor

Pierre “P” Thomas
CEO, Quality Control Music
Kevin “Coach K” Lee
COO, Quality Control Music

The Atlanta-based label and management firm is coming off three straight years of global sales that have already topped $134 million, according to Thomas, with 2020 keeping that hot streak alive. In February, the company released Lil Baby’s My Turn, the most-streamed album of 2020 so far, while the MC’s nine top 10s on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs has solidified his status as Quality Control’s newest A-list act, following the label’s chart-topping success in 2017 and 2018 with Migos. “We take pride in all the hard work it took to develop him into the superstar that we always knew he would be,” says Thomas.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Understand that it takes a strong team to win. Nobody got successful alone.” - Thomas

Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith
Founder/CEO, Top Dawg Entertainment
Terrence “Punch” Henderson
President, Top Dawg Entertainment

Top Dawg’s top stars Kendrick Lamar and SZA each have new music on the way: In September, Lamar was spotted on the set of a new music video, while SZA’s latest single, “Hit Different” (featuring Ty Dolla $ign), peaked at No. 29 on the Hot 100. After COVID-19 struck, Tiffith’s priorities shifted to “staying alive and keeping my family safe," he says. He also stepped in to cover rent for over 300 families in Los Angeles’ Watts public housing community, where he once lived. “This virus is killing a lot of people; racist cops [are] out here killing unarmed Black men and women,” he says. “So yeah, staying alive is the biggest accomplishment this year.”

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Global. We are the most imitated culture in the world.” - Tiffith

Jeff Vaughn
President, Capitol Records
Bill Evans
Senior vp urban promotion, Capitol Records
Britney Davis
VP artist relations, marketing and special projects, Capitol Music Group

Quality Control/Motown artist Lil Baby is hitting a career peak this year, with nine top 10 hits on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart — with one, “The Bigger Picture,” reaching No. 3 on the Hot 100 — and My Turn becoming his first album to top the Billboard 200, spending five weeks at the summit. But Evans also points to Kem, whose “Lie to Me” topped the Adult R&B Songs chart, as a particular point of success. “The industry needs to publicly acknowledge that Black music is the biggest driving force in the business,” he says, “and has been for some time.”

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Try to maintain some sense of responsibility in your creativity. You don’t have to be a role model, but especially during these times, be conscious of your audience and the influence you have on them.” - Evans

Steven Victor
CEO, Victor Victor Worldwide; senior vp A&R, Universal Music Group

In July, Victor Victor Worldwide released Pop Smoke’s posthumous debut album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, after the rapper’s death in a home shooting in February. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, sent all 19 of its tracks onto the Hot 100 and has since logged 2.1 billion streams — part of the rapper’s 3.7 billion career total.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Be about making great art. You’ll inspire others to do the same.”

Bryan “Birdman” Williams
Ronald “Slim” Williams
Co-founders/co-CEOs, Cash Money Records

This year, the Williams brothers tended to the legacy of their label and their hometown of New Orleans. In June, they committed over $250,000 to paying the rent of people in subsidized housing. The brothers were also featured in the fourpart Spotify docuseries New Cash Order and recently signed Fat Yunginn, Casper Bluff, EZ Stevie aka DJ Stevie J and G-Baby to their roster, while their label’s catalog racked up 10.3 million album consumption units.

The Song That Inspires Me: “ ‘Bling Bling’ by B.G. It was bigger than a song — the message was, ‘There is nothing you can’t do.’ The song is about opportunity and aspiration. It says that all things are possible.” - Slim

Nicole Wyskoarko
Executive vp/co-head of A&R, Interscope Geffen A&M
Tim Glover
Senior vp A&R, Interscope Geffen A&M
Caroline Diaz
VP A&R, Interscope Geffen A&M
Laura Carter
Senior vp/head of urban marketing, Interscope Geffen A&M
Ramon Alvarez-Smikle
Senior director of digital and content marketing, Interscope Geffen A&M

IGA had a year marked by highlights and bittersweet moments, including the death of rising star Juice WRLD last December. DaBaby spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 with “Rockstar” — finishing atop Billboard’s Songs of the Summer chart — and snared consecutive No. 1 albums with Kirk and Blame It on Baby, while Juice’s posthumous third album, Legends Never Die, also debuted at No. 1 in July. “There is an enormous responsibility that comes with assembling a posthumous project and releasing it in a way that’s appropriate and befitting,” says Wyskoarko. “Juice’s kindness, emotional honesty and genius musical ability still shine so brightly.”

We'll Know Change is Really Happening When: “Our industry comes together to take responsibility and begin the hard work it takes to create meaningful, lasting, systemic and systematic change. We’ve taken the first steps, but significant change is not an overnight thing; it’s a long process, and we have to be resolute and steadfast in our commitment.” - Wyskoarko

Tunde Balogun
Co-founder/president, LVRN
Junia Abaidoo
Co-founder/head of operations and touring, LVRN
Justice Baiden
Co-founder/head of A&R, LVRN
Sean “Famoso” McNichol
Co-founder/head of marketing and brand partnerships, LVRN
Carlon Ramong
Co-founder/creative director, LVRN

LVRN has emerged as a consistent powerhouse in R&B with the continued success of 6LACK and the rise of Summer Walker, in partnership with Interscope Records. Last year, Walker debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with her first album, Over It, while her singles “Girls Need Love,” “Playing Games” and “Come Thru” reached the top five of the Hot R&B Songs chart. But in addition to music, establishing a mental health division within the company and fighting for social justice remain top priorities for the Atlanta-based creative collective. “Though there continues to be indisputable racial and representation issues in the music industry,” says McNichol, 31, “I find it much too hard to focus on that while our brothers and sisters are still being shot in the streets.”

The Song That Inspires Me: “Lauryn Hill’s ‘To Zion.’ Lyrically, it takes you to a place where you know you’re not alone and you can always shape your future.” - Baiden

Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter
Founder, Roc Nation
Desiree Perez
CEO, Roc Nation
Jay Brown
Vice chairman, Roc Nation

Roc Nation’s Megan Thee Stallion is “blossoming into a superstar,” says Perez in the wake of the artist’s two No. 1s on the Hot 100: “Savage,” on which she’s the lead artist, and Cardi B’s “WAP,” where she’s the featured vocalist. Meanwhile, Roc Nation management clients Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey both scored with their respective new memoirs, More Myself and The Meaning of Mariah Carey, the latter hitting No. 1 on The New York Times’ nonfiction bestsellers list. The company struck deals with the NFL and the U.S. Open to serve as cultural advisers on social justice issues, and label co-presidents Shari Bryant and Omar Grant curated a compilation album to support such causes, Reprise: A Roc Nation Album, featuring Rapsody, Vic Mensa and Jorja Smith.

