Inside the One-Of-A-Kind Deal That EQT Struck With Universal Music Group

ISSUE 16 2019 - DO NOT REUSE
Alex Harper
Friedman (left) and Yegezu at EQT in Los Angeles on June 13.

In 2018, a former publicist and a concert promoter landed a one-of-a-kind deal that allowed them to work with any label within Universal Music Group and still operate independently. Dan Friedman, 33, and Henny Yegezu, 31, first worked together in 2014, when Friedman was handling marketing/PR of GoldLink’s debut mixtape, The God Complex, and Yegezu was promoting the rapper’s live shows. They were also both at a professional crossroads, wanting to trade their current roles for something even bigger. In April 2015, the pair founded EQT (Equative Thinking), a full-service music company that includes management, publishing, recording and distribution. 

Friedman started working with super-producer Mike WiLL Made-It in 2011, later helping develop his Ear Drummer Records in 2014. Meanwhile, Yegezu helped GoldLink ink his 2016 deal with RCA Records. They both prefer working with artists in the early stages of their careers, and together have a vision for tailoring services to each artist. “What’s special about the [UMG] deal is that it allows us a lot of autonomy and flexibility within the system to figure out how we want to work with an artist,” says Friedman. “[We can] figure out the right time to partner with one of the frontline labels.”

Last September, EQT launched its first label partnership with indie label True Panther Sounds -- which has a “defined brand and point of view,” says Friedman, and is home to English grime rapper Slowthai in the U.S. and London-born musician Jonah Mutono. “Within the UMG system, there isn’t a ceiling in terms of what resources we have access to,” says Dean Bein, founder of True Panther Sounds and the pair’s longtime friend. Says Yegezu: “Traditionally, a label’s goal is to make a song as big as it can. Our thought process is, how do we build a long-term, sustainable catalog around that artist?”

EQT focuses on “artists that can create organic buzz but need a foundation and development,” says Yegezu. GoldLink is a prime example, having broken out with “Crew,” which hit No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart in 2017. EQT’s label boasts Jamaican-American singer Masego, R&B singer Berhana and rapper JPEGMafia, with GoldLink, Tommy Genesis and Smino on the management side. Through True Panther, which Yegezu says “identifies left-of-center acts,” EQT dropped Slowthai’s U.S. debut.

In March 2018, Berhana’s “Grey Luh” was featured on the second season of Atlanta. Six months later, Masego’s debut full-length, Lady Lady, peaked at No. 13 on the R&B Album Sales chart, a feat that Yegezu sees as representative of Masego’s growth potential. More recently, GoldLink’s latest set, Diaspora, dropped June 12 and includes guest verses from Pusha T, Tyler, The Creator and Khalid. Hailey Bieber shot the album art, a portrait of the rapper’s girlfriend, singer Justine Skye.

Now, with a new office space in downtown Los Angeles, EQT plans to focus on creating custom plans for its artists -- whether that means signing on for management or label services, or upstreaming to UMG when the time is right. “It gives us a lot of flexibility to put together the right team on a case-by-case basis,” says Friedman. For Masego, that means signing with Caroline Records domestically and Island Records internationally. As EQT grows, Friedman and Yegezu plan to keep their long-game mentality. Says Yegezu: “We want to be with our artists for years.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the June 29 issue of Billboard.


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