Executives, artists, and tastemakers descended upon New York at Legacy Records in Manhattan to honor Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players in its inaugural event toasting to the 100 talented and accomplished individuals who made this year’s list.
In a time where R&B and hip-hop are the biggest genres, the energy of the room was one of triumph where those in the community that have been working for years came to celebrate the accomplishments and commitment to advancing the success and ubiquitousness of the multifaceted artform.
The Mountain Dew-sponsored event brought out several prominent figures in the community including the likes of established veterans such as 300 Entertainment’s Kevin Liles, Columbia Records Chairman/CEO Ron Perry, Atlantic Records Chairman/COO Julie Greenwald and President of Black Music Michael Kyser, ICM’s Mark Siegel, CAA’s Mark Cheatham, power agent Cara Lewis, MAC Presents Marcie Allen, RCA’s President of Black Music Mark Pitts, Republic Records Executive Vice President Rob Stevenson, Alamo Records General Manager/Partner Shari Bryant, Interscope executive VP of Urban Operations Nicole Wyskoarko, Warner Music Group EVP Juliette Jones, Columbia Records and Sony/ATV’s Shawn Holiday and Epic Records executive VP of Promotion Traci Adams.
A stacked group of up-and-coming executives also attended including Rayna Bass and Selim Bouab of 300 Entertainment, Jennifer Drake of Sony/ATV, Chayce Cheatham of Hitco, Carl Chery of Spotify, Tim Glover and Aaron “Dash” Sherrod of Interscope, Sterling Simms of Universal Music Group Publishing, Dallas Martin and Orlando Wharton of Atlantic Records, EMPIRE Records Founder Ghazi Shami, Rolling Loud Festival co-founders Matt Zingler and Tariq Cherif, and Dooney Battle of Tha Lights Global (the label that signed Lil Pump).
In an introduction to the night, Billboard’s VP of Content Ross Scarano commented on the magnitude of the occasion noting, “We get a chance to recognize those in power right now in the industry that we hold so dear.” He added by saying, “I believe that everyone knows in this room knows that for decades hip-hop has been one of the most innovative forces in our culture. It has long been the domain of geniuses and tastemakers that the Pulitzer community has been sitting on award-winning material since the ’80s.”
VIBE’s editor-in-chief Datwon Thomas complemented Ross’s comments and introduced the first presenter, Motown President Ethiopia Habtemariam by saying, “she is a celebrated executive in her own right among many wins and personal accolades including a spot on this year’s list and slaying Billboard’s inaugural pioneering women’s cover this year.”
“I am so thankful and grateful to be here celebrating my brothers,” a proud Habtemariam remarked about Executives of the Year honorees Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas. She praised the morality of the respected duo saying, “I’m grateful in my career I’ve been able to experience and work with people this talented, people that have a level of ethics, integrity and taste. They’re amazing fathers, brothers, sons, and just amazing people.” Recalling a pivotal time in her own professional life she harkened back to the initial meeting with the two and noted how it “changed the trajectory for all of our careers.” Speaking to the audience in general about the importance of R&B and hip-hop, she proclaimed, “we been here and we been doing this. We are in a room of people that come up with the ideas, we take the risk the research is based on. And we love the data and research that informs our decisions after the fact too.”
Showing gratitude for the honor, Lee started by saying, “I want to thank Billboard for acknowledging all the hard work that P and I do.” After commenting on how far their label Quality Control has come, Lee gave a forecast for what’s to come saying, “we about to shut this shit down, (with an excited Cardi B in the crowd agreeing saying “Let’s Talk About It!”).
Thomas shouted out the various acts on the group, calling Migos his “children” and “the greatest group ever hands down”, Cardi B the “new queen of the rap game”, Trippie Redd the “rockstar of the rap game”, City Girls the “new princesses of the South” and Lil Baby “the new king of the South.”
Introducing the man of the hour, Impact Award honoree Meek Mill, activist, author, and commentator Van Jones began on a spiritual note explaining how negative forces can be used to bring positive into one’s life. After going into a recap of Mill’s recent legal battles with a long drawn-out probation in his hometown of Philadelphia, Jones revered Mill for his ability to command the attention of government officials similar to his prominence as an artist.
“I have personally witnessed him stand in front of the Governor of his own state and that governor say “yes, yes, yes” to his demand for justice,” he said. “You are about to witness the rise of a new kind of hip-hop superhero who is moving the culture from saying my pain is about me to my pain is about us. Saying my breakthrough for myself on the charts is going to be a breakthrough for the community in the courts, and who is not just going to make hits but make laws.”
“A lot of people stood up for me and a lot of people broke their necks for me,” Mill said. “I thought it was only right to use some of my platform and my power to actually reach back and help the people that stood up for me.” Mill went on by saying, “I would like to thank Atlantic Records, Roc Nation, my family, everybody, Billboard for getting recognized. You know where we come from we don’t even get recognized for the shit we do most of the time so it’s almost surprising and overwhelming when we get in these type of situations.” He concluded saying, “I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing and making change and impact. And still spitting that hot shit like I do.”