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Strength.” - Perez

Chance the Rapper
Owner, Chance the Rapper LLC

Chance has achieved preeminence as an artist, advocate, entrepreneur and philanthropist. When the three-time Grammy winner isn’t dropping his feel-good lyricism, overseeing designs for his “3” hat line or kicking up dust on social media with bold political and social views, the 27-year-old is fighting for his people. The most important issue for R&B/hip-hop, he says, is “independence and liberation for artists and their craft and in the business. Black artists are in the same position in the music industry that we were when we created rock’n’roll, jazz and the blues.” When will he know things are finally changing? “When I see artists becoming part-owners of their labels and the streaming platforms and when we see the end of imprint deals,” he says.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Don’t sell ownership of any of your [intellectual property] to anybody, and work off licenses and handshake deals.”

J. Cole
Co-founder, Dreamville
Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad
Co-founder, Dreamville; manager, J. Cole

Although the second Dreamville Festival in Raleigh, N.C. — which was on track to sell out 50,000 tickets (10,000 more than its first year) — was canceled due to the pandemic, the Dreamville label started 2020 on a high note with two Grammy nominations: best rap album, for its Billboard 200 No. 1 label showcase/compilation album Revenge of the Dreamers III, and best rap performance, for the track “Down Bad” (by JID, Bas, EarthGang, Young Nudy and J. Cole). “The platform [that the album] built, not just for our artists but other artists, is one of the things we’re most proud of,” says Hamad, 36.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “This is going to sound cheesy, but to make music that is true to who they are and excites them, and not what they think is going to get them on playlists or be the easiest way for them to cut through.” - Hamad

Jocelyn Cooper
Partner, Multiply Creative/Afropunk

Cooper has been a partner in the media and live-music brand Afropunk for a decade, helping turn its flagship festival into a cultural cornerstone of the neosoul and hip-hop worlds. The event went virtual in 2020 due to the pandemic with an event called Planet Afropunk, featuring pretaped performances from around the globe. (Cooper stepped down from day-to-day involvement in Afropunk in April.) Meanwhile, through her marketing and advertising agency, Multiply Creative, she co-produced the Your Voice, Your Power, Your Vote civic campaign for Sony Music, which brought in over 80 artists from all genres to foster voter participation in the U.S. elections and equal rights in the country.

The Song That Inspires Me: “Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright.’ Every revolution needs a soundtrack.”

Ghazi
Founder/CEO, EMPIRE
Nima Etminan
COO, EMPIRE
Al “Butter” McLean
VP worldwide creative, EMPIRE

EMPIRE celebrated its 10th anniversary this year by opening a new, 10,000-square-foot studio in downtown San Francisco; acquiring a majority stake in merch/e-commerce company Top Drawer Merch/Electric Family; partnering with Instagram on two original-content shows; and launching a publishing division headed by McLean, formerly of Kobalt Music. But it was Money Man’s “24” that provided the year’s highlight. Released at the start of the pandemic, the track earned the rapper his first Hot 100 chart entry, picked up a remix from Lil Baby and became a “streaming monster,” says Ghazi. “It’s a testament to our team’s ingenuity.”

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Real estate. There are so many artists that don’t necessarily have a formal place to be playlisted or grouped into.” - Ghazi

Aubrey “Drake” Graham
Co-founder, OVO/OVO Sound
Noah “40” Shebib
Co-founder, OVO/OVO Sound; producer
Oliver El-Khatib
Co-founder, OVO/OVO Sound
Mr. Morgan
President, OVO Sound

In May, OVO steered the release of Drake’s mixtape Dark Lane Demo Tapes, which included his latest TikTok dance-assisted hit, “Toosie Slide.” The song debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100, his third to do so, making him the first male artist to ever achieve the chart trifecta. The Toronto powerhouse OVO continues to shape-shift outside of music, with projects including a clothing line with Japanese designer BAPE and an Air Force 1 sneaker with Nike set to debut in 2021. Meanwhile, OVO artist PartyNextDoor reached the top 10 of the Hot R&B Songs chart four times in the past year, including collaborations with Rihanna (“Believe It,” No. 4) and Trippie Redd (“Excitement!,” No. 8).

Adam Leber
Partner, Maverick; president, Rebel Management

The success of Labrinth, Leber’s management client of six years, has been a high point of the past year. The British R&B singer-songwriter won an Emmy Award in September for outstanding original music and lyrics for “All for Us,” his collaboration with Zendaya, for HBO’s Euphoria. He also earned an Academy Award nomination co-writing and co-producing Beyoncé’s “Spirit” from The Lion King: The Gift. Leber himself scored an Emmy nod for best music supervision for his work on Euphoria. And following the record-breaking Hot 100 success with "Old Town Road" by client Lil Nas X, the musician has now partnered with brands such as Gucci, Fenty Skin and Calvin Klein.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Get a great, reputable lawyer who knows entertainment and surround yourself with a team that truly has your best interests at heart. Take your time and do your homework before making any big decision.”

Tim Reid
Senior vp repertoire and marketing, recorded music, BMG
Raj Jadeja
VP creative, BMG

As BMG builds its business “together with the R&B and hip-hop creative community,” says Reid, the company has notched four No. 1s on the Adult R&B chart with hits from Ledisi (“Anything for You”), India.Arie (“Steady Love”) and Charlie Wilson (“One I Got,” “Forever Valentine”), while BMG and its hip-hop imprint, RBC Records, under Brian Shafton, had “tremendous, global success” with releases from rap duo Run the Jewels and British rapper KSI. Other label signings include Anthony Hamilton, Keyshia Cole and Terrace Martin, as BMG aims to be the home for artists “who want to build their own empire on a global scale,” says Reid. Jadeja has played a role in new publishing deals for the works of 21 Savage, DJ Khaled and the late Juice WRLD.

The Song That Inspires Me: “Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DNA.’ It speaks to the internal strength and focus necessary to overcome challenges and highlights the root of our inspiration.” - Reid

Gee Roberson
Co-CEO, The Blueprint Group; partner, Maverick
Cortez “Tez” Bryant
Co-CEO, The Blueprint Group; partner, Maverick
Jean Nelson
CEO, BPG Records; partner, The Blueprint Group
Al Branch
Chief marketing officer/partner, The Blueprint Group

The Blueprint Group management firm has achieved multipronged success for its stand-alone label BPG Music and its roster of chart-topping artists. G-Eazy and former labelmate Lil Wayne each performed during Monday Night Football halftime shows. After holding No. 1 on the Hot 100 for a record-setting 19 weeks in 2019 with “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X struck partnerships with brands including Gucci, Fenty Skin and Calvin Klein. The Young Money apparel brand closed a deal with American Eagle clothing stores. And Blueprint partnered with Trippie Redd managers Charlene Bryant and Peter Jideonwo and launched the distribution venture Blueprint Distro this year.

Steve Stoute
Founder/CEO, UnitedMasters/Translation

At UnitedMasters, “we are focused on making independence a reality for artists who want to retain full control over their careers,” says Stoute. “Our deals with TikTok, ESPN, Twitch, NBA 2K, Bose and more all provide our artists opportunities that independents haven’t had access to before.” During the past 10 months, he adds, the size of UnitedMasters’ roster grew 250%.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Ownership. Artists want control over their financial and creative futures and you’re hearing the calls get louder and louder, with Kanye [West] being the latest to speak out. The business model is changing, and independence is the future.”

