Parkwood Entertainment president/COO Steve Pamon and his boss, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, lead Billboard’s annual list of the most influential executives and creatives in R&B and hip-hop.
Chairman/CEO, Parkwood Entertainment
President/COO, Parkwood Entertainment
"Speaking of the Queen. She just called.” The words, spoken by Parkwood Entertainment’s head of public relations, Yvette Noel-Schure, stop Steve Pamon midsentence as he sits on a chair in the company’s midtown Manhattan offices. “Does she need me?” he asks. “No, no. She’s good. She’s good,” Noel-Schure replies. Pamon, who’s wearing a white T-shirt beneath a navy blue suit offset by a red-white-and-blue stripe on the sleeves and pant legs, relaxes into the chair and resumes speaking about his boss and their company -- that would be Beyoncé, “B,” as Pamon, 49, often calls her, and Parkwood Entertainment -- and the milestones of the 12 or so preceding months that have earned them Billboard’s 2019 R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players Executives of the Year honors.
Parkwood began in 2008 as a video and movie wing for Beyoncé, co-producing Cadillac Records, the film in which she portrayed Etta James. But in the last decade, Parkwood has grown into the business empire and creative content company behind her greatest role: Queen Bey. Operating at a leak-proof level of nondisclosure the federal government can only envy, it has steamrolled traditional industry thought patterns, unveiling artistic breakthroughs as top-secret surprises, beginning with the 2013 visual album Beyoncé, which sold 617,000 downloads in just three days, giving her the best first-week results of her career, and spawned the Billboard Hot 100 No. 2 hit “Drunk in Love,” featuring JAY-Z. More recently, the unexpected July release of The Lion King: The Gift, the Beyoncé-produced and -curated companion album to the Disney remake (in which she voiced the role of Nala), generated 147.4 million on-demand streams for the album’s songs.
Pamon arrived at Parkwood in 2015 from JPMorgan Chase, where he headed the sports and entertainment marketing division. While still at JPMorgan, he helped set up the banking giant’s sponsorship of Beyoncé and JAY-Z’s joint On the Run stadium tour, which grossed $109.6 million, making it the No. 8 tour of 2014, according to Billboard Boxscore. A graduate of Morehouse College with an MBA from Stanford University, Pamon worked for the National Football League, HBO and McKinsey & Co. as well, a background that gave him a unique understanding of the intersecting worlds of finance, events and entertainment. He was a skilled negotiator perfectly positioned to set up triumphs like Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl halftime extravaganza and also able to navigate the startup world as she took stakes in the vegan meal plan company 22 Days Nutrition and the sports beverage WTRMLN WTR.
Parkwood has become known for shock-and-awe productions, foregoing traditional media promotion -- or hype -- and using the power of the unexpected to harness the energy of social media. Last year, The Carters’ Everything Is Love -- Beyoncé’s surprise duet album with her billionaire husband, JAY-Z -- dropped out of nowhere during their On the Run II stadium world tour. (The album generated 570.4 million on-demand audio streams; the tour grossed $253.5 million.) This year brought Homecoming, a two-hour documentary of Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella headlining show (aka Beychella) -- part of a production deal with Netflix said to be worth $60 million. A supporting live album followed.
Beychella and Homecoming paid homage to the traditions and marching bands of historically black colleges and universities, and in doing so emphasized a key Parkwood principle: self-determination. Beyoncé, 38, manages herself, runs her own label and production company, and in 2018 bought back a 50% stake of her athleisure line Ivy Park from Topshop after Topshop owner Philip Green faced allegations of racism and sexual harassment. This year brought the announcement that Ivy Park will expand with the help of a new partner with a bigger global footprint: adidas. Crucially, Beyoncé retains full ownership of the company under the new agreement.
While Beyoncé was taking some time off -- although clearly not tuning out the business -- Pamon sat down with Billboard to discuss Parkwood’s ventures during the past 10 months, his formative years growing up on the South Side of Chicago and the work ethic and mindset of a boss that, he says, requires everyone at the company to “level up” or risk being left behind.
Let’s start by reviewing Beyoncé and Parkwood’s last 12 months.
I can make it very easy for you. This time last year, Beyoncé and JAY-Z were in the middle of the On the Run II Tour -- 49 stadium [dates] worldwide. That tour ended in Johannesburg, South Africa, in front of 90,000 people at the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100. Some of the biggest artists in the world performed at the largest concert in African history to raise over $1 billion for charity. Forget about working on that stuff. It’s a privilege to be a witness to that stuff.
Early this year, it was announced that you were partnering with adidas to relaunch Ivy Park.
We think it will be the biggest athletic partnership of all time. And from there, we rolled straight into the Homecoming film project and then the Homecoming Live album. We rereleased Lemonade, and that went back into the top 10 [on the Billboard 200]. Next, came The Lion King soundtrack with “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” with Donald Glover and Beyoncé. I mean, we had three top 10 albums. The marketing of The Lion King movie followed by the “Spirit” and “Bigger” videos. In July, we released The Lion King: The Gift album, which was Beyoncé’s Quincy Jones moment. As accomplished a performer as she is, she is also a hell of a producer, director and arranger. And we’re just 10 months into the year. It’s like the old Army ad, you know: We do more before 7 a.m. than most people do all day. But that’s Parkwood. And that’s the standard that Beyoncé has set.
You have been at Parkwood for four years...
Yes. Sometimes it feels like 40, and sometimes it feels like four days. You’re never comfortable, and you never know enough. That’s one of the things I love about B.
You have a front-row seat to Beyoncé’s creative process. What can you tell us about her that most people don’t know?
Everyone tries to copy the outcome, but I’ve seen few people really want to emulate the process. One of the things I say all the time is that if people want to be her at 10 p.m. onstage, they have to want to be her at 4 a.m. in rehearsal. And they have to be her at 5 p.m. in the conference room. If you want to be that mogul, if you want to be that entertainer, you put in the work. She puts in the work.
What are her strengths as an executive?
She is so secure in what she’s doing -- which came directly from how she was raised -- that she gives opportunities to people who don’t think like her or look like her. And when you merge her talent and drive with a team that’s able to see things that maybe she doesn’t see, that combination is unstoppable.
Define Beyoncé and Parkwood’s mission.
We’re not just doing entertainment. We are moving the culture forward. People use that term all the time, but few understand that culture is defined as a series of art and actions that helps shape a society and its worldview. If you think about what Beyoncé has done for African culture -- for African Americans in particular -- along with women and others who feel less empowered, she has moved the self-esteem of these groups in a positive direction. That is history. I tell people all the time, “You can make money, but can you make history?”
How did she make that transition from being simply an entertainer to someone who wields such a powerful cultural voice?
She got rid of the duality of trying to please everyone -- of chasing the dollar -- and freed herself of some of the things that not only hold [African Americans] back as a group, but that hold society back as a whole.
Given the fan loyalty and positive media she generates, what do you make of Homecoming not winning a single Emmy, despite six nominations, or your history with the Grammy Awards?
First of all, I don’t even consider those things as losses. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Going to the Emmys is a dream for me. You know, there are three types of stakeholders with [an awards show] like the Emmys. There are the fans, there are the critics, and then there are our peers. The fans and the critics don’t vote for the Emmys, but I can’t be mad at our peers. What we experienced at the Emmys motivates me.
After the Emmys, a Boomerang video showing you and other members of Beyoncé’s team throwing your middle fingers circulated. Were you angry?
That was taken at the Netflix afterparty, and it was a joke. We were just letting off steam and having a great time. The recognition that we got for Homecoming, particularly from the young students [who saw advance screenings] at Prairie View A&M, Texas Southern, Grambling State, Morehouse, Spelman, Hampton University, North Carolina A&T -- man, that’s 10 times bigger than any award. Look, who doesn’t want to win those types of things? But we smile and go on. Trust me, there are greater things to come. We’ll be back.
What’s the strategy behind your company’s intense secrecy?
First of all, it has become part of Beyoncé’s brand to surprise and delight. The other big piece, mathematically speaking, is the amount of money and effort that people put into hype. B is really trying to create art. She’s pushing the culture forward. So why not put the energy into that instead of a billboard or an advertisement or social media?
How do you maintain that secrecy?
Beyoncé sets the tone. Our job is not to tell people about the project. Our job is the project. And the brilliant thing she has been able to do is get us to emotionally attach to one another as well as to our professional obligations. There’s no NDA tighter than your love for somebody else.
What was growing up in Chicago like?
I grew up on the South Side in Auburn Gresham, which now has goofy nicknames like Chiraq. If there is one story from that time that I attribute to my professional success and how I move as a person, it has to do with my dad, who was a Chicago police officer. He and I loved going to the movies every weekend. It was our way of bonding. The thing is, we would always be late to the movies because on the way there, my dad would stop and talk to every person. I used to think, “Is my father trying to be mayor?” This happened over the course of a few years, and when I got to be 12 or 13, I thought, “Let me challenge this.” I said, “Pop, do you have to interact with everyone? Can you and I just have our experience?”
How did that go down?
