Cuco Inks Seven-Figure Deal With Interscope After Lengthy Courtship, Bidding War: Exclusive

Bethany Pangilinan
Cuco

Cuco has signed a seven-figure record deal. After a two-year courtship with Interscope Records and a bidding war with other labels that only intensified with each passing month, the Latinx recording artist who has captured a legion of fans with his self-described "dream pop" ballads, has signed with Interscope Records, Billboard has learned exclusively.

"It feels good," says Cuco, 20, who was born Omar Banos in Los Angeles. His first album is scheduled for release in June. "Interscope understood what I wanted to do creatively and it wasn't just about money. I got everything I wanted."

Banos and his manager, Doris Muñoz, 25, stood their ground until the deal that made the most sense surfaced. Enter Interscope: known for its roster of iconic acts such Dr. Dre, Lady Gaga and U2 in addition to a new generation of celebrated voices in their 20s including British R&B singer Ella Mai, American rapper Juice WRLD and the genre hopping Colombian American songstress Kali Uchis.

"Cuco is a genius," says Carlos Cancela, the Interscope A&R executive who first saw Banos perform at The High Hat in L.A. two years ago. "A week later Doris and Cuco came to my office and we talked about life, music and we played records back and fourth."

From the outside, Cancela played it cool during his two-year pursuit of Banos. But on the inside he was anxious. He wanted to work with Banos and support his developing style of music, which has connected with a Latinx U.S. audience and beyond.

Banos' eclectic style meshes a variety of genres including hip-hop, synth-pop, trap, psychedelic and oldies that have a classic throwback vibe similar to a 1950's Ritchie Valens song, but updated for a new generation of fans. His quirky, often humorous and romantic songs, such as  “Lo Que Siento” (What I feel), "Lover is Day" and  "CR-V," an homage to his Honda SUV, have translated to more than 30 million YouTube views. The Hawthorne, Calif.-born artist recently collaborated on the electro-pop track "Fix Me" with Dillon Francis.

"Cuco is not trying to fit in," said Cancela, 28, a Cuban American from Miami, who now lives in L.A. "He's doing his own thing, finding his own way."

Banos was eight when he began playing music. The guitar came first before he added the bass, followed by keys, drums, trumpet, the French horn and the mellophone. In 2016, he released his first mixtape, Wannabewithu, with songs that highlighted breakups with his unique sound that included lo-fi synths, trumpets and his guitar. It was part of his Spanglish style that has attracted young Latinos to his backyard parties in the Los Angeles.

Cancela confirmed Banos' first album is slated for the summer, while Muñoz reflected on the record deal's structure, which has a "no true album commitment," she says. It's part of a joint venture license deal with the goal of releasing an album during each contract period with an alternative delivery commitment so that music can be released in "various configurations" as long as Banos releases a certain number of songs.

"Omar owns all of his masters," says Muñoz of the Interscope deal, adding that the contract as a joint venture license is a healthy seven-figure deal, which includes owning his own music 100 percent. "We didn't want to do a typical record deal. It's been that way and that's the way it will always be. Ownership was the important factor in moving forward with the deal. That makes me so proud that we were able to make something like that happen. Omar didn't have to feel like he was signing his life away with this deal. It feels beautiful."

As part of the Interscope agreement, Banos will also have his music released in Latin America as a Latinx artist with the support of Universal Music Latin Entertainment, Muñoz said, ensuring that international territories push his music. Brokering the deal on Banos' side was Muñoz and Banos' attorney Carron Mitchell. Those involved on the label side include Interscope Geffen A&M chairman/CEO John Janick, head of A&R Sam Riback and Cancela, "who sealed the deal," Muñoz said.
 
One of the hardest things about signing with Interscope, Muñoz said, was letting the other three contenders know. "Everybody involved in these negotiations had so much love for Omar and he felt seen, heard and valued," Muñoz says. "They went above and beyond to try to seal the deal with Omar, but at the end of the day he went with what he wanted. They took it well; no one was mean about it or mad. We still have super great relationships with them."

When it comes to touring, Banos has been represented by the Paradigm Talent Agency since the spring of 2017 and that also built momentum as he went from backyard shows to major festival circuit in 2018. In 2018, Banos performed at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival and that further pushed his rise in music. Before that he booked the smaller Viva! Pomona music festival in Southern California, which paved the way to Coachella.

"If it wasn't for Paradigm's hard work we would not be here at all," Muñoz said.

What's next for Banos?
 
"Cuco is still is self-published, so that's the next one," Muñoz says, who was previously a tour manager and intern at Columbia Records in the A&R division. "We are very clear about ownership."
 
Banos echoes those sentiments, but he values relationships first. 

"The people I work with are like my friends and that's really cool to have," says Banos. "It's a very professional environment, but at the same time it's super chill and we can just hang out."