Fee Banks
CEO, Good Money Global

This year, Banks’ Good Money Global — the company behind YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s three No. 1 albums in 12 months — partnered with Interscope Records, a major move for the longtime Louisiana-based executive, who got his start in the business at age 13 and has worked with Lil Wayne and Kevin Gates over the years. But this has been his most successful run yet, as Atlantic artist YoungBoy topped a slew of charts — including the Artist 100, the Hot 100 Songwriters, Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Top Rap Albums — and ended 2019 as the No. 1 artist on YouTube in the United States.

The Song That Inspires Me: “ ‘No More Pain’ by 2Pac. I turn to 2Pac because I feel he had great intentions, a message in the madness. He was ambitious and a leader.”

Charlene Bryant
Founder, Riveter Management

Bryant soft-launched Riveter Management in January after working with client Trippie Redd since 2018, and saw his album Pegasus debut in November at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The release racked up 60,000 equivalent album units during its first week. “Artists in the R&B/hip-hop genre are not getting the same accolades as artists in other genres, although it’s the highest-streamed genre in the U.S.,” says Bryant.

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Life.”

Kareem “Biggs” Burke
CEO, Circle of Success Management

Burke, who co-founded Roc-A-Fella Records with Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter and Damon “Dame” Dash but stepped away from the music industry over a decade ago, returned in 2019 to manage SAINt JHN, who has since achieved 999 million career streams and reached No. 4 on the Hot 100 with “Roses” in July. “Finding the same excitement I once had at the inception of the careers of JAY-Z and Kanye West in the work I’m doing with SAINt JHN is somewhat of a full-circle personal success of mine,” says Burke, who executive-produced the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Lack of ownership, coupled with lack of diversity at an executive level. We need to see more Black executives handling Black business. We need to support Black ownership at all costs.”

Daniel “Birdman Zoe” Desir
Founder/CEO, Timeless Music Entertainment

In August, the creative collective Internet Money, led by producer Taz Taylor, dropped its debut album, B4 the Storm, while its single “Lemonade” (featuring Don Toliver, Gunna and Nav) reached No. 10 on the Hot 100. For Desir, 33, the album’s release was one of his “best accomplishments” as a manager, “because I knew what it took from all parties involved — label, management, legal and production — to get it across the finish line and for us to be witnessing the success that it’s bringing in such a short period of time since its release.” Desir also managed the producers of tracks from Juice WRLD, Drake, Lil Tecca and YoungBoy Never Broke Again, among others.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Leadership — because most artists have no real guidance or people they can call to help navigate them in the industry.”

Dre London
Founder/CEO, London Entertainment

London’s marquee management client Post Malone was nominated for 16 Billboard Music Awards in 2020 and took home nine, including top artist. “When your artist gets that, it’s hard to not remember,” says London, who also reps emerging talent Tyla Yaweh and recent signee Tyga. His latest venture is a push into tech with AUX Live, a subscription-based platform that allows musicians and content creators to perform globally with “one-off curated shows” and “a catalog of past performances from artists that people from all ages can enjoy,” he says. “Pandemic or no pandemic, the Dre London business is moving.”

We'll Know Change is Really Happening When: “People of color don’t have to prove to a white guy why [our culture] is the future. All they care about is data. Music is felt and touches you in your soul, but data can’t.”

Josh Marshall
Founder/CEO, Mogul Vision Music

In 2019, Marshall launched his Mogul Vision label as a joint venture with Arista Records and acts including Cleveland singer KennyHoopla and Atlanta rapper Blaatina. But the artist-manager, who represents Lil Mosey and Smokepurpp, says he’ll always remember his “first top 10 hit” — Mosey’s “Blueberry Faygo,” which reached No. 8 on the Hot 100 in July. The breakout track also inspired the first release from Marshall’s new beverage company, Flavr, which he established during quarantine. “Although I’ve accomplished what some would say is a lot, I still believe I’m only 50% away from where I ultimately want to be,” says Marshall. “The glass is half full.”

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Collaboration and community are the keys to growth on the creative and executive sides of things. Our culture is so much stronger together.”

Jeff Robinson
Founder/chairman, MBK Entertainment
Jeanine McLean-Williams
President, MBK Entertainment

While the pandemic has created “one of the worst circumstances” for breaking artists, says Robinson, MBK has thrived thanks to its partnership with RCA and success of management clients including H.E.R., who earned “10 Grammy nominations and two wins in two years of EPs,” he says. McLean-Williams steered the R&B singer’s Instagram live series, Girls With Guitars, which featured Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge and Alessia Cara; secured artist branding deals with Tommy Hilfiger, DIFF charitable eyewear, adidas and Beats; and played a role in co-creating H.E.R.’s annual Lights On Festival. Recent performances at the Grammys, Academy Awards and Emmys have only further propelled the multi-instrumentalist. “We have managed to touch every huge stage in this business,” says Robinson. “All at 23 years old and with no debut album.”

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “We are driving the music business currently, and we must demand our proper respect and representation in setting up the new and improved music model.” - Robinson

Paul Rosenberg
CEO, Goliath Artists/Goliath Records; president, Shady Records

Rosenberg’s longtime client Eminem made history with his surprise release Music To Be Murdered By, which in February extended his record to 10 straight No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200. The following month, Rosenberg, 49, stepped down as chairman/CEO of Def Jam to launch Goliath Records, a joint venture with Universal Music Group, and reprioritize his Shady Records and Goliath Management businesses. He’s also making headway with Shady newcomer Westside Gunn, who released his debut album, Who Made the Sunshine, in October. “Early critical response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Rosenberg.

The Song That Inspires Me: “ ‘Push It Along’ by A Tribe Called Quest has been my mantra because of its clear message to persist and be brave.”

Anthony Saleh
Partner/CEO, Emagen Entertainment Group
Ebonie Ward
Partner, Emagen Entertainment Group

“The stars kind of just aligned,” says Ward of Emagen’s latest success stories: Both Gunna’s Wunna and Future’s High Off Life hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in May, while the latter’s “Life Is Good” with Drake reached No. 2 on the Hot 100. Wunna arrived just a few days prior to George Floyd’s death, which made the Atlanta rapper reluctant to promote the record, says Ward: “He wanted to go and do marches and be an advocate for where we are in the world.”

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Government accountability, transparency and corruption. COVID-19 and systemic racism and racial injustice are in the forefront of the hearts and minds of millions.” Ward

Wassim “Sal” Slaiby
Founder/CEO, SAL&CO/XO RECORDS
Amir “Cash” Esmailian
Co-founder, XO RECORDS

Amid the pandemic, Slaiby and his team at Sal&Co have had one of their best years to date. The Weeknd released his massively successful album After Hours on XO Records just as lockdowns began, with the hit single “Blinding Lights” breaking the record for number of weeks spent in the top five of the Hot 100, with 28. Doja Cat reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 with her Nicki Minaj collaboration “Say So,” while Nav’s Good Intentions topped the Billboard 200. But closest to Slaiby’s heart is the $1.2 million in relief money the company raised for his home country of Lebanon following the massive explosion in Beirut in August.