My father is a very talkative guy like me, but he got kind of quiet. He opened up his jacket, and he pointed to his shoulder holster. He said, “Steve, how many bullets in this gun?” I’m like, “What’s that got to do with anything?” I guessed six. He said, “How many people do you think are out here in these streets? A lot more than six. So don’t you ever think this badge and this gun is what’s keeping you safe out here. What’s keeping you safe is the love and support that I’m giving everybody because we could help a lot more than six people.” That math always stuck with me -- that you could love much more than you could ever hurt. He was trying to teach me that growing up in that neighborhood, I wasn’t going to fight my way up. What saved my life, to be honest, is being cool with everybody, showing love, being proactive. Being a giver.
And you have applied that lesson to your work at Parkwood?
At Parkwood, we don’t have enemies. We don’t have beef. We have love. I tell people all the time, this tough-guy thing -- where nobody can win but us -- that’s outdated.
What lessons did you take away from your work at Time Warner and JPMorgan Chase?
At the end of the day, it comes down to, how do you provide value? How do you make something happen? And a lot of that isn’t about me. It’s about we. Phil Jackson, the basketball coach, used to say that all the time. One of the most unfair things a person can do is treat everyone the same. If I care about you, I have to know you and what motivates you. [Former Time Warner chairman/CEO] Dick Parsons was an incredible mentor not only for what he said and how he moved, but also for his ability to create a culture where everybody felt good.
What are you looking for from someone who would want to work at Parkwood?
Beyoncé is media and entertainment, but she’s also health and wellness. She’s fashion and beauty. We refuse to be put in the box of “just music.” This is about a lifestyle, and for someone who wants to join our team, the question is, can you put in the work? The work ethic here is -- listen, anybody that’s been around it has to level up. It weeds out a lot of people.
In other words, you are not going to be at parties with Beyoncé.
Right. Part of the reason that most of the world doesn’t know me is because I don’t do that stuff. I’m not part of the industry. I’m part of this team here. That’s why I wanted to be photographed with them because they toil in obscurity -- on purpose. They help B and me do what it is we need to do together. I don’t consider this acknowledgment a referendum on my success. This is a referendum on the team’s success.
What’s a typical work day like?
I look at my job as managing the three P’s: the people, the projects and the partners.
Dick Parsons was a mentor. Whom else do you look to for honest feedback?
[Epic Records chairman/CEO] Sylvia Rhone is somebody I look up to in a huge way. JAY-Z is someone I can always call who will tell me straight up how things are. He’s the Clarence Avant of today. [Sony/ATV Music Publishing chairman/CEO] Jon Platt is impeccable -- his counsel and leadership is unparalleled. Miss Tina Knowles and Richard Lawson -- fantastic. And then B herself. My mother is one of my biggest advisers, as are my family, my uncles. That’s my village. I tell people: One dot is a data point; two dots makes a line. Three or more is confirmation. I generally try to get three or more opinions as affirmation.
You mentioned Clarence Avant. What impact did Netflix’s The Black Godfather documentary [about Avant] have on you?
It hit me like a ton of bricks. One reason is that so often people assume they know what other people are doing based just on what they have been made aware of. The Black Godfather shows how powerful someone could be behind the scenes without credit or compensation. It was a real demonstration of how we have to build as a people. If you have an opportunity like I have and you don’t give back, it is being disrespectful to people like him.
Avant used his connections to lift up presidents. Right now, we have a president who is not lifting up anyone. Are there plans to connect creatively to what’s going on in our nation right now?
Absolutely. Everything we do is connected to what’s going on in the world. The moves that you have seen us make over the past two or three years have been about affirming people’s self-esteem and generating love. To me, the best way to combat what is being propagated, particularly by people in power right now, is to continue doing that.
This interview was edited for clarity.
-- DATWON THOMAS
Quincy “QP” Acheampong
Sambou “Bubba” Camara
Co-CEOs, Highbridge The Label
A Boogie Wonderland: Just weeks after the 2019 ball dropped, Acheampong and Camara, both 26, had reason to break out the bubbly again when Hoodie SZN, the second album by Highbridge’s marquee artist (and its co-CEO), A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, topped the Billboard 200 after a No. 2 debut. Four of its songs have charted on the Hot 100: “Look Back at It” (No. 27); “Startender,” featuring Offset and Tyga (No. 59); “Demons and Angels,” featuring Juice WRLD (No. 90); and “Swervin,” featuring 6ix9ine (No. 38). Those wins have helped push Boogie’s career on-demand streams to 6.5 billion. “Look Back at It” was also a solid radio hit, reaching No. 17 on the all-genre Radio Songs chart.
More Than Music: Highbridge’s principals, who are among the industry’s youngest CEOs, plan to expand beyond music. “We want to deliver the Highbridge lifestyle to the people,” says QP, who adds that sports and gaming are on the horizon.
Executive vp East Coast Labels, Catalog, Universal Music Group
Dion “No I.D.” Wilson
Executive vp A&R, Universal Music Group; President, ARTium Records
Senior vp A&R, Universal Music Group
Red-Hot Blueface and Brown: Before transferring to UMG in early September, Bynum worked as a senior vp for Cash Money and UMG-owned Republic Records Group. At RRG, she helped break rapper Blueface, who came out of nowhere to land three Hot 100 hits, including the No. 8-peaking “Thotiana,” which has generated 1.5 billion catalog streams. She also worked with Nicki Minaj, whose sudden retirement announcement in September “caught all of us by surprise,” says Bynum. McNair signed Tommy Brown, the hot producer who worked on Ariana Grande’s first two Hot 100 No. 1 singles, “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings.”
Big Ups: Wilson, who moved from Capitol Music Group to his new role earlier this year, reports to UMG chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge and advises the music giant’s senior management team on A&R, the company’s creative direction and global artist and label strategies. At ARTium, his roster includes Jhené Aiko, Common and Vince Staples.
Brandon “Lil Bibby” Dickinson
George “G-Money” Dickinson
Partners, Grade A Productions
Juice Up the Charts: In March, Grade A and Interscope’s breakthrough artist, Juice WRLD, topped Billboard’s Artist 100 chart; his album Death Race for Love ruled the Billboard 200; and he placed seven songs on the Hot 100 in a single week, three of them in the top 40.
Staying on Top of the WRLD: Lil Bibby, 25, a Chicago rapper in his own right whose hits include 2016’s “You Ain’t Gang,” says he has “slowed down” on his own music to focus on the label’s roster. Older brother G?Money, 26, says the highlight of his year came “when ‘Lucid Dreams’ went to No. 2 on the Hot 100.” In addition to planning a new album and arena tour for Juice in 2020, the Dickinsons are readying their next act, teen Australian rapper The Kid LAROI. “I find talent on Instagram,” says Bibby. “Then I like to meet them to see what kind of people they are.”
Senior vp marketing, Republic Records
VP A&R, Republic Records
Post Time: Post Malone’s pop omnipresence continues unabated thanks in large part to Arnold, 27, who signed the tattooed artist in 2015, and Dominguez-Reyes, who has since worked closely with the “Better Now” rapper-singer. In September, Post Malone’s third studio album, Hollywood’s Bleeding, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, moving 489,000 equivalent album units its first week -- the second-biggest overall week of 2019, after Taylor Swift’s Lover -- and had all 17 of its tracks simultaneously land on the Hot 100. “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person,” says Dominguez-Reyes.
Big Debut for Lil Tecca: Dominguez-Reyes, 41, helped catapult newly signed rapper Lil Tecca from SoundCloud cult favorite to rising star by working the 17-year-old’s debut mixtape, We Love You Tecca, to No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Top Rap Albums charts in September. “I don’t remember the last time I have seen an artist explode the way he has,” she says.
Senior vp urban promotion, Capitol Music Group
Translated Girl Code Into Hits: Evans heads Capitol Music Group’s urban promotion department, overseeing the strategic development and execution of all national promotion initiatives. His team worked singles from City Girls and Lil Baby -- both products of CMG label Motown’s co-venture with Quality Control -- to the upper reaches of Billboard’s radio charts: Lil Baby’s “Yes Indeed” (with Drake), “Drip Too Hard” (with Gunna) and “Close Friends” all topped the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop chart, while City Girls’ “Twerk” (featuring Cardi B) went to No. 2. City Girls’ “Act Up” topped the Rhythmic airplay chart in July.
Maximum Exposure: Evans, whose career in the music business spans over two decades, says Capitol’s “synergistic radio and streaming strategy,” gives its artists “the widest audience possible to showcase how relatable they are. We don’t view these mediums as competitors, but as teammates working together toward a common goal. It has been vital to our success.”
Founder/CEO, 10K Projects
Redd Hot: “We always want to have a bit of scrappiness,” says Grainge, 25, of the independent hip-hop label he founded in 2016. That scrappiness -- which the son of Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge describes as “an understanding of the digital age,” combined with the perspective of a very young staff -- has yielded rapid success, most recently with Trippie Redd, whose 2019 album, !, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 in August. That same month, 10K, which also counts rappers Tekashi 6ix9ine and iann dior among its roster, forged a strategic partnership with management and marketing company Homemade Projects that covers touring, digital marketing, management and merchandise.
