2016 No. 1s: Inside Bryson Tiller's Leap From Papa John's to Radio Dominance

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Eric Ogden
Tunji Balogun [vp A&R, RCA ­Records], Tiller, Peter Edge ­[chairman/CEO, RCA], Geo Bivins [executive vp ­urban ­promotion, RCA], Shani Fuller-Tillman ­[senior director of marketing, RCA], Neil ­Dominique [manager], and Tom Corson ­[president/COO, RCA] photographed on Oct. 26 at RCA Records in New York.

"Don't" -- R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay (2 weeks), ­Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop (5 weeks)
"Exchange" -- Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop (1 week)


Kentucky-bred artist Bryson ­Tiller, ­Billboard’s top new artist of 2016, and Grammy nominee, was working at Papa John’s and UPS when his self-released single “Don’t” went viral in 2014, ­accumulating more than 35 million streams on SoundCloud and becoming a force on Vine within a matter of months. The 23-year-old’s early buzz earned him a co-sign from Drake and a deal with RCA. The major label’s ­influence helped lift his debut album, ­Trapsoul -- a velvety blend of Southern rap and contemporary R&B -- to ­platinum ­status, but it was first cut “Don’t,” ­rereleased as an official single in 2015, that brought him to the top of the charts. “One of my first purchases after I signed to RCA was a BMW. I was driving on the highway and I heard ‘Don’t’ come on,” recalls Tiller. “It was a real moment.”

PETER EDGE (chairman/CEO, RCA​):
“Don’t” was one of those ground­breaking songs that you hear where you just go, “This sounds like the future.” It was a combination of the two things that we look at today, which is gut instinct and knowing that it’s active.

TILLER:
Vine is where “Don’t” started popping off. A lot of famous Viners used the song and that was crazy, because I had never been a part of something like that. I drank champagne for the first time when it got 100,000 plays.

NEIL DOMINIQUE (manager):
In the beginning a lot of people said “Don’t” wouldn’t even make it to radio. DJs were saying it’s not a regular radio record, but the fans online and the streams really pioneered and pushed it.

TOM CORSON (president/COO, RCA​):
[Bryson has] a quiet confidence. He’s a laid-back, not-on-camera kind of dude and he was very clear about that. We pride ourselves on figuring out a way to make it work. We’ve got Sia and Bryson [who are] not that dissimilar -- real forces of nature and talent, and we embrace that.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 17 issue of Billboard.

Billboard Year in Music 2016