The Song That Inspires Me: “ ‘Came From Nothing’ by Belly. It reminds me of when we had nothing and the struggle I went through to make it with my team.” - Slaiby

David Stromberg
GM, Cactus Jack; manager, Travis Scott

Travis Scott’s three No. 1 debuts on the Hot 100 in under a year set a record among all artists, but it was just one highlight of a productive year for the Houston MC. While many artists shuffled to Instagram Live for impromptu performances and fan interaction during the pandemic, Scott headlined a virtual stage of his own on Fortnite, where 27.7 million players from around the world saw his “Astronomical” performance in April. Stromberg was satisfied with the team’s innovation, especially during an unprecedented industry downturn. “Bringing kids hope and entertainment during such a dark time is something I’ll always be proud of,” he says.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Redoing antiquated deals and giving artists back control of their catalogs and content. We need to eradicate predatory contracts that have taken advantage of artists since the inception of the music industry and somehow still exist.”

Abou “Bu” Thiam
Founder, BuVision Entertainment

Thiam had a new role to celebrate in the past year, becoming Kanye West’s manager and overseeing the lightning-rod artist’s gospel debut, Jesus Is King, which brought West nine nominations and four wins at the Billboard Music Awards in October and became his ninth No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. “Prior to making the album, no one thought we would be able to achieve the success we did in the genre,” says Thiam. “Whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish, it was a good feeling to see people praising God.”

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Reconciliation. Black music drives 60% to 70% of the front-line music business any given quarter. So it’s about time the artists and the executives in the space get their just due.”

Tuma Basa
Director of Black music and culture, YouTube
Kathy Baker
Head of U.S. label relations, YouTube
Rachel Jackson
Artist relations manager, YouTube
Brittany Lewis
Artist relations manager, YouTube
Jessica Rivera
Head of artist relations (West Coast), YouTube

The video streaming platform reports that hip-hop acts are among the top “most viewed” artists on YouTube in the United States this year. Basa and team have leveraged that with an impressive slate of livestreams, including The Roots Picnic 2020, Tory Lanez’s Social Distancing Tour, the live premiere of Cardi B’s “WAP” (featuring Megan Thee Stallion), Gunna’s Wunna Live in LA and Aminé’s live performance of his new album, Limbo. In January (when in-person galas were still possible), YouTube’s Music Leaders and Legends Ball commemorated the 30th anniversary of LaFace Records with leading R&B/hip-hop executives and musicians. Following the protests in June, Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” returned to YouTube’s U.S. and global Top Songs tallies and spiked on charts in over a dozen countries, according to the platform.

Caiaffa
VP major label relations, SoundCloud
Erika Montes
VP artist development & relations, SoundCloud

As the pandemic unfolded, SoundCloud saw a surge of tracks. “But behind this moving creative response was deep financial, mental and emotional uncertainty for creators,” says Caiaffa. “My team helped develop a series of support initiatives to combat the impact of the pandemic, from discounted accounts and a platform-wide ‘donate’ button to free track promotion and over $15 million in direct investment to support creators on the platform.”

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Diversity in executive suites. The industry can no longer ignore the elephant in the room.” - Caiaffa

Tim Hinshaw
Head of hip-hop and R&B, Amazon Music
Rochelle Balogun
Music curator, hip-hop and R&B, Amazon Music
Sharon Bako
R&B and Afrobeats music lead, Amazon Music

Amazon Music’s Rotation playlists, launched in 2019 for rap and R&B and steered by Hinshaw, hit No. 3 and No. 9, respectively, on the streaming service’s rankings and helped break artists like Lucky Daye and Chika this year. When Black Lives Matter demonstrations spread across the globe, curators began adding topical songs like Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture.” “Based on the work we’ve been doing with Rotation,” says Bako, “it wasn’t too far-fetched to resurface music that was speaking to what’s going on.”

The Song That Inspires Me: “ ‘Bag Lady’ by Erykah Badu. It’s a reminder you can hold space for the bad stuff without letting those things hold you down.” - Bako

Larry Jackson
Global creative director, Apple Music
Ebro Darden
Host/global editorial head of hip-hop and R&B, Apple Music

Yuri Hasegawa
From left, Larry Jackson, Alaysia Sierra, and Dionte Goodlett photographed on October 19, 2020 at Apple Music in Culver City, CA.

For Apple Music's hip-hop squad, it was a year of — as global creative director Larry Jackson puts it — leveraging “one’s influence to pour back into the proverbial cup from which we drink.”

So as Apple Music Radio continued to grow its portfolio of exclusive artist-led shows with Lil Wayne’s Young Money Radio — for which Wayne interviewed everyone from Dr. Dre to Dr. Anthony Fauci in its first 12-week season — it also gave back, with Eminem and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey announcing a $1 million donation to the Detroit Food Bank on Young Money Radio, and Apple and Wayne partnering to give $200,000 to the New Orleans Food Bank.

It also meant aligning quickly with the #TheShowMustBePaused movement, so that on June 2 all editorial on the platform was directed “toward supporting awareness of the Black community and current and past traumas, ranging from police brutality to white supremacy,” says Ebro Darden, host/global editorial head of hip-hop and R&B.

Sage East
From left, Yomi Desalu, Ebro Darden, and Karlie Hustle photographed on October 15, 2020 in New York.

Young Money Radio “was birthed out of the initial COVID-19 shelter-in-place era in late spring,” says Jackson. So was Swizz Beatz and Timbaland’s game-changing Instagram Live series Verzuz, which in July arrived on the Apple Music platform in a unique deal that calls for artist battles to be simulcast on Instagram as well as Apple Music and Beats 1, with audio of the battles then made available afterward on demand on Apple Music.

The expertise and connections of Jackson and Darden define Apple Music’s content-first approach to R&B/hip-hop. When the service brought its Rap Life playlist to the stage with a livestreamed event in September, it did so with Howard University students. Darden, who hosted the concert — which paired performances by Wale, Nas, Lil Baby and Rapsody with discussions on social justice, police reform and racial equality — said at the time that the choice of a historically Black college or university campus was crucial.

“These institutions are part of the backbone of Black communities, and hip-hop is from the Black experience,” he says, adding that Rap Life Live concerts will continue to focus on HBCUs in the future: “We believe these campuses and students should be exalted and showcased as often as possible.”

Nicole Johnson
Head of hip-hop and R&B artist marketing, Pandora

Johnson co-created Pandora’s Black Music Month campaign, highlighting artists of color, with over a billion streams and a weekly platform takeover. She also recently expanded her role to head SiriusXM’s artist marketing for R&B/hip-hop, incorporating artists like Alicia Keys and Megan Thee Stallion. Johnson brought H.E.R., Brandy and LL Cool J to Pandora’s live and virtual stages while recruiting Post Malone and Jhené Aiko to curate the Listen In playlist to comfort fans during the pandemic.