Label Ingredients: The record company of the past is evolving to become “an all-in-house entertainment company,” says Grainge, adding, “Hopefully, with a couple of more years of experience, a few great hires and a few more artists that break, 10K will be presented as that.”
President, Motown Records; executive vp, Capitol Music Group; president, urban music/co-head of creative, Universal Music Publishing Group
Diamond Days: Habtemariam marked Motown’s 60th anniversary with two TV specials -- CBS’ Motown 60: A Grammy Celebration and Showtime’s Hitsville: The Making of Motown -- which helped drive an increase in streams of its catalog. According to Nielsen Connect, they are up 615 million year to date over 2018.
More to Come: “This year, we’ve been able to really celebrate the brand at every level,” says Habtemariam who, in her five years running the label, has ensured that Motown is recognized for its present as much as its past thanks to current stars Vince Staples, BJ the Chicago Kid and the Quality Control co-venture that brought Migos to the label.
President of black music, Atlantic Records
GM/senior vp urban A&R, Atlantic Records
Marsha St. Hubert
Senior vp urban marketing, Atlantic Records
Senior vp A&R, Atlantic Records
Lizzo Mania: Atlantic’s urban music quartet all had a hand in Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” becoming the longest-running Hot 100 No. 1 rap song by an unaccompanied female artist -- breaking a record set by another Atlantic artist, Cardi B. Kyser also oversaw the long-awaited return of Missy Elliott with the August release of her EP, Iconology. Gaba, a key player in the label’s Atlanta expansion, continued developing staff producer Hitmaka, who contributed to A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s Billboard 200 No. 1 album, Hoodie SZN. And the fruits of Martin, 35, and St. Hubert’s labors resulted in best rap album Grammy nominations for Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap and Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, which won the category.
Honor the Hussle: The team is still reeling from Hussle’s murder in March. “Nipsey was bigger than rap music. He was a giver -- he changed people’s lives in ways I don’t think we understand,” says St. Hubert, 41, who knew the artist-entrepreneur long before he joined Atlantic.
President/CEO, Commission Records
20 Million Reasons to Pay Attention: Since its launch in 2015, Commission has grown from an under-the-radar indie label to a formidable industry player. In June, Martini, 39, closed on a $20 million deal with label, publisher, branding and media company Big Noise Music Group. The partnership gives Commission -- with a roster that includes Lil Dicky and MadeinTYO -- access to deeper financial pockets and artist services.
Don't Fear the Freaky: Martini, who has mined gold and platinum records from such left-field fare as Lil Dicky’s “Freaky Friday” (featuring Chris Brown), says he looks for “polarizing” acts with a unique approach to music. “I’m always trying to figure out the next trend and sign and develop those artists early, so that when that scene is ready, they are ready,” says the New Jersey native.
Executive vp/head of business and legal affairs, Warner Records
Senior vp/head of urban marketing, Warner Records
Growth Agents: Petty, 42, closed deals with such highly sought-after rising stars as NLE Choppa, IDK, Shordie Shordie and Chika, which have helped Warner expand its footprint in R&B and hip-hop. Since joining the label two years ago, Atlas, 47, has helped Saweetie land her first Hot 100 single, “My Type,” which reached No. 21; put Wale back on the hip-hop map with “On Chill” (featuring Jeremih), which currently sits at No. 23 on the chart; and worked Lil Pump and Kanye West’s “I Love It” and “Arms Around You” (with XXXTentacion and featuring Maluma and Swae Lee) to platinum status.
Solid-Gold Saweetie: Atlas says digital marketing played a significant role in the success of Saweetie. “She has a great one-on-one relationship with fans, constantly keeping her top of mind,” he says. “Additionally, there was a consistent amount of events, whether lifestyle, radio or appearances that helped ‘My Type’ amass gold status. And there’s still a huge trajectory with that record since we introduced it to pop radio.”
President of urban music, RCA Records; CEO, ByStorm Entertainment
Executive vp A&R, RCA Records; co-founder, Keep Cool
Executive vp marketing, RCA Records
Executive vp urban radio promotion, RCA Records
Leading the Renaissance: RCA’s R&B revivalists upheld their winning streak. Khalid scored a series of career milestones in 2019, landing his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 when Free Spirit debuted in April, and his first single to top R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, with “Talk.” The single also ruled the Radio Songs chart for 11 weeks. Thirty-six-year-old Balogun’s guidance of Normani’s solo career yielded the Hot 100 top 40 hit “Motivation” in August, and Williams worked with Kevin Abstract on his experimental third solo album, Arizona Baby, which peaked at No. 4 on R&B/Hip-Hop Album Sales in May. Meanwhile, Bivins and Pitts helped work label stalwart Chris Brown to No. 5 on the Hot 100 with “No Guidance” featuring foe-turned-pal Drake. Bivins says that the first time he heard the song, “I’m like, ‘I want to cry right now because this shit is amazing.’ ”
Long Time Coming: “Fall” by Atlanta-born, Lagos, Nigeria-raised singer Davido -- whom Balogun signed -- took its sweet time to become a top 20 radio hit. Released in June 2017, the track peaked at No. 13 on R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay in April.
Chairman/CEO, Epic Records
Executive vp promotions, Epic Records
"Sicko" Success: With nearly 8 billion streams in 2019 alone credited to the label’s hip-hop artists, Rhone -- who was promoted to her current title in April -- and Adams helped mastermind the release of five albums that debuted in the top three of the Billboard 200: Future’s Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD, 21 Savage’s I Am > I Was and Travis Scott’s Astroworld, all of which topped the chart; and DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd and Rick Ross’ Port of Miami 2, which hit No. 2. “I believe in the challenge of bringing music that’s on the edge into the mainstream,” says Rhone, who adds that streaming played a crucial role in the success of Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” The track “defies the rules of a ‘hit at radio’ because it doesn’t have a simple singalong hook,” she says. “But it pierced through at streaming,” eventually leading to Scott’s first Hot 100 No. 1, which also spent 32 weeks in the chart’s top 10.
Doctor Rhone: Rhone, who got her start at Buddah Records in 1974 after graduating from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, received an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music in April.
CEO, South Coast Music Group
Daud “King” Carter
Executive vp, South Coast Music Group
Honey, They Blew Up DaBaby: DaBaby has become rap’s rookie of the year, and both the self-proclaimed “OG” Taylor, 47, and “artist whisperer” Carter, 35, were integral in his ascension. They’re also proud to have put Charlotte, N.C. -- the trio’s home base -- on the map. After signing DaBaby in 2016, Taylor, who refers to the rapper as “the LeBron James of the label,” brought his debut album, Baby on Baby, to Interscope Records to cement their partnership. Both the LP and its standout single, “Suge,” peaked at lucky No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and the Hot 100, respectively.
Combing the Carolinas: High on South Coast’s checklist is developing more artists from the Carolinas, such as new signees Blacc Zacc and Toosii. But Taylor stresses that he’s not trying to find another DaBaby: “Each artist should bring something different to the table,” he says.
Pierre “P” Thomas
CEO, Quality Control Music
Kevin “Coach K” Lee
COO, Quality Control Music
#CityGirlsSummer: Thomas, 40, and Lee ended 2018 strong with nine album releases in the fourth quarter, including solo LPs by Migos’ Quavo and Takeoff. (Offset followed in February.) Among the Quality Control acts whose success carried over into 2019 were City Girls. The Florida rap duo of JT and Yung Miami scored their first Hot 100 entry in late December with the “Twerk” remix featuring Cardi B, which peaked at No. 29. The duo’s 2019 follow-up, “Act Up,” then topped the Rhythmic airplay chart and generated 439.1 million streams, while JT served a prison sentence for credit card fraud. “We didn’t know how that was going to play out,” says Lee. “Yung Miami really stepped up.”
Family Business: No matter how big their artists become, Quality Control’s principals stress one guiding mantra: Don’t forget about family. “We started out in a small studio with just the Migos,” says Thomas. “It is business at the end of the day, but we’re rooted in our artists’ lives.”
Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith
Founder/CEO, Top Dawg Entertainment
Terrence “Punch” Henderson
President, Top Dawg Entertainment
Golden Year: When it comes to awards, 2019 was TDE’s year. Kendrick Lamar and SZA clinched an Academy Award nomination and four Grammy nods for “All the Stars” from the Black Panther soundtrack. And Jay Rock, the first act TDE signed in 2005, scored a best rap performance Grammy, along with Lamar, Future and James Blake for “King’s Dead” (which appeared on the soundtrack and Rock’s 2018 LP, Redemption). “He fucked around and won a Grammy 10 years after he started releasing music on a major label,” says Tiffith. “That was a full-circle moment for me and Team TDE.”
All In: In a year without a new Lamar album -- and one that also brought the quiet departure of co-president Dave Free -- Billboard estimates TDE still accounted for a healthy 1.9% of 2019’s U.S. R&B/hip-hop market to date.
Ronald “Slim” Williams
Bryan “Birdman” Williams
Co-founders/Co-CEOs, Cash Money Records
Jacquees, Oh!: The Williams brothers saw Atlanta R&B singer Jacquees hit No. 3 on the Top R&B Albums chart last summer with 4275, which featured Birdman, Young Thug and Trey Songz, and racked up 499.3 million streams -- the cherry on top of another extraordinary year for the label. Meanwhile, new signee Blueface, whose “Thotiana” rocketed to the top 10 of the Hot 100 in March, has generated 1.5 billion career streams.
