Business

Executive of the Week: Motown Records Chairman/CEO Ethiopia Habtemariam

Ethiopia Habtemariam
Bonnie Nichoalds*

Ethiopia Habtemariam

"It’s my job to create and build an infrastructure to support our artists in order to bring their vision to the world."

This week, Migos’ album Culture III debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, the trio’s third straight top-two album on the chart, with the second-biggest sales week for a hip-hop album this year so far (trailing only J. Cole’s The Off-Season). That debut came right on the heels of Lil Baby and Lil Durk’s joint album The Voice of the Heroes (Alamo/Quality Control/Motown/Geffen), which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last week and still sits in the top five this week, coming in at No. 4.

Those achievements give Quality Control/Motown two of the top four albums in the country, a major milestone for the newly-standalone Motown, which was recently spun out from under the Capitol Music Group umbrella. And they also earn Motown’s chairman/CEO Ethiopia Habtemariam the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.

It’s not just the big weeks for those respective albums that has fueled the label’s current hot streak, however, but the sheer prolific nature of the Migos MCs and Lil Baby has meant that they collectively account for more than 10% of the songs populating the Hot 100, while Migos themselves have a dozen songs populating Billboard’s Global 200, establishing themselves as a truly international act. And it’s another victory for the mutually-beneficial partnership between Motown and Quality Control, the Atlanta-based label and management company that inked a deal with Motown in 2015 and has continued to produce chart-topping acts.

Here, Habtemariam discusses the success of the Migos and Lil Baby/Lil Durk albums, growing the artists from Atlanta-area hitmakers to global stars and what goes into making a successful partnership in the business these days.

Between Migos’ Culture III and Lil Baby and Lil Durk’s The Voice of the Heroes, Motown has had two straight top-2 debuts on the Billboard 200 and currently has two of the top four albums in the country. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?

One of the best decisions we made was partnering with Quality Control in 2015, holding true to supporting the entrepreneurial spirit that we know exists in music and has always been part of Motown’s culture. We knew we would be able to develop and help artists grow who would shape and impact culture around the world, as Motown has always done.

Lil Baby, in particular, is on an incredible hot streak right now, with eight songs on the Hot 100 (19 last week) and two albums in the top 20 of the Billboard 200. How have you helped him grow over the past few years into the star he so clearly is now?

It’s my job to create and build an infrastructure to support our artists in order to bring their vision to the world. Lil Baby has an incredible support system around him -- from Pee and the Quality Control team,  as well as his Motown family, in particular Twin and Britney -- but it’s also him putting in the work and trusting his instincts as well as the understanding that everyone is operating with one common goal.

This week, Migos has 11 songs on the Global 200 chart. How have you helped develop them into a truly global act?

I tell them all the time to just push play. Their fans miss seeing them together and once the work started it was just about connecting the dots to help them create something truly special. They’re the biggest hip-hop group in the world and it’s been about putting in the work to support and drive their vision.

With both Lil Baby and the members of Migos being such prolific artists, how do you make sure to drum up fan interest in their own full-length projects while they have so much music out already?

Both projects were about timing -- not only regarding what the fans wanted, but where the artists were creatively. These are artists who have fans around the world and continuing to help them put out music and build their brands and tell their story is what we’re here for. That’s the job.

Motown’s deal with Quality Control has been a big success through the years. What goes into making a partnership like that work for both sides?

We went into this truly as partners -- it’s trusting, strategizing and respecting one another in a real way. It’s always been about empowering and continuing to educate and grow together -- that’s why it works.