The Song That Inspires Me: “Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’ because it makes me smile to know how hard the world was when he recorded that song [in 1977], but he saw the bright side.”

Mjeema Pickett
Global head of R&B, Spotify
Carl Chery
Creative director/head of urban music, Spotify
Sydney Lopes
Head of hip-hop and R&B artist marketing, Spotify
Chaka Zulu
Consultant, Spotify

Spotify’s influential RapCaviar and Are & Be playlists celebrated their fifth anniversaries in 2020, with Are & Be expanding through the launch of Singles, a series of live and acoustic reinterpretations of hits from the genre. The Feelin’ Myself playlist, which spotlights female rappers, recently became the second-fastest-growing hip-hop song collection at nearly 930,000 followers. On Blackout Tuesday (June 2), Spotify leveraged its social and political muscle with a Black Lives Matter playlist (created in 2015) that had 6 million listeners and 20 million streams. “We’ve seen listeners go back to that playlist to find comfort and solace after George Floyd’s death,” says Pickett.

Advice For a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Even in challenging times, know that your goals and purpose are still destinations that you should strive toward.” - Pickett

Swizz Beatz
Timbaland
Co-founders/co-owners, Verzuz

“It was the perfect time,” says Timbaland of the March debut of Verzuz. The battle of the hits that he co-created with fellow hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz became a media sensation on Instagram Live and now Apple Music and Apple TV+.

Emerging out of the friendly rivalry of its creators, Verzuz has expanded from pairing producers to songwriters and then performers, comparing and presenting their classic tracks in 20-song sessions. Among the artists who have stepped up: Alicia Keys and John Legend; Snoop Dogg and DMX; Bounty Killer and Beenie Man; Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, who performed the first all-female Verzuz; and R&B queens Brandy and Monica, whose Aug. 31 matchup drew 21.9 million U.S. on-demand streams. Writer-producer Lena Waithe is already working on a Verzuz documentary.

“People say it’s a pandemic thing, but it’s beyond that,” says Timbaland. “It’s something that you look forward to; an educational piece; a social gathering.”

Nikisha Bailey
VP A&R administration and operations, Artist Partner Group
Matt MacFarlane
Senior director of A&R, Artist Partner Group
Eli Piccarreta
VP A&R, Artist Partner Group

Artist Partner Group has played a key role in some of the biggest R&B/hip-hop successes of the past 13 months through its roster of songwriters and producers. “Who doesn’t like first-place chart positions?” asks Bailey. “YoungBoy Never Broke Again having three No. 1s [on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums] is a remarkable accomplishment, and I am thrilled to have played a role alongside my APG team in his success.”

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Stay consistent. Having consistency in how you release music and content, alongside a consistent work ethic, will drive your name and career very far.” - Bailey

Rob Brown
VP business affairs, Kobalt Music

Kobalt estimates that its publishing roster accounts for over 40% of the top 100 songs in the United States and United Kingdom, including titles by The Weeknd, Gunna and Childish Gambino. Brown was a key part of the team responsible for the signing of breakout star Roddy Ricch, who secured two No. 1s on the Hot 100 in 2020 with “The Box” and DaBaby’s “Rockstar.” Brown’s latest coups include negotiating Kobalt’s deal with producer-mixer Mixx, who worked on Teyana Taylor’s The Album, which hit No. 1 on Top R&B Albums, and a creative partnership with Insecure star Issa Rae’s Raedio Publishing that includes live events, music supervision and a joint label deal with Atlantic Records.

Ian Holder
VP creative, Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Mike Jackson
VP creative, Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Adrian Nunez
VP creative, Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Will Skalmoski
Senior manager of creative, Sony/ATV Music Publishing

In the third quarter of 2020, Sony/ATV led both Billboard’s Top Radio Airplay and Hot 100 Publishers charts with market shares of 22.10% and 26.68%, respectively. The latter gains were due in part to Megan Thee Stallion’s breakout hit, “Savage,” which was co-written by Sony/ATV songwriter Bobby Sessions, as well as a remix featuring Beyoncé. Other Sony/ATV songwriters, such as DJ Frank Ski and production duo Priority Beats, contributed to two more major hits: Cardi B’s “WAP” (featuring Megan Thee Stallion) and Lil Baby’s My Turn.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Follow your passion and stay coachable always.” - Jackson

Walter Jones
Co-head of A&R, Universal Music Publishing Group
Ari Gelaw
Manager of A&R, Universal Music Publishing Group
James Supreme
Senior manager of A&R, Universal Music Publishing Group

UMPG’s hip-hop roster is celebrating “great chart success” this year, says Jones. DaBaby earned his first Hot 100 No. 1 with “Rockstar” (featuring Roddy Ricch); Megan Thee Stallion teamed with Cardi B on “WAP,” the first female rap collaboration to debut atop the Hot 100; and Lil Baby’s Billboard 200-topping album My Turn helped the rapper log 61 career Hot 100 hits. UMPG also had continued success from producers like Cardiak (PartyNextDoor’s long-awaited PartyMobile), Cardo (Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later”) and Hit-Boy (Nas’ King’s Disease). Jones is a proud member of Universal Music Group’s new inclusion and social justice task force for meaningful change, a sign that “we are taking steps in the right direction,” he says.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Education on the deal-making process. Artists and songwriters have to know and understand how their deals work and how the partnership works.” - Jones

Brad Barket/Getty Images for 105.1
DaBaby

Tuff Morgan
VP A&R, peermusic

Morgan was promoted late last year to help guide peermusic’s A&R for pop and urban, and one of his first moves was to work with peermusic president/COO Kathy Spanberger in securing a global publishing deal for Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd, who executive-produced and co-wrote Justin Bieber’s Changes album, including the No. 2 Hot 100 single “Yummy” and No. 5 “Intentions” (featuring Quavo). Meanwhile, Roddy Ricch’s “The Box,” with a peermusic publisher’s share, enjoyed an 11-week run atop the Hot 100, while his album Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Those achievements have boosted peermusic into the top 10 of Billboard’s Publishers Quarterly rankings three times in 2020 so far.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Truly understanding the tremendous value and leverage R&B/hip-hop culture brings to any business venture around the world.”

Ryan Press
President, A&R, U.S., Warner Chappell Music
Wallace Joseph
Senior director, A&R, Warner Chappell Music
Brandra Ringo
Senior director, A&R, Warner Chappell Music

For Warner Chappell, the greatest achievement of the past year is bittersweet: Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon from the late Pop Smoke, whose estate is represented by the publisher, reached No. 1 on 14 charts around the world, says Press, including the Billboard 200, where it has spent 16 weeks and counting in the top five. Press also cites the success of SethInTheKitchen, who produced DaBaby’s “Rockstar,” which spent seven weeks atop the Hot 100, as well as Belly, who co-wrote The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” another multiweek chart-topper. “In July, we had five No. 1 songs hit the charts in the same week, which was a huge testament to our team — especially Wallace and Brandra, who have been working hard behind the scenes to sign new talent and set up sessions,” says Press.