Minaj Mirage?: Cash Money’s stacked roster, which includes superstar Drake, took a hit when one of its marquee artists, Nicki Minaj, unexpectedly announced her retirement in September. But Birdman, 50, says, “I definitely believe she’ll be back ... Sometimes you have to take a break.”
Co-founder/CEO, 300 Entertainment
Senior vp marketing, 300 Entertainment
Senior vp A&R, 300 Entertainment
“We’re proud to say that every year, we break an artist,” 300 CEO Kevin Liles, 51, tells Billboard. But as 300 heads into its fifth anniversary, the label has done far more than that. Capitalizing on Gunna’s breakout hit, “Drip Too Hard” (with Lil Baby), which peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100 in October 2018, the label rolled out his Drip or Drown 2 to a No. 1 debut on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in March. Bouab signed Megan Thee Stallion last November, and Bass, 32, helped mastermind her explosive rise with the meme-spawning “Hot Girl Summer.” (Megan has since trademarked the phrase.) The single, with Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign, became a top 20 Hot 100 hit. In August, the label guided Young Thug to his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 and the best first-week performance of his career. The LP, So Much Fun, earned 131,000 equivalent album units in its first week.
Along the way, 300 has restructured its organization. Breaking down the barriers among its hip-hop, rock and pop departments has made for a more versatile and nimble operation where, for instance, Gunna appeared on a Mariah Carey album and Young Thug sampled Elton John singing an a cappella “Rocket Man” on “High.” It’s a bet on a “genreless” future, says Bouab.
“This is not a slapping-fives culture,” observes Bass. “You know in Love & Basketball when the woman on the team hits the [3-pointer], and then she’s standing there and somebody runs and scores on her? That’s my worst-case [scenario]. Like, ‘Cool, we hit this basket and we have these things going for us, but we can’t get caught up.’ It’s always about what’s next and that everything always could be better.”
The year also brought its share of heartbreak, however. Megan’s mother died of a brain tumor in March just as the rapper’s career was taking off, and the managers for Tee Grizzley and Sherwood Marty were both shot and killed during the summer. (Compounding the loss, Grizzley’s manager Jobina Brown was also his aunt.) “These partners become more like family,” says Bouab. “So it has been a tough year as well.”
But 300 kept its family grounded, which has paid off on the corporate level. Liles says revenue has grown 20 to 25% year over year, with 40-plus employees and 100 acts signed either directly or through distribution partnerships. “Now, with a lot of the changes that we made, the company is able to run where you might see more than one artist breaking,” he says. “So this is not only a reemerging year for us, it’s not only an artist-development year for us, it’s not only [about] breaking new artists. This is a celebration as we go into our fifth anniversary.”
Cleary Eyes: “The biggest thing I learned this year, with [Megan, Gunna and Young Thug] specifically, is just staying the course,” says Bass. “Megan set the tone for that. As we continued to grow, we just stayed exactly on our path, and everything fell into place.”
Full Hearts: “With success comes responsibility,” says Liles. “All of us know that we’re raising other executives [with us], so our responsibility to them is big brother, cousin, uncle -- I’m Dad to a lot of them. Every single department here has taken ownership of their business.”
Can't Lose: “Everything moves really quickly,” says Bass. “But the thing that I feel like we have to our advantage is, 300 was born in the new era of the music business. That’s the biggest thing for us: We’re nimble and able to keep up with any changes.”
Executive vp urban operations, Interscope Geffen A&M
Senior vp A&R, Interscope Geffen A&M
Senior vp urban promotion, Interscope Geffen A&M
Drippin' Distinction: Interscope’s joint ventures have paid off on a number of fronts during the past year. Mustard’s 10 Summers imprint took home the best R&B song Grammy for Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up,” and Top Dawg Entertainment won best rap performance for Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock’s “King’s Dead.” Khan, 61, and his team worked with DaBaby, who was signed in partnership with South Coast Music Group, to drive the North Carolina MC’s RIAA platinum-certified breakout hit, “Suge,” to No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart in June and No. 7 on the Hot 100 in July. Glover, 35, meanwhile, A&R’d his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 in July: Dreamville’s compilation LP Revenge of the Dreamers III.
Bullish on DaBaby: Interscope is confident DaBaby has plenty more juice in his sippy cup. “ ‘Suge’ has done amazingly well at radio -- just an absolute monster,” says Wyskoarko, 41, who forecasts that it will become “the biggest song of the year at urban radio” by December.
President, Love Renaissance (LVRN)
Head of A&R, LVRN
Sean Famoso McNichol
Head of marketing and brand partnerships, LVRN
Creative director, LVRN
Head of operations/head of touring, LVRN
Bet on 6LACK: The quintet behind Atlanta-based management firm and indie label Love Renaissance (LVRN) prides itself on signing artists who operate on the fringes of R&B and rap. “We understand the frustration that young executives and artists have with record labels and how they operate,” says Baiden, 27, who, with his colleagues, helped 6LACK’s East Atlanta Love Letter debut at No. 1 on Top R&B Albums -- the rapper’s first chart-topping LP. His single “Pretty Little Fears” (featuring J. Cole) scored a Grammy nomination. And rising star Summer Walker landed her first Hot 100 hit with the Drake-assisted remix of “Girls Need Love,” followed by her first solo hit on the chart, “Playing Games.”
The Road to Well-Being: “We’re making it one of our 2020 missions to further the conversation on mental health and implement programs to help,” says Abaidoo, 27. Beginning with Walker’s tour this fall, he says, “Our management team will be working with a specialist to offer self-healing and mindfulness sessions to the tour’s crew and artists.”
Co-CEO, The Blueprint Group; COO, Young Money Entertainment; partner, Maverick
Tha Carter Free: Bryant, 40, and his Young Money partner, Mack Maine, helped longtime client Lil Wayne settle his lawsuits with Cash Money Records and Universal Music Group in June 2018, which gave the rapper sole ownership of Young Money Records and its releases moving forward. That paved the way for the long-awaited release of Tha Carter V (which debuted at No. 1 in October 2018 and earned 480,000 equivalent album units in its first week), a branding deal with American Eagle clothing, a national commercial for the Ghost Recon video-game franchise and a joint summer tour with Blink-182.
Blueprint For the Future: “It’s time for evolution,” says Bryant of The Blueprint Group’s next chapter. He is working with BPG Records president Jean Nelson to develop the company’s label, which counts G-Eazy among its roster.
Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter
Founder, Roc Nation
CEO, Roc Nation
COO, Roc Nation
Touched Down With the NFL: During the past year, JAY-Z, 49, and Roc Nation’s sports deals have generated as much news as the company’s music roster. In August, the NFL announced a partnership with Roc Nation that gives it an advisory role as live-music entertainment strategists for events like the Super Bowl halftime show. Roc Nation also will support Inspire Change, the social justice initiative created by the NFL and the Players Coalition. Given the NFL’s relationship with Colin Kaepernick, JAY-Z’s deal with the league has generated controversy, but as the rapper turned entrepreneur observed at the time of the deal, “Entertainment and enacting change are not mutually exclusive ideas.” In other sports news, Roc Nation unveiled its new global sports division -- which will focus on soccer -- in London.
All About Eve: Women rocked the Roc’s music department in 2019. Rapsody’s acclaimed Eve hit No. 9 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Album Sales chart and has generated 22.1 million on-demand audio streams. Roc Nation also signed Megan Thee Stallion to its management division after she scored her first top 10 album on the Billboard 200, Fever, and two top 40 Hot 100 singles: “Hot Girl Summer” with Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign (No. 11) and “Cash Shit,” featuring DaBaby (No. 36).
Ibrahim “IB” Hamad
Co-founder/president, Dreamville; manager, J. Cole
Dream Academy: Dreamville’s 2019 compilation album, Revenge of the Dreamers III, for which chief Dreamer J. Cole invited over 100 artists and producers to write and record songs, far surpassed the chart performance of its predecessors, debuting at the top of the Billboard 200 in July. (Dreamers II peaked at No. 29, and the original, a mixtape, did not chart.) Dreamers III also surpassed 807,000 consumption units in September. Meanwhile, Dreamville’s breakout R&B singer, Ari Lennox, landed in the top 10 of the Top R&B Albums chart with her debut LP, Shea Butter Baby, and according to Hamad, 35, the inaugural Dreamville Festival drew 40,000 attendees to Raleigh, N.C.
Dream-Velelopment: Hamad attributes the breakouts of Lennox, EarthGang and J.I.D to the importance that he and Cole, 34, place on artist development. “You can’t have them try to do what’s trendy or to [emulate] someone else and expect longevity,” he says.
