How the Agency for the Performing Arts Became an Unlikely Hip-Hop Hub

Lil TJay
Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Lil TJay performs at Flex Fest 2019 at New York Expo Center on Aug. 17, 2019 in Bronx, New York. 

Alex Chaykin, Josh Rittenhouse and Jordan Stone have signed Lil Tjay, Tyga, Lil Xan, Comethazine in the last two years

The Agency for the Performing Arts has become something of an urban powerhouse. Over the last few years, the group has signed new clients and boosted rap and hip-hop acts at festivals like Rolling Loud, where agents Alex ChaykinJosh Rittenhouse and Jordan Stone had booked 35 performances across three events. 

Agency officials say 2019 has been one of the APA urban department’s best years yet with artists like Lil Tjay enjoying breakout success and bookings at festivals for APA artists at events like Hangout in Alabama, LA's Hard Summer, Fvded in the Park in British Columbia and Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash in Chicago connecting more or their artists with new fans.

"These festivals are massive platforms for younger artists to play alongside artists like Post Malone," says Rittenhouse. This year APA had 20 acts perform at Rolling Loud Miami in May, with 13 of those acts repped by Stone, who joined APA in early 2018 from Paradigm.

APA’s urban roster includes a number of major name clients including 50 Cent, who was represented in a $150 million deal for Starz, Atlanta legend T.I., actress and singer Mary J Blige and Fat Joe, whom the agency helped score a role in Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It 2. APA also has a number of newcomers on roster, including Comethazine, who was named to the 2019 XXL Freshman List.

“A big thing for us has been managers believing in what we're doing and our passion for these acts," said Rittenhouse, who started in the business as a talent buyer at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania before eventually packing up and moving to Los Angeles to work at APA in 2013 and being promoted to agent a year later. His clients include Oddisee and Bryce Vine, whose single “Drew Barrymore” hit No. 46 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and is currently ranked No. 13 on the Pop Digital sales chart. 

"He’s an overnight success that was five years in the making,” Rittenhouse said of Vine, his second client as an agent. Starting in the college market, Vine developed his live performance following by playing smaller shows and opening for acts like Hoodie Allen while he prepped his followup single with "La La Land” featuring YG.

“We just kept plugging away and then eventually, it happened for him and his record took off,” Rittenhouse said. “Now we’re focused on his headline shows and hard ticket business."

Chaykin has worked in music for 15 years, starting as a talent buyer in Vermont who later worked at WME before going to APA as a VP in 2012. He signed Tyga in early 2018 and helped the quadruple platinum “Taste” rapper secure a Las Vegas residency at several Hakkasan properties. 

"We were trying to create the right situations for him to grow his brand, which we do with all our acts,” Chaykin said. “That can mean doing something different than hard-ticket tours — it could be something outside the box, looking at different ways to maximize his income and the amount of people he's playing for, which in the case of Las Vegas, means a bunch of dates at the same place with people coming from all over the globe.”

That includes booking Comethazine for Australia’s four-city Drip World festival and booking Tyga for Rolling Loud Australia in Sydney’s Olympic Park in January. Rittenhouse booked Lil Xan’s first Australia dates in 2018, crediting the signing of the "Betrayed" rapper in 2017 and buy in from managers Stanley BentonDJ Mormile, and Ryan Rodriguez as a key moment for the department — "at that time, Lil Xan was the hottest act out and they gave us a shot and to develop him, growing him from 500-capacity clubs to main stage on the biggest festivals in the world within a year.” 

Rittenhouse met Xan shortly after the “Slingshot” video dropped in November 2017, telling Billboard "he caught a little bit of steam, and generally with urban artists, they try to grow really fast. Our pitch was to slow things down and not skip steps. We want to sell out rooms quickly, building his show so he come back and just keep growing.”

Next up for APA - plotting a touring strategy for “F.N.” rapper Lil Tjay,  who APA officials say is "set to be the next superstar in hip-hop” with 8.7 million monthly Spotify listeners and his debut collab single “Pop Out” with Polo G certified platinum. The agency also reps Memphis rapper Young Dolph, whosw last single “Major" featuring Key Glock hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under Hot 100 list."

"We’re flying under the radar but making a lot of noise while we do it,” Chaykin said.

Courtesy of APA
Josh Rittenhouse (left) and Alex Chaykin



2019 Billboard Live Music Summit and Awards