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Powerful. It’s a complete movement that shapes culture, and I’m proud to be a part of that.” - Press

Fadia Kader
Strategic partnerships lead, music, Instagram

Sharing best social media practices with artists and partners, Kader, 38, has played an essential role in the Instagram Live experience of Timbaland and Swizz Beatz’s song-battle show, Verzuz. In August, the Brandy and Monica pairing attracted 4.2 million total views and 5 billion impressions, making it the most-viewed episode so far, says Kader. “The nostalgia factor was really high there — who doesn’t still love ‘The Boy Is Mine’? But also, we are still in a time of uncertainty and it’s helpful to know and see two beloved artists come together to celebrate, reminisce and tell stories.”

Jade Lewin
Music partnerships, Facebook

Lewin booked Big Freedia to appear in a Facebook commercial that aired during the Grammys in January. It won two awards from the Association of Music Producers, including one for best artist and brand collaboration. In February, Lewin was involved in the platform’s partnership with John Legend on an animated Facebook Watch series for Valentine’s Day. In October, she oversaw Facebook’s sponsorship and livestream partnership with the A3C Conference and Festival, which included her appearance on the panel “Bridging the Distance Through Music and Storytelling.” Says Lewin: “A3C has created such a great community around hip-hop culture and business, and it was amazing seeing the same energy come to life online for the first time.”

The Song That Inspires Me: “ ‘Together Again’ by Janet Jackson. It’s a classic that instantly lifts my spirits any time I hear it.”

Thea Mitchem
Executive vp programming, iHeartMedia; program director, WWPR (Power 105.1) New York
Doc Wynter
Executive vp urban/hip-hop programming strategy, iHeartMedia; program director, KRRL (Real 92.3) Los Angeles
Charlamagne Tha God
Co-host, The Breakfast Club, WWPR (Power 105.1), New York; co-founder of The Black Effect Podcast Network with iHeartMedia

On June 30, iHeartMedia launched the Black Information Network, described by the company as the “first and only 24/7 comprehensive national audio news service dedicated to providing an objective, accurate and trusted source of news with a Black voice and perspective.” Wynter, who has been involved in the creation of iHeartMedia radio brands in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Houston, says that “nothing was more rewarding than participating in the launch of BIN during one of the worst times in this country for Black Americans.”

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Getting our incredibly influential artists to use their platforms to help extinguish racial injustice in this country. We must use ‘the mic’ to let the world know that police brutality and systemic racism will no longer be tolerated.” Wynter

Connie Orlando
Executive vp specials, music programming and music strategy, BET Networks

Amid the pandemic, Orlando and her team staged a remarkable BET Awards in June, tapping stars like Megan Thee Stallion, Nas and Public Enemy for inventive, remotely shot performances. The event drew over 3.7 million viewers in its first-ever simulcast with CBS, with over 30 million viewers tuning in online. “Our focus is the celebration of Black culture every year, but this year we pulled out all the stops. We stood strong in our message and the world listened,” says Orlando. “Somehow, we created a show that was a true testament to the times, the culture and the people.”

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Appreciation. Whenever I step back and think about the lives this culture has changed, it never ceases to amaze me. The culture has opened doors, providing opportunities to a collage of the most creative minds the entertainment industry has seen.”

Kashon Powell
VP programming, Radio One

This year Powell and her Radio One team produced two virtual events “to address the issues we have faced,” she says. “We Are One: More Than a Hashtag was a virtual town hall that focused on the political and racial climate plaguing the African American community.” Feedback “was so positive,” she says, “that we later aired it on our TV network, TV One.” The second program, We Are One: A Night of Prayer, Unity and Healing, offered five hours of continuous prayers “for healing and unity,” says Powell, featuring nationally known faith-based leaders.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “Finding talent that can maintain relevance without being gimmicky or unauthentic. Finding one’s niche and fan base can be challenging and maintaining it even more so.”

Isabel Quinteros
Senior manager of music partnerships and artist relations, TikTok

In August, Quinteros spearheaded TikTok’s The Weeknd Experience in-app cross-reality concert (mixing real and virtual experiences), which drew over 2 million unique viewers and raised $350,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative. The project “cemented TikTok as a desirable partner to the music industry,” says Quinteros, who has also onboarded over 500 artists to the platform and launched campaigns helping to drive three Hot 100 No. 1s: Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” remix with Beyoncé (31 million TikTok creations), Doja Cat’s “Say So” (21 million) and The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” (2 million).

Reggie Rouse
VP programming Atlanta; urban format captain, Entercom; brand manager, WVEE-FM (V-103) Atlanta

Former urban format captain Rouse rose to vp in August, and his role now spans programming and brand management for 10 regional stations, including his home base, Atlanta’s V-103. His goal there is to be the No. 1 station among adults 25-54, 18-49 and 18-34 in the city’s ultra-competitive R&B/hip-hop radio market, he says: “Anything else is unacceptable.” Rouse has used his platform to educate listeners about voter registration, the U.S. Census and the presidential election. “We’re committed to educating Americans on the role we all play in sustaining our democracy,” he says.

Kenny Smoov
VP urban formats, Cumulus Media; program director/morning host, WQQK (92Q) Nashville

Cumulus promoted Smoov in 2019 to oversee 37 urban-format stations in 25 U.S. markets. He created an 8-minute, 46-second vignette that was played on all Cumulus stations coinciding with the timing of George Floyd’s funeral. It was an honor, says Smoov, “to give some final words on the day Floyd was laid to rest.” Even during the pandemic, Smoov’s team at 92Q reached the top five among listeners 25-54, with an overall 15% increase in streaming numbers for WQQK.

We'll Know Change is Really Happening When: “More artists like Lil Baby can make a song like ‘The Bigger Picture’ and it becomes a No. 1 smash, growing their fan base and reaching their audience in a meaningful way.”

Dion Summers
VP urban programming, SiriusXM
Ronnie Triana
Program director, urban music, SiriusXM
Sway Calloway
On-air personality/host, Sway in the Morning, SiriusXM

Over the past year, SiriusXM has created “some of the most compelling programming I’ve ever been involved with,” says Summers, a 15-year veteran of the satellite broadcaster, citing limited-run channels for Prince, Michael Jackson and Bob Marley, as well as extended deals with channel partners LL Cool J, Kirk Franklin and Eminem. Most of all, Summers is proud of his team’s resilience during the pandemic and what he describes as a “racial reckoning” in the United States in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Many artists, industry professionals and listeners alike are all going through the same psychological stress, which affects our livelihoods greatly,” he says. “The goal is to respect their needs as we deal with our own company directives.”