Co-head of urban music, Columbia Records
Co-head of urban music, Columbia Records and Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Senior vp international marketing, Columbia and Epic Records
Lil Nas X-Ceptional This trio helped make Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” a global phenomenon and the longest-running Hot 100 chart-topper ever -- 19 weeks at No. 1. Fant, 41, quarterbacked Lil Nas X’s development, setting him up with a performance coach and filmmaker Calmatic, who directed the song’s viral video, a Quentin Tarantino spoof that has amassed 350 million-plus YouTube views. Holiday, 42, whose purview extends to Sony’s publishing arm, was key in recording and releasing the rapper’s debut EP, 7, and in just three months, 38-year-old Thomas, who was elevated from a vp role at Epic to her current position in September 2018, ensured that the smash also conquered the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.
Polo Player: Lil Nas X wasn’t Columbia’s only Gen Z urban artist to break big. Polo G, a 20-year-old rapper from Chicago, clocked his first Top Rap Albums No. 1 with Die a Legend in June and a No. 11 Hot 100 single, “Pop Out” (featuring labelmate Lil Tjay). “He has pain in his voice,” says Holiday. “If you drive the streets of Chicago, all you hear is Polo G.”
XXX Lives On: Late rapper XXXTentacion -- who signed with EMPIRE just weeks before his murder -- continues to resonate with music fans. His December 2018 album, Skins, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Meanwhile, EMPIRE’s deals with Robin Thicke and Iggy Azalea led to Thicke’s “That’s What Love Can Do” topping the Adult R&B airplay chart in July, and Azalea’s In My Defense entering the top 25 of Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
Enter the Dragon: A decade into operation, Ghazi says his onetime U.S. indie distribution business has evolved into a “three-headed dragon” -- a hybrid distributor-label-publisher with outposts in Europe, China and Southeast Asia, as well as its original Bay Area location, and counts such names as Thicke, Azalea and Snoop Dogg among its client roster. New ventures include a 10,000-square-foot recording studio in San Francisco and a push into the country market. To those ends, EMPIRE has opened a new Nashville office and hired Eric Hurt, formerly of Black River Entertainment, as its vp of A&R. “We’re in a different generation, where music is born through different mediums,” says Ghazi. “I like to think of EMPIRE as the green light where many other situations are stop signs.”
Aubrey “Drake” Graham
Co-founder, OVO and OVO Sound
Noah “40” Shebib
Co-founder, OVO and OVO Sound; producer
Co-founder, OVO and OVO Sound
President, OVO Sound
An OMG Year for OVO: Drake, 32, won his fourth Grammy for monster hit “God’s Plan” (and actually showed up to the ceremony to collect it). All 25 of the tracks from the single’s parent album, Scorpion, entered the Hot 100, breaking a record previously set by... Drake, and Scorpion ruled the Billboard 200 for five consecutive weeks. But Drizzy didn’t rest. He made his third mixtape, So Far Gone, available on streaming services for the first time and dropped the compilation album Care Package. El-Khatib and Shebib, 36, served as co-executive producers on the compilation, with an assist from Mr. Morgan. Their contributions led to Care Package becoming Drake’s ninth No. 1 album on the Billboard 200.
Sound Synergy: Toronto-based label OVO Sound added Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan to its roster at the top of the year and featured his music on the hip-hop-heavy soundtrack it curated for the Drake-produced Netflix revival of Top Boy. Drake’s expansion into TV and film also included executive-producer duties on HBO’s Euphoria (starring Zendaya), which was renewed for a second season.
Dijon “Mustard” McFarlane
Founder, 10 Summers; Artist-Producer-DJ
Co-founder, 10 Summers; manager (Mustard, Ella Mai)
Elevated Ella: Thanks to his production on protégée Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” -- which broke the record for most weeks at No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart for a song by a female artist -- Mustard, 29, won his first Grammy (for best R&B song) in February, an honor the self-proclaimed “ratchet hits” producer deems “crazy” yet “perfect.” The Los Angeles native’s own 2019 album, Perfect 10, debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200, the highest-charting LP of his solo career. Its success was driven in part by its platinum-certified Migos collaboration “Pure Water.”
Kickin' It Old School: Mustard took a two-year break from his solo music to focus on Mai, and he plans to add more artists to the 10 Summers “family,” which he says is now “three-people strong,” including 34-year-old Yohannes, the brains behind the label’s operations. Mustard’s strategy for breaking new acts? “The labels sign these kids because they got the hot new song,” he says. “I’m following the old-school shit -- development and taking your time.”
Chairman/CEO, Def Jam Recordings; co-founder/CEO, Shady Records; founder, Goliath Management
Steven “Steve-O” Carless
Senior vp A&R, Def Jam Recordings; co-founder, Marathon Agency
Senior vp A&R, Def Jam Recordings
Alexander “AE” Edwards
VP A&R, Victor Victor/Def Jam Recordings
Success Measured in Billions: In 2018, Def Jam artists raked in 35 billion total global streams (16 billion in the United States), according to the label. Among the highlights were platinum singles for YK Osiris (“Worth It”), Logic (“Homicide,” featuring Eminem) and YG (“Go Loko”). After DaniLeigh appeared in Prince’s 2013 “Breakfast Can Wait” video, Clark, 39, broke her solo career with “The Plan” and “Lil Bebe.” The latter track went to No. 26 on R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay and has 129.8 million streams.
A&R Means "Artists and Rosenberg": As part of a major reorganization at Def Jam this year, Rosenberg, 47, is doubling down on A&R. “When we came into the building, we went on a signing frenzy, and we have a lot of acts now [on which] we need to drill down,” says Eminem’s longtime manager. New additions to the roster include Saint Bodhi (signed by Carless, 38) and Carson Lueders. “He’s able to work across the board,” says Rosenberg of Carless, who also manages Nipsey Hussle’s estate. Edwards, 33, spent his first 18 months at the label developing YK Osiris and working with new signees on a rap camp for the Undisputed compilation series. As part of production duo Da Internz, Clark has worked with Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Big Sean, and has sold 40 million records, according to the company. “When they win, I win,” he says.
Mobile Mogul: Stoute’s digital distribution and artist-services platform linked with video game publisher 2K in July to curate the soundtrack to NBA 2K20 using UnitedMasters artists. UnitedMasters also launched an iOS app -- what Stoute calls a “record label in your pocket” that lets artists upload their music to digital service platforms, track their social growth and more. The New York native says his 2-year-old company now has over 120,000 registered artists, more than double the total from six months ago, and served as a launch pad for NLE Choppa and Lil Tecca this year.
Gaming the System: Stoute, who also founded the ad agency Translation, is focused on connecting his artists with brand partnerships in sports and gaming, calling them “the new [Total Request Live].”
Co-founder/head of marketing, Since the 80s
Household Additions: The Georgia-raised executive, 35, who managed 21 Savage for five years until September, founded management company and record label Since the 80s in 2018 with Barry Johnson and Zekiel Nicholson. She says she’s dedicated to making the brand “a household name” with such releases as Savage’s I Am > I Was, which debuted in January 2019 atop the Billboard 200. Her growing roster now includes Njomza, a co-writer on Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” and Asiahn, whose “Like You” peaked at No. 38 on the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop airplay chart.
All For One: The Atlanta music community where Henderson got her start is now “open to making money together instead of just closing ourselves off,” she says. “We’re all really talking to each other, and that has helped propel the entire scene.”
Partner, Maverick; co-CEO, The Blueprint Group
Lil Nas X = Big Surprise: Los Angeles-based Leber, 42, who managed Britney Spears for 10 years and currently manages Miley Cyrus, and New York-based Roberson, 45, who managed Nicki Minaj until April, agree that the meteoric ascent of their first co-managed artist, Lil Nas X, is unique. “It’s something I’ve never experienced in my entire career,” says Roberson of Lil Nas X’s record 19 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 with “Old Town Road.” “For this to be his introduction to the world? It’s nothing less than remarkable.” Leber and Roberson -- who finish each other’s sentences -- helped develop the 20-year-old rapper into a cultural phenomenon that Leber envisions as a triple-threat: “Obviously music is the definitive focus right now, but I think the future is really open for him.”
Labrinth of Dreams: Leber is also working with new music from Labrinth -- the British songwriter, rapper and producer Leber has collaborated with as music supervisor for HBO’s Euphoria. Labrinth is also one-third of LSD, with Sia and Diplo. Says Roberson: “Lab is the best-kept secret that’s right in front of the world’s face.”
Founder, London Entertainment
Post's Promoter: In September, London’s marquee client, Post Malone (whom he manages with Austin Rosen), notched his second No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with Hollywood’s Bleeding, featuring all-star assists. The album already has five top 10 Hot 100 singles: the Swae Lee team-up “Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)” (No. 1), “Wow.” (No. 2), the Young Thug collaboration “Goodbyes” (No. 3), “Circles” (No. 4) and “Take What You Want,” featuring Ozzy Osbourne and Travis Scott (No. 8).
A Category Unto HImself: London (born Andre Jackson) thinks his face-tattooed, guitar-playing client is finally getting recognition for his unique genre-bending style after years of being told to pick a lane. “Post Malone is a genre,” says London.
Founder/CEO, MBK Entertainment
Dual Grammys For H.E.R.: Robinson’s management client H.E.R. won her first two Grammys this year -- for best R&B performance and best R&B album -- out of five nominations. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter also curated and headlined her inaugural Lights On festival in September in partnership with Live Nation Urban. According to the promoter, the festival sold out to the tune of “13,200 fans in 30 minutes.”
