How Since the 80s, The Managers of 21 Savage, EarthGang & J.I.D., Are Hoping to Change the Label Game

John Cannon
Since the 80s

The Dreamville recording camp in Atlanta served as a fitting backdrop for getting to know the founders of Since the 80s, a management and label firm under Capital/Motown. Despite the fact that only two of the artists under the management arm of Since the 80s are signed to Dreamville, the recording camp embodied what the Atlanta-based company hopes to achieve. Managers-turned-label executives Kei Henderson, Barry “Hefner” Johnson and Zekiel Nicholson say they envision Since the 80s as a collaborative brand that seeks to find and nurture the next wave of superstars from the culture hub of Atlanta.

The trio has already done this from a management standpoint, with Henderson co-managing 21 Savage and Johnson and Nicholson co-managing Dreamville artists J.I.D. and EarthGang. Still, the Since the 80s team believe starting their own label is the natural progression in an era where many managers are already taking on a lot of label responsibilities anyway.

“I realized how much I was doing on my own, everything from merch design, web design, staffing a team [and] hiring radio,” Henderson previously told Billboard of the early days of managing Savage as an indie artist.

The triad of executives will continue to manage their artists, but Henderson says they’re now looking to grow the label side of their business too.

“[Managing is] a lot more involved than I’d like to be at this point in my career, unless it’s people that I already have,” she says. “We’re all really creative people so we want to be able to have input on stuff like music videos, cover art, overall branding and less about day-to-day management things.”

So far, Since the 80s includes Njomza, a co-writer on Ariana Grande’s singles “thank u, next” and “7 Rings,” Malik, who co-wrote and co-produced a track on Grande’s Sweetener, Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Asiahn and more.

“Our first reason for wanting to even have our own label was really being able to hone in on artists that we felt were talented that might have just needed a situation for them to grow into,” Nicholson says.

Johnson considers Motown president Ethiopia Habtemariam and vice president Ezekiel Lewis to be mentors and Henderson notes it was this relationship that led the trio to consider partnering with the label. “I appreciate that even without a label roster, [Habtemariam] took a chance on us,” she says.

Recently, everyone from the Since the 80s roster was present at the recent Dreamville camp that took place at Tree Sounds Studios in Atlanta. Beyond recording new material, Nicholson said the main goal of the week was to foster new connections between the creatives that were present.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Lotta words that rhyme cleverly in this pic #StillUp

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The buzzed-about camp in Atlanta wasn’t the first time J. Cole has hosted a recording camp, but Johnson and Nicholson, co-managers of Dreamville rappers J.I.D. and EarthGang, said they convinced Cole to host the camp in Atlanta, instead of Los Angeles, because of the city’s status as a hip-hop mecca. Johnson believes having the camp in Atlanta changed its dynamics, noting the creative talent, ranging from newcomers to multi platinum artists that were set up in corners throughout the building.

With the exception of Billboard, Johnson says no media was invited to cover the event, although a few reporters did visit the camp as friends and subsequently write about the experience. The people who were granted access, though, were pretty much given free reign of the building. Even J. Cole’s session wasn’t completely closed off. As the rapper worked on a new verse, one of Atlanta’s rising rappers Deante Hitchcock strolled into the session to speak before leaving again. This is this same open-door, collaborative nature that fostered the talents of Johnson and Nicholson’s clients, Dreamville signees, Earthgang and J.I.D. Before they were signed to Cole’s label, the trio, who record together as Spillage Village, was “piss poor, broke” and sharing a home with East Atlanta Love Letter singer 6LACK.

Even outside of emerging their talent in camps such as the Dreamville one, Henderson, Johnson and Nicholson have long been forming relationships with other managers and label executives in hopes that the transparency will help them all sign better deals moving forward.

“The people taking the trash deals are the reasons why the trash deals become standard,” Nicholson says.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Motioning to a nearby room where Cole is busy recording, Johnson says the Dreamville founder always been supportive of the Since the 80s dream and the team also has relationships with other Atlanta-based management and label firms such as LVRN.  

“I talk about our deals openly,” Johnson says. “We can control it when we know what’s going on. I hope our company grows into something that changes the dynamic of the music management [business]. You’re really a business partner.”

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