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Omnipresent. We move the world.” - Summers

Cindy Agi
Partner, WME
James Rubin
Partner, WME
Kevin Shivers
Partner, WME
Justin Nabors
Music agent, WME

While the artists on WME’s impressive R&B/hip-hop roster were off the road, the year presented opportunities for virtual showcases. Parent company Endeavor worked with Rihanna on her Savage X Fenty fashion show that premiered on Amazon Prime, with talent booked by WME. Agi, 34, called it a highlight of the year to book appearances for the spectacle by Miguel, Rosalía, Travis Scott, Lizzo, Normani and Bad Bunny. WME signings continued apace, says Agi, with Demi Lovato, Snoh Aalegra, Cordae and Andra Day among her additions to the roster. Day will have the starring role in the biographical drama The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, due next year from director Lee Daniels.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2 Presented by Amazon Prime Video
Rihanna

Anthony DiStasio
Agent, brand partnerships, Paradigm Talent Agency
Fred Zahedinia
Agent, Paradigm Talent Agency

DiStasio, who focuses on R&B/hip-hop artists for Paradigm’s brand partnership team, secured over 65 unique endorsement and sponsorship opportunities for those clients during the past two years. Zahedinia had a front-row seat to Don Toliver’s rise in early 2020, watching the rapper hit No. 7 on the Billboard 200 with his debut album, Heaven or Hell, and go from playing colleges to securing a slot on The Weeknd’s summer tour. With shows postponed until next year due to the pandemic, Zahedinia has helped his acts find other sources of revenue through branding deals and livestream performances. “It has been rewarding to pivot artists into streaming acts,” says Zahedinia, who adds that he’s now just as “interested in making streams into a unique experience for fans.”

Robert Gibbs
Partner/head of contemporary music, ICM Partners
Mari Davies
Agent, concerts, ICM Partners
Yves C. Pierre
Agent, concerts, ICM Partners
Jacqueline Reynolds-Drumm
Agent, concerts, ICM Partners

ICM Partners broke a barrier in August, when partner Gibbs rose to become the first Black music department head of a major agency. “It’s something I’m very proud of,” he says. Joining the company’s music leadership team, he hopes the move will inspire “other young people of color to want to learn more about this business and strive to be leaders.” He also seeks “more diversity in leadership roles in the live business” for clients including J. Cole, Rapsody, PartyNextDoor and Migos.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Create great music with a point of view — now more than ever people are tuned in — and you can build a loyal fan base that cares as much about the artist as they do about the music.” - Gibbs

Joe Hadley
Caroline Yim
Zach Iser
Ryan Thomson
Music agents, Creative Artists Agency

Before touring shut down, CAA client A$AP Rocky sold out arenas from Barclays Center in Brooklyn to The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., the agency reports. In late 2019, the CAA team booked Jorja Smith for sold-out shows at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and Madison Square Garden in New York. The team is continuing to grow its portfolio during the pandemic, adding Latin rapper Anuel AA and expanding the agency’s reach into Africa by bringing both developing and established artists to the continent. In June, CAA hosted the Amplify Town Hall to address systemic racism in the industry. “The discussions provided critical action steps for real and permanent change,” says Hadley, 32.

We'll Know Change is Really Happening When: “Artists start to feel more empowered in their businesses and the [companies] that they work with properly represent who they are.” - Yim

Cara Lewis
Founder/CEO, Cara Lewis Group

In the few months of concerts before the pandemic hit, Lewis launched tours including Jill Scott’s 20th-anniversary trek and a limited run for Sheck Wes and DaBaby, while Trippie Redd performed 37 sold-out headline shows on the Love Me More Tour, she says. Lewis also secured the Travis Scott and McDonald’s collaboration, the iconic brand’s first celebrity meal since Michael Jordan’s in the 1990s. “Even though it was out of my touring wheelhouse, it was an amazing opportunity that I was able to deliver and that I knew would be a huge success,” says Lewis. She’s now focused on rerouting and setting tours for 2021/2022 for Travis Scott, Eminem, Chance the Rapper, Khalid and others.

We'll Know Change is Really Happening When: “Companies truly recognize and foster the importance of investing in culture and diversity.”

Cheryl Paglierani
Partner/agent, music, UTA
Mike G
Agent, music, UTA
Chris Jordan
Agent, music, UTA

UTA represents Post Malone, and Paglierani scored a win in booking the second leg of the artist’s Runaway Tour, which sold 286,000 tickets and grossed $38.9 million over 22 shows in February and March. When the pandemic brought the tour to a halt, she booked Post Malone’s April Nirvana livestream tribute, which raised over $500,000 for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization. Paglierani and her colleagues also helped 21 Savage launch his free online financial literacy program for at-risk youth and booked Dominic Fike to perform in the Fortnite Party Royale concert series. Meanwhile, Mike G helped Young Thug develop into a headlining superstar while putting Burna Boy on a similar path. For Offset, Jordan booked Young Thug for the Offset and Friends charity livestream with Oculus and Facebook.

Tariq Cherif
Matt Zingler
Co-founders, Rolling Loud

The co-founders of the touring hip-hop festival planned to celebrate the event’s sixth year with their biggest show to date, with 255,000 tickets sold for Rolling Loud Miami in May, before the pandemic forced a delay until 2021. “But we didn’t let that hold us back,” says Cherif. The Rolling Loud Twitch channel launched Aug. 31 with weekly programming, and two weeks later, it debuted Loud Stream, a free livestream festival series whose two-day debut, headlined by Swae Lee and Ski Mask the Slump God, drew over 4.4 million viewers.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “The lack of touring and music festival money has put a magnifying glass on other aspects of the current music industry model. Artists and labels need to come together to create more equitable terms for record, co-publishing and merch deals.” - Cherif

Shawn Gee
President, Live Nation Urban; manager, The Roots, Jill Scott
Brandon Pankey
VP business development and operations, Live Nation Urban

Live Nation Urban kicked off 2020 by co-producing the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest, held in Miami in early February with DJ Khaled, DaBaby, Megan Thee Stallion and others. But the company pivoted quickly during the pandemic, shifting the annual Roots Picnic to a virtual event in partnership with the Michelle Obama co-founded organization When We All Vote and YouTube, airing an online version of Lift Every Voice: Juneteenth Special and creating a homecoming special for historically Black colleges and universities that was distributed on YouTube on Oct. 24. Live Nation Urban has produced several shows for Instagram Live, including a Meet the Execs series, for which Pankey, 36, has overseen interviews with Motown’s Ethiopia Habtemariam and Atlantic’s Juliette Jones. Meanwhile, Gee’s management clients The Roots signed a multiyear film/TV development deal with NBCUniversal TV.

Colin Lewis
VP touring, U.S. concerts, Live Nation
Heather Lowery
President/CEO, Femme It Forward
Lesley Olenik
VP touring, U.S. concerts, Live Nation

Live Nation’s R&B/hip-hop team was having a banner year before the coronavirus hit, with Lewis, 45, working on a 30-date Post Malone tour and Olenik, 40, continuing to build out the brand for Pharrell Williams’ Something in the Water festival in Virginia Beach, Va. Lowery in December was tapped to head the Live Nation joint venture Femme It Forward, a female-led music and entertainment platform. "Music is one of the biggest forces defining and evolving our collective culture — and live music especially has a unique ability to bring people from all different backgrounds to a space of common ground and unity," says Lowery. "The mission we’re building through Femme It Forward is to spotlight stories and voices to provide more equal representation for woman, people of color, and anyone who has gone underrepresented for far too long." Despite the year’s challenges, the Live Nation executives affirm the importance of their genre in this moment. “There are so many strong messages that the R&B and hip-hop industry bring to our culture,” says Lewis. “It’s important that we get back on the road and share those in person by finding new and creative ways to perform new music and stay connected to fans.”