Lights On, R&B's Home: The Concord, Calif., festival -- where the Bay Area-raised H.E.R. said she had “many memories of watching shows and dreaming I would be able to perform there” -- boasted an array of young R&B acts including Daniel Caesar, Summer Walker, Ari Lennox and Lucky Daye. Proof positive, says Robinson -- who was Alicia Keys’ first manager -- that “R&B is alive and well.”
CEO, Emagen Entertainment Groupl co-founder, Queensbridge Venture Partners
Pluto Pays Off: Saleh’s investments in internet-based streaming TV and movie service Pluto TV and online pharmacy PillPack paid off in 2019. Viacom acquired the former in January for $340 million, and Amazon purchased the latter in May for a reported $753 million.
Money's On His Mind: The 33-year-old’s Emagen artist management firm represents rap stars Nas, Future and Gunna, but it’s his investment expertise that recently has earned him so much attention. He also holds stakes -- through his and Nas’ Queensbridge Venture Partners -- in Genius, Lyft and SeatGeek. His clients’ music has performed admirably too: Future’s two most recent projects, the Wizrd LP and Save Me EP, became his 11th and 12th top 10 albums on the Billboard 200, respectively. And Nas’ Nasir, which was produced by Kanye West, debuted at No. 5 on the chart.
Wassim “Sal” Slaiby
CEO, Sal&Co/Maverick; CEO, XO Records
Team-Builder: In the 20 years since Slaiby emigrated on his own from Lebanon to Canada at the age of 15, he has built one of Canada’s top independent labels, joined Maverick as a partner and formed its new Maverick Urban division. His artist roster includes The Weeknd, French Montana and NAV, who in April topped the Billboard 200 for the first time, with his second studio album, Bad Habits. “I love building teams,” says Slaiby, 39. “That’s my specialty since day one.” In June, The Weeknd, a client since 2011, earned an RIAA diamond certification for “The Hills,” and new signee Ali Gatie burst into the mainstream with “It’s You,” which hit No. 4 on Hot R&B Songs.
Bonding With Barack: The soon-to-be father of three gets wistful recalling his invitation to speak at the Spotify-hosted Brilliant Minds conference in Sweden in June -- an invite that also was extended to former President Barack Obama. “I got to stand on that stage and not just talk about success,” says Slaiby, who is also a member of the Global Citizen advisory board. “It was a really remarkable moment in my life.”
Music agents, Creative Artists Agency
Signed Thee Stallion, Nas X and A Boogie: CAA’s hip-hop specialists, Cheatham, Harris, 28; Iser, 34; and Yim, 40, emphasize the collaborative nature of their efforts when it comes to the agency’s wins during the past year. The quartet reeled in three of 2019’s hottest artists: Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Nas X and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. Clients Jay Rock and 2018 breakout Ella Mai took home Grammys and sold out their respective tours, according to the agency. The CAA team also lined up a Las Vegas residency for Cardi B and live dates for longtime client Anderson .Paak.
The "Road" Ahead: Harris says working with record-setting sensation Lil Nas X has been one heck of a ride. “It’s all happening so fast, and it’s all happening at once, and you don’t want to miss the moment,” he says. “But it’s not always ‘Let’s just put him on tour.’ Sometimes it’s ‘Let’s do this soft ticket, let’s do this festival, let’s let the demand take over.’ The fun part,” he adds, “is when it gets nontraditional, such as branding deals, and you have to figure out the best opportunities to help move the needle.”
Director of artist strategy, Paradigm Talent Agency
Agent, brand partnerships, Paradigm Talent Agency
Agent, Paradigm Talent Agency
Entrepreneurial Enablers: Paradigm’s hip-hop team takes a holistic approach to the careers of the acts on their roster by working with other divisions of the agency to find opportunities outside of touring. “I’m an antenna,” says Davis, 36, explaining that she connects Paradigm’s music artists with other agents they should meet. “That cross-disciplinary approach is important to our hip-hop artists because the culture thinks in an entrepreneurial way, from fashion to sports to technology.”
Brand Manager: Following this approach, DiStasio, 29, landed and extended Smokepurpp’s brand ambassadorship with Puma sportswear, facilitated Normani’s performance at HBO’s World Pride Day event and partnered Gucci Mane with Swisher Sweets. Zahedinia, 30, grew his roster, signing Shoreline Mafia, Machine Gun Kelly, $uicideboy$ and Blueface within a 12-month period.
Partner/agent, concerts, ICM Partners
Yves C. Pierre
Agents, concerts, ICM Partners
Dreamville Delivers: “It has been the year of Dreamville,” says Gibbs of the J. Cole-affiliated crew that ICM represents: Ari Lennox, Bas, J.I.D and EarthGang. “To see the growth and development of these artists on the road -- selling out globally in support of their individual albums -- has been incredible,” he adds.
Year of the Woman: Both Reynolds-Drumm, 33, and Pierre say they’ve had much satisfaction in signing and developing female artists. They share a roster that includes Baby Rose, Yung Baby Tate, City Girls, Rapsody, Justine Skye and Layton Greene. The latter three “have released new albums or EPs that tell their stories and experiences of what it means to be a black woman in music,” says Pierre. “[It’s] what keeps me going.”
Mike “Mike G.” Guirguis
Music agents, UTA
Posty and Mates: When Jordan, 32, began working with Tierra Whack, she was new to the festival circuit; now she’s a veteran of Coachella, Lollapalooza and Outside Lands. Guirguis, 43, has raised Burna Boy’s international profile, and client Social House is opening for Ariana Grande’s Sweetener tour and landed a 12-school 2020 college tour. Paglierani, 35, is thrilled that Post Malone’s Posty Fest will double its size in its second year by moving to Dallas’ AT&T Stadium in the artist’s home state of Texas. She says, “Ever since he was a child, Post always had wanted to perform at that stadium. It was the best feeling to be part of such an incredible event and to help him fulfill his lifelong dream.”
Rallying For R&B: Guirguis says it’s high time that “R&B music becomes a higher priority with major labels, digital sound processors and radio programmers. It’s a timeless style of music that appeals to all ages, and it needs to reach more listeners.”
Partners, music, WME
Drake, Gambino and Juice WRLD, Oh My: Smith’s blue-chip roster of hip-hop artists made big bank in the live sector. He says Drake had the highest-grossing hip-hop tour of 2018-19, raking in $145 million, while Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar sold out his 2018-19 global arena tour. Childish Gambino, who won four Grammys this year, grossed $23.3 million from arena dates in 2018 and 2019 and doubled that total headlining a run of top festivals that included Coachella and Outside Lands. (The latter festival set an attendance record on the day that he performed.) Juice WRLD grossed $6.5 million on a 30-day North American tour, and, says Smith, the seventh year of Tyler, The Creator’s sold-out Camp Flog Gnaw festival moved 80,000 tickets. Rubin, 40, and Tyler’s 4 Strikes Management arranged for the artist to return to the United Kingdom for three sold-out shows five years after he was banned from the country due to the content of his lyrics.
Missing Mac: “As Mac [Miller’s] agent and friend, I witnessed firsthand his lesson that kindness and honesty will always prevail in music and in life,” says Rubin, who, with Smith, Shivers, 43, and WME partner Michele Bernstein helped Miller’s family and 4 Strikes produce a benefit concert for the Mac Miller Circle Fund.
Senior vp touring, Live Nation
VP touring, Live Nation
Grist For Mill: In addition to promoting longtime client JAY-Z’s Made in America festival alongside Roc Nation, Al-Joulani, 41, crafted global long-term deals for future arena headliners including Lil Uzi Vert and Meek Mill. He also promoted 40 dates for Mill, including a co-headlining tour with Future, and over 25 dates for Logic’s fall arena tour.
Post Graduate: Lewis, 44, worked with Post Malone’s team, UTA agent Cheryl Paglierani and managers Dre London and Austin Rosen to take the hip-hop star from ballrooms to arenas and create the first-ever Posty Fest, which grossed over $1.7 million in October 2018. “In May and June of 2018, Post Malone sold over 200,000 tickets in Live Nation amphitheaters, stunning the concert world with unprecedented demand and an average ticket price typically reserved for veteran arena-level artists,” says Lewis.
Co-founders, Rolling Loud
Four Cities, 500,000 Tickets: The fifth year of Rolling Loud marked the hip-hop festival’s New York debut, with a two-day concert headlined by Travis Scott and A$AP Rocky at Queens’ Citi Field on Columbus Day weekend. Now held in six cities worldwide -- including Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Hong Kong; and Sydney -- the Miami-born experiential event is on track to sell 1 million festival tickets by the end of 2019, according to the company.
Living Loud: Rolling Loud merchandise has become a cultish streetwear brand, with limited-edition pieces often out of stock on a festival’s first day. “Seeing someone wearing our merch still trips me out,” says Cherif, 30, who also manages Ski Mask the Slump God. “We see the future of our company as a lifestyle brand, which is way cooler than just a music festival.”
