2019 American Music Awards

Future of Hip-Hop? Panelists Tout Touring, Streaming & More Female Stars at Billboard Live Music Summit

Capitol Records senior vp global creative Amber Grimes kicked her panel at the 2019 Billboard Live Summit with a simple statement: "The future of hip-hop and R&B is female."

That statement echoed resoundingly well for the panel she was moderating, called "The Future of Hip-Hop and R&B" on Wednesday (Nov. 6). On the panel were LVRN co-founder/president Tunde Balogun; UTA music agent Chris Jordan; The Revels Group co-founder/CEO and Big Juice Party Poppin Promotions founder/CEO Jamil Davis; CAA music agent Joe Harris; Since The 80s founder/senior vp marketing Kei Henderson; and Black Wax co-founder Justin LaMotte. And one of the leading factors in that female future -- other than the obvious point that Harris made that "the music is really good right now" -- is streaming.

"There are a lot of female artists out here doing their thing and streaming like crazy and girls can look at them and say, 'I want to be like that,'" said Henderson. Harris agreed: "Because of the platforms available to artists now, it’s up to the fans to say, 'I like them, I want to listen to them.'"  

For Balogun, whose multi-hyphenate company represents artists such as Summer Walker and 6LACK, streaming has catapulted his artists from the fringes of popular music to the very tops of the charts. "Streaming has changed myself and my whole company’s life," he said. "Our music wasn’t commercially consumed until now presently, when fans grab onto things they really like." He pointed to the latest release from Walker, which landed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in October with the biggest streaming week ever for an R&B album by a woman, as an example. "Labels and people don’t really know how to quantify things from a fan level -- it’s always numbers, numbers, numbers," he said. "But culturally, she was becoming a phenomenon."

And as streaming has boosted hip-hop and R&B to the No. 1 genres in the United States, there’s been a marked impact on the live sector, too. "Before 10 or 12 years ago, I don’t know how many artists were doing arenas outside of Snoop and Dre and Eminem," said Davis. "As hip-hop has gotten bigger, it’s more of a touring presence now."

That’s also included the rise of artist-curated festivals, such as Travis Scott’s Astroworld or Lil Wayne’s Lil Weezyana, which have become hugely successful in the past several years. "Every artist wants to have something that’s their own," Harris said. "They’re artists -- they like to create things." And Jordan sees room for them to improve moving forward: "Artist-curated festivals are going to expand and be more dynamic, and to keep fans coming and buying tickets they need to be more interactive."

Many of the panelists are entrepreneurs who have started their own companies, whether in touring, management or labels. And in response to a question from Grimes, Henderson stressed that collaboration is key for the future of hip-hop and R&B, for both companies and artists. "We’re just a more collaborative generation," she said. "Collaboration is the only way you get innovation and you get new ideas." Added Harris, "The more collaboration is there, the more it helps the artist."

"Entrepreneurship teaches you that you have to make mistakes," said Balogun, whose company has a deal with Interscope. "If you don’t make mistakes you won’t really know what you’re good at." LaMotte, who co-manages Ari Lennox alongside Paris Hines, added that sometimes being an entrepreneur means doing everything you can to make things work. "I don’t think it matters how big or small my artist is -- from the jump, I have to wear different hats," he said. "I had to learn early on."

Another huge component when looking to the future is social media -- and, as Davis pointed out, referencing Lil Nas X’s "genius" specifically -- "some artists just know how to use the Internet." But it’s an increasingly important component for artists’ careers. "I admire an artist who has a vision for themselves and wants to be themselves," said Henderson, specifically referencing 21 Savage, who she managed. "It’s really hard when you get an artist who has no idea who they are."

But Balogun pointed out that it also raises significant difficulties. "More than ever in a social media world it’s hard for artists, because we don’t allow them any time to develop," he said. "If we really want to keep our great artists, we have to give them time to grow, and give them space to mess up sometimes."

And because everything moves so quickly, it can be difficult now to identify artists who can develop into stars before others jump in. "For me, equally important as the music is the business around the artist," said Jordan, noting that it’s not always easy to identify if an aspiring artist has what it takes or the team to take them there. "But when you’re an agent, you gotta think long-term ... It’s a marriage, it’s not a short-term thing."

That, then, speaks again to the main theme of the panel: The future of hip-hop and R&B, with the panelists hoping to build careers for both the artists they work with and the companies they run and work for. "It’s not sexy. It’s very, very hard," said Balogun, referring to building LVRN. "You have to put every last dollar you have into it in order to make it work. And if you’re not willing to do that, don’t do it."

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