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Power. The power to change minds, society, politics and life for those that are struggling.” - Lewis

Dominick Prieto
Talent buyer, Goldenvoice

Last November, Prieto helped book the Day N Vegas Festival, one of Goldenvoice’s biggest hip-hop events, working alongside festival creator Jeffrey Shuman. It sold out in 24 hours. Prieto also put together YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s 7,000-capacity sold-out concert at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, the budding star’s biggest show to date. Prieto has also become a key player for rising hip-hop acts as the talent buyer for The Novo, where, he says, “JAY-Z came and watched the whole show as Westside [Gunn], Conway the Machine and Benny [the Butcher] performed for three hours” in early March.

Jonny Shuman
Director of touring, AEG Presents

Before the pandemic, Shuman promoted sold-out North American tours for DaBaby and also promoted Juice WRLD before his passing. The year was filled with “the highest highs” of his career as well as “the absolute low when we lost Juice,” he says. Shuman oversees a roster that includes Summer Walker and Ski Mask the Slump God. The loss of one of his most promising young stars helped him see “how important it is to be of service to talent on and off [the tour] cycle,” he says.

Crucial Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop Music: “As uncertain as the live space feels right now, there is still a lot of important work happening every day. The industry is working diligently, preparing to bring artists and fans back safely, efficiently and successfully when conditions allow.”

Michelle Richburg
President/CEO, Richburg Enterprises

Despite the uncertainty of the pandemic, Richburg says that, since 2019, business has doubled at her firm, which provides business management services to clients including SAINt JHN and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, among others. She obtained nearly a million dollars total in COVID-19 financial relief for clients through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, as well as various other grants, while also helping clients navigate charitable spending to pandemic relief organizations.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Create the right infrastructure and a diverse team that grows— and wins— with you.”

Lou Taylor
Founder/CEO, Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group
Deedra Carroll
Director of touring, Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group

Taylor’s business management firm, Tri Star — which counts Mary J. Blige, Travis Scott, Chris Brown and the Prince estate among its clients — was one of the early partners in the Black Music Action Coalition, created in June to address racial inequities in the music business. “We need to speak up and hold each other accountable,” says Carroll, “to bring about much needed change in our industry.”

The Song That Inspires Me: “Mary J. Blige’s ‘Keep Your Head.’ This song speaks to my core belief of perseverance, keeping perspective, keeping your cool and doing what is right.” - Carroll

Catherine Brewton
VP creative, Atlanta, BMI

In June, BMI tapped Brewton to lead its diversity, equity and inclusion task force, which “established a paid volunteer program for all employees and pledged $275,000 for organizations dedicated to advancing racial justice,” she says. Other high points of her year include re-signing acts including Future, Brandy, J. Cole and Lil Wayne to the performing rights organization and the 20th anniversary of BMI’s R&B/Hip-Hop Awards, a production initiated by Brewton in 2000.

The Song That Inspires Me: “ ‘He Is’ by Brandy really speaks to me during this time of such uncertainty in the world. God is in control.”

Nicole George-Middleton
Senior vp membership, ASCAP

George-Middleton helped launch a paid internship program for students enrolled in historically Black colleges and universities in June. ASCAP — which offered five paid internships to students at Howard University, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Bennett College — committed to the program in response to “the need for more diversity in the industry and as an effort to help cultivate the next generation of Black executives,” says George-Middleton. “We provided them with real-world work experience while building their industry connections and mentor base.”

The Song That Inspires Me: “Mary J. Blige’s ‘Just Fine’ because she talks about believing in yourself no matter what, staying positive and productive, and making the very best out of life at all times.”

Sean Glover
Director of industry relations, SoundExchange

In a year “like no other,” SoundExchange continued to make monthly and quarterly payments on time without any glitches, says Glover. “The first quarter of 2020 was very scary for most performing artists as the global pandemic put an abrupt halt to touring and live shows,” he says. SoundExchange paid out almost $1 billion to rights holders last year, and half of its top 10 earners are hip-hop and R&B artists. “The pandemic will almost certainly have a lasting effect, so artists need to evolve and figure out creative ways to collaborate.”

The Word That Defines R&B/Hip-Hop Culture: “Innovative. This culture sets the standard for the world as proven by how much it is copied, adored and stolen.”

Mario Prins
Senior director of creative services, SESAC

Prins signed Burna Boy to SESAC for direct U.S. representation in August. The deal came less than a year after the Nigerian pop star secured his first Grammy nomination, for African Giant, and following recent collaborations with Beyoncé, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Sam Smith. Burna Boy earned his first No. 1 on Billboard’s World Albums chart in August with follow-up album Twice As Tall. Prins also helped secure Robert Glasper’s return to SESAC this year. “Both these artists have created their own lanes, and most importantly, they are doing it their way,” says Prins.

Advice for a Young R&B/Hip-Hop Artist: “Be original. Chasing trends often leads to short careers.”

Contributors: Trevor Anderson, Chuck Arnold, Katie Bain, Alexei Barrionuevo, Dave Brooks, Anna Chan, Ed Christman, Tatiana Cirisano, Janine Coveney, Stephen Daw, Thom Duffy, Glendon Francis, Josh Glicksman, Lyndsey Havens, Christine Imarenezor, Steve Knopper, Carl Lamarre, Joe Levy, Gail Mitchell, Taylor Mims, Keith Murphy, Mia Nazareno, Melinda Newman, Glenn Peoples, Claudia Rosenbaum, Dan Rys, Nicole Saunders, Jaelani TurnerWilliams, Christine Werthman, Natelege Whaley, Jewel Wicker, Nick Williams, Stereo Williams, Xander Zellner

Methodology: Billboard power lists are selective with honorees chosen by Billboard editors. Nominations for each power list open not less than 120 days in advance of publication. (For a contact for our editorial calendar listing publication dates, please email thom.duffy@billboard.com.) The online nomination link is sent to press representatives and/or honorees of companies previously featured on any Billboard power list, as well as those who send a request before the nomination period to thom.duffy@billboard.com. Nominations close and lists are locked not less than 90 days before publication. Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players for 2020 were chosen by editors based on factors including, but not limited to, nominations by peers, colleagues and superiors. In addition to nominations, editors weigh the success of each executive’s company or affiliated artists as measured by chart, sales and streaming performance. Career trajectory and industry impact are also considered. Unless otherwise noted, Billboard Boxscore and Nielsen Music/MRC Data are the sources for tour grosses and sales/streaming data, respectively. Nielsen is also the source for radio audience metrics. Unless otherwise noted, album streaming figures cited represent collective U.S. on-demand audio totals for an album’s tracks, and song/ artist streaming figures represent U.S. on-demand audio and video totals.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 14, 2020, issue of Billboard.