10 Years Strong: Cooper, 55, celebrated her 10th year at the helm of Afropunk, which itself turned 15 in 2019 and drew 60,000 people to its flagship two-day Brooklyn festival in August, according to the company. This year also brought the return of spinoffs in Johannesburg, London, Atlanta and Paris, where she says attendance numbers have doubled annually -- all part of Cooper’s mission to be “the first global music festival that focuses on people of color.”
From Brooklyn to Brazil: Afropunk will launch in Brazil in 2020, marking its sixth city and fourth continent, and bringing its global audience to 175,000 annual attendees, says Cooper, adding, “Not bad for a little company that started out as a passion project.” The former head of A&R at Universal Records says the inaugural Brooklyn event in 2005 drew just 250 people.
President, Live Nation Urban
VP talent and touring, Live Nation Urban
VP business development and operations, Live Nation Urban
Urban Development: Led by Gee, Live Nation Urban helped produce Atlanta’s Super Bowl Music Festival with Bruno Mars and Cardi B, whose Feb. 2 show brought in almost $6.5 million, breaking the single-night gross record for State Farm Arena. Lowery’s team oversaw nearly a dozen shows for the all-female-lineup series Femme It Forward, while Pankey’s partnered with Audiomack for the concert series Hometown Heroes: 19 U.S. shows that highlighted local artists. The trio say they drew 28,000 guests to Roots Picnic in Philadelphia in June, doubling last year’s attendance.
Brought Broccoli Back: “We’re proud of the growth we have had,” says Gee, adding that in 2019, Live Nation Urban brought back Washington, D.C.’s Broccoli City festival and produced three days of the BET Experience at Los Angeles’ Staples Center with a lineup that included Migos, Cardi B and Mary J. Blige. Adds Gee: “We’re an entrepreneurial shop located in a major corporation.”
Director of global touring, AEG Presents
All-Star Roster: Since moving from AEG’s Denver outpost to its Los Angeles base a year ago, Shuman has worked on high-profile hip-hop treks for YG, A$AP Rocky, $uicideboy$, T-Pain and Juice WRLD, who, he says, grossed a collective $18.3 million in 2019. On the heels of those successes, Shuman and his team are launching new tours with Kevin Gates, Summer Walker, Ski Mask the Slump God and DaBaby throughout the fall.
No Substitutions: “Technology has made it easier to discover and consume music, but it will never replace the feeling you get at a live show, seeing a band in the flesh,” says Shuman.
VP creative, Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Senior director of A&R, Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Initial Wins: Holder’s client Ronny J produced four late-2018 hits: Kanye West and Lil Pump’s “I Love It,” which hit No. 6 on the Hot 100; Eminem’s “The Ringer” (No. 8) and “Not Alike” (No. 24); and Machine Gun Kelly’s “Rap Devil” (No. 13). Meanwhile, Drake’s 2018 signing of Cardi B bore fruit with her best rap album Grammy win and four additional nods. And client Khalid earned his first No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart with “Talk.”
The Sound and The Fury: “How many times have we seen a rap feud between two established artists with the producer being part of the bedrock for both songs?” asks Brooklyn-born Holder, 38, of Ronny J, who produced both Eminem’s MGK dis track “Not Alike” and Kelly’s response, “Rap Devil,” with no apparent repercussions. Drake, 37, who became a mother in August, signed Ella Mai and “Boo’d Up” producer Mustard to Sony, winning a fierce bidding war after an 11th-hour visit to the studio where the duo was recording. “Never underestimate the power of relationships,” she says.
VP creative/A&R, BMG
He's Got Juice: Jadeja, 37, and his team emerged victorious in a heated music-publisher battle to sign Juice WRLD, landing worldwide publishing rights in November 2018, a month after the Chicago rapper’s “Lucid Dreams” hit No. 2 on the Hot 100. In March, his album Death Race for Love debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Now, 1.6 billion “Lucid Dreams” streams later, Jadeja’s duties were expanded to include global markets.
Whatever It Takes: When Juice WRLD toured the East Coast, Jadeja, a self-described “Indian nerd from Connecticut,” says he transformed into the rapper’s “personal concierge” -- commandeering a stranger’s vehicle in Rhode Island to shield Juice WRLD from a swarm of fans. “It was in those moments that I became more than just a suit,” says Jadeja.
Co-head of A&R, Universal Music Publishing Group
Cream of the Culture: The Clark Atlanta University alumnus, 38, who was appointed to his role in early 2019, added Quality Control standouts Lil Baby and City Girls to his roster. “They mean so much to the culture,” says Jones, who also oversees A&R for H.E.R., Daniel “Bekon” Tannenbaum and Lil Yachty.
He Got a Grammy: The Santa Monica, Calif.-based executive took home his first Grammy in February for executive-producing H.E.R.’s eponymous debut, which was named best R&B album. The singer invited him onstage to accept the award: “She put in the work,” says Jones. “I was just happy to be there with her.”
President of A&R, Warner Chappell Music
Landed Lizzo: Three months after Press was promoted to his role in April, he signed rising star Lizzo, who earned her first Hot 100 No. 1 in September with the fiery “Truth Hurts.” Prior to his promotion, the 10-year Warner Chappell veteran paired client Swae Lee with Post Malone for their smash Hot 100-topping collaboration, “Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)” -- Lee’s first No. 1 on the chart outside of Rae Sremmurd.
100% That Bad-Ass: The Philadelphia University alum, who now resides in Los Angeles, is proud of the success he’s had with Lizzo, saying, “She’s the total package -- singer, songwriter, rapper, and flautist, and we’re really excited to have her in the Warner Chappell family. She’s a leader among this new generation of incredibly talented songwriters and truly represents what we stand for as a company.”
Executive vp creative, Kobalt Music
Al “Butter” McLean
Senior vp creative, Kobalt Music
All the Awards: Less than two weeks after Kobalt announced the McLean-led signing of Childish Gambino and the artist’s creative collective Wolf + Rothstein to a worldwide publishing administration deal in May 2018, Gambino’s “This Is America” debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100 on the way to generating 648 million U.S. streams and winning four Grammys. Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s Black Panther soundtrack cut “All the Stars” (helmed by Taylor’s writer-producer clients Al Shux and Sounwave) was also nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and four Grammys.
Owning It: New priorities include rappers Roddy Ricch, who made his Hot 100 debut as a lead act with “Die Young” in May, and Gunna, whose debut album, Drip or Drown 2, entered the Billboard 200 at No. 3 in March. Both signed global deals with Kobalt in the summer. “These kids know not to give up their publishing for a big check,” says Taylor, 42, who rose to Kobalt’s executive suite in July. “At Kobalt, they’re able to stay the owners of their work.”
Director of urban music, YouTube
All the World is His Stage: The former curator of Spotify’s influential RapCaviar playlist worked with global head of artist relations Vivien Lewit to establish YouTube Music’s recent partnership with African music talent incubator emPawa Africa. “We’re true importers of global music,” says Basa about his employer. “If you upload a video from Africa, anyone in the world -- whether in Omaha, Neb., or Kiev, Ukraine -- can fuck with it.”
Hip-Hop Hype Man: In June, Basa marked his first year at YouTube, where his role as a hip-hop culture ambassador has taken him to events like the 2019 Africa Business Conference at Harvard Business School.
Head of urban, Spotify
Global head, R&B/soul, Spotify
Exhibiting Greatness: Chery joined Spotify in May 2018 from Apple Music, where he served as head of curation. His first order of business? Refreshing RapCaviar’s Pantheon exhibit, which immortalizes rap stars with Greco-Roman style sculptures at the Brooklyn Museum. The attraction certainly hasn’t hurt RapCaviar’s numbers: The playlist boasts 12 million followers, up 4 million since Pantheon opened in 2017. Pickett celebrated the platform’s Are & Be playlist surpassing 5 million followers with a jam session at New Orleans’ Essence Festival in July. “There was so much love in the room,” she says.
Him and H.E.R.: At the 2019 Grammys, H.E.R. won best R&B album for her self-titled LP -- and gave Chery an unexpected shout-out. “My phone started blowing up,” he recalls.
Head of hip-hop and R&B, Amazon Music
Music curator, hip-hop and R&B, Amazon Music
Amazon Guides: Working in tandem, Hinshaw, 29, and Balogun, 36, led the launch of the global playlists Rap Rotation and R&B Rotation, which both debuted in the top 10 of Amazon Music’s charts.
Prime Placement: Hinshaw, who has been with the company for just over a year, says he’s “hyper focused” on “making sure R&B/hip-hop is represented in everything we do and becoming a leader in that space.” In addition to launching the Rotation brand in 2018, native Los Angeleno Balogun launched the Hype Music playlist, which she says was directly inspired by customers asking Alexa to “play hype music.”
Global creative director, Apple Music
Global editorial head of hip-hop and R&B, Apple Musc; Host, Beats 1
Scratchin' At Steve's: In April, Apple Music reportedly surpassed Spotify in paid U.S. subscribers with over 28 million. It was one of many firsts that Darden has experienced in the 10 months since he took on his current role -- he first joined Apple Music as a Beats 1 host in 2015 -- but he says he’s most proud of a different milestone: booking the first rapper and DJ to perform at Apple Park’s Steve Jobs Theater as part of the company’s Black Music Month celebration. He says, “I don’t think people had ever danced in the theater before that.”
Beats Without Borders: Growing up, Jackson wanted to be a meteorologist. Now, instead of predicting weather patterns, he and Darden are forecasting industry trends. Jackson says Apple Music always has explored “uncharted territory” such as his idea to pair 2 Chainz and LeBron James for Rap or Go to the League. The NBA superstar executive-produced the rapper’s LP.
Charlamagne Tha God
Author; radio/TV personality; host, The Breakfast Club, WWPR (Power 105.1) New York
Help Line: In the year since the hip-hop personality released his second book, Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, Charlamagne has become a crucial voice for mental health advocacy in the urban community: “I was just telling my story, but I’ve seen it help so many other people.”
Ratchet Meets Righteous: This year, as the highest-profile co-host of WWPR’s The Breakfast Club -- the No. 1 syndicated hip-hop morning show that airs on 80-plus stations and has logged over 1.5 billion YouTube views -- the blunt father of three daughters has rankled Nicki Minaj and alienated Logic, while also going emotionally deep with Offset. But the show’s unexpected role as a 2020 presidential campaign stop for Sens. Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders, as well as South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, makes Charlamagne especially proud. “We give people the medicine as well as the candy,” says the South Carolinian. “It’s a perfect balance of ratchetness and righteousness.”
Executive vp/head of programming, BET; executive producer, 2019 BET Awards
Horse Power: In June, the 2019 BET Awards aired the live-TV performance debut of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” complete with featured remix guest Billy Ray Cyrus, two horses and a replica saloon. It was simulcast across eight Viacom networks, including MTV, TV Land and VH1.
Hurricane Connie: The annual ceremony drew 12.7 million total viewers, up a staggering 290% from 4.3 million in 2018. Says Orlando, who marked her second year as the network’s top programmer in September: “It was the perfect storm.”
VP programming, Radio One
Raising Ratings: Powell got a research assistant gig at KBXX-FM (97.9) to avoid University of Houston’s campus housing. (“I wanted an apartment,” she says with a laugh.) Radio One acquired the station in 2000, and the Washington, D.C.-based bookworm rose to oversee programming for the company’s D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia markets. In February, Powell became the first woman to hold a vp of programming post at the company, and under her guidance, WMMJ Washington, D.C.’s average Nielsen rating for the 6-plus demographic rose from 7.0 in August 2018 to 8.2 in August 2019.
Hustle and Flow: Powell launched The Morning Hustle and Love and R&B With Al B. Sure! in 2019. “It comes down to providing your audience with the voices you know they want to hear,” she says.
Program director, WVEE (V-103) Atlanta; urban format captain, Entercom
The "V" Stands For "Victorious": Rouse’s programming has kept WVEE No. 1 in the key demographic slot of listeners 18 to 49 years old for the past five years, and shaped the R&B/hip-hop sound and culture in the nation’s most competitive urban radio market, where nine stations compete for a share of the audience.
More Than Music: Rouse says Atlanta sets the pace in the country for hip-hop and R&B. As the market leader, WVEE broadcasts more than just music. “We want to be a digital newspaper, keeping our audience informed; a digital footprint on-air and online. Hip-hop is more than a format. It’s a lifestyle.”
Programming director, Hip-Hop Nation/Shade 45, SiriusXM
Made in the Shade: Under Triana’s direction, the Hip-Hop Nation channel world-premiered three songs that became hits: “The London” by Young Thug, J. Cole and Travis Scott and “Leave Me Alone” by Flipp Dinero, which peaked at No. 6 and No. 10, respectively, on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs; and “On Chill” by Wale (featuring Jeremih), which hit No. 3 on R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay.
A&R'd for ADD: When it comes to hip-hop hits, the Queens native says, “Everyone is releasing singles that are a lot shorter than they used to be, probably because attention spans are at an all-time low.”
Executive vp urban/hip-hop programming strategy, iHeartMedia; program director, KRRL (Real 92.3) Los Angeles
Executive vp programming, iHeartMedia; program director, WWPR (Power 105.1) New York
Welcome Back, Rocky: Wynter, 58, pulled off a major feat with the kickoff of KRRL’s Real Street Festival, a two-day outdoor concert in August that drew over 41,000 to the Honda Center Grounds in Anaheim, Calif. The event fortuitously became A$AP Rocky’s de facto homecoming performance after the rapper’s release from jail in Sweden. On the opposite coast, under the direction of Mitchem, 46, New York’s Power 105.1 has lived up to its namesake flex -- posting its highest ratings in its 17-year history. The broadcaster finished August as the five boroughs’ No. 1 R&B/hip-hop station and boasted the No. 1 morning show in the key 18-49 demographic with syndicated tentpole The Breakfast Club. The program regularly breaks news in its interviews with artists, celebrities and even political candidates such as Sen. Kamala Harris.
Highly Underrated: Trade magazine Radio Ink recently named Mitchem -- a veteran programming executive whose hybrid role includes supervising over 28 stations in major markets such as Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C. -- the No. 1 program director in America. “After 20 years in this game, all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Who’s this Thea Mitchem person?’ ” she says. “And it’s like, ‘I’ve been here.’ ”
VP, creative, BMI
Repping Kendrick and Nas X: Atlanta-based Brewton oversees all of BMI’s R&B/hip-hop business, which was strengthened by the recent signings of Kendrick Lamar and Lil Nas X, who joined just before “Old Town Road” spent a record 19 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100.
Record Revenue: Nielsen’s midyear music report documenting hip-hop’s surge to a 26.5% U.S. market share cited Nas, Post Malone, Khalid and Juice WRLD -- all BMI acts who helped propel the performing rights organization to a record $1.28 billion in revenue. “We’ve been leading the charge in that space,” says Brewton, who also is advancing a social agenda: The Hope for Harvest foundation she formed to help at-risk kids turns 10 this year. “I want to use my platform to help children who may have aspirations to be the next Pharrell [Williams], or engineer, or synch licensor,” says the executive.
Senior vp membership, ASCAP
Camped With Mary J.: George-Middleton spearheaded She Is the Music, ASCAP’s first all-female song camp, in October 2018. The Nashville event, which featured Mary J. Blige, spun off 15 songs. “Three of them are on hold by major artists,” says George-Middleton, who celebrated her 10-year anniversary with ASCAP in 2018. “And to have Mary J. Blige be part of the camp was the icing on the cake for us. She is so awesome.”
Rhythm, Soul, Latin and Mustard: The Bronx-born Brooklyn Law School graduate -- who oversees a portfolio that includes Cardi B, Mustard and Fetty Wap, and is credited with increasing the PRO’s rhythm-and-soul market -- organized a second camp in Miami in late September that focused on Latin music. Says George-Middleton: “The breadth of talent at ASCAP crosses every genre.”
VP creative services, SESAC
Panther Tracks: “Paramedic!,” which DJ Dahi co-produced for the Black Panther soundtrack, was not only included on the three-week Billboard 200 No. 1 album but also “made it into the film, which was pretty cool,” says Leach. He notes that the Los Angeles-born talent also remixed “Wakanda” (featuring Baaba Maal) for homie Kendrick Lamar and pulled the levers on Vampire Weekend’s “Big Blue.”
Africa is the Future: Leach signing Lalah Hathaway scored three Grammy nominations in 2018, and funk legend George Clinton, whom Leach signed in 2015, received a lifetime achievement Grammy in February. But what Leach, an 18-year SESAC veteran, is most excited about is “diving further into the growing influence and impact African artists have had on hip-hop and R&B,” exemplified, he says, by WurlD, whom he signed this year. “That vibe -- that Afrobeat, Afro-fusion hip-hop sound -- hasn’t been coined yet, but it’s very influential and part of the evolution of hip-hop.”
Methodology: A committee of Billboard editors and reporters weighed a variety of factors in determining the 2019 R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players list, including but not limited to nominations by peers, colleagues and superiors; impact on consumer behavior as measured by such metrics as chart, sales and streaming performance; tour grosses; social media impressions; radio and TV audiences reached; career trajectory; and overall impact in the industry, using the latest data available as of Sept. 5. Data cited in the profiles was updated as of Oct. 3. When available, financial results are taken into consideration. Current U.S. R&B/hip-hop market share was calculated using Nielsen Music’s market share for album plus track-equivalent and stream-equivalent album consumption units. Unless otherwise noted, Billboard Boxscore and Nielsen Music are the sources for tour grosses and sales/streaming data, respectively. Unless otherwise noted, cited album streaming figures represent collective U.S. on-demand audio totals for that album’s tracks. Song/artist streaming figures represent combined U.S. on-demand audio and video totals.
Contributors: Trevor Anderson, Camille Augustin, Dean Budnick, Britina Cheng, Ed Christman, Tatiana Cirisano, Camille Dodero, Thom Duffy, Bianca Gracie, Gary Graff, Sarah Grant, Lyndsey Havens, J’na Jefferson, William E. Ketchum III, Steve Knopper, Katy Kroll, Joe Levy, Brooke Mazurek, Taylor Mims, Gail Mitchell, Paula Parisi, Dan Rys, Desire Thompson, Christine Werthman, Nick Williams