Before surprising fans at the R&B ONLY show at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles last month during BET Awards Week, Tank took a second to highlight the importance of the event to Billboard.
“It’s just what we need,” he said. “It’s the R&B culture that we need. We do our thing, pushing R&B culture forward and growing the fanbase, but what COLORS is doing is putting R&B in a whole other space.”
In 2014, Jabari Johnson, CEO of COLORS Worldwide Inc., founded R&B ONLY, a music event that catered to playing music for lovers of the genre. Since completing its first tour until now, R&B Only has sold more than 30,000 tickets across 42 shows in 2018 alone, and by the end of the year, it will surpass 100,000 ticket sales. In the first two years alone, the event grew over 2,000 percent in revenue and this year is projected to grow over 50 percent.
“I think initially [we] were kind of trying to see if there was even enough people that wanted to come to something like this. I was feeling like, ‘Oh, let’s have an R&B party mode,’ and wasn’t even thinking about production.” Now, that the show has grown, Johnson recognizes the potential to be a greater brand. “Every single day, we’re trying to make the show better and a great experience. And trying to continue outside of just the live event, whether it’s social media, curating music playlists, etc.”
Prior to launching COLORS, Johnson started at 14 years old assisting Steph Floss. Eventually, he became the official DJ for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. While attending college at Howard University, he became a journalist and wrote for different publications, including BlackWeb20.com and HipHopGame.com. Eventually, during a stint in the digital video department at Capitol Records, Johnson developed a eye for filmmaking. His media career saw him interviewing the likes of Nicki Minaj, Issa Rae, Wiz Khalifa and more.
“I think before you make any pivot, you should become somewhat of an expert in that space. And when I say expert, I don’t mean with a proven track record, but know the movers and shakers in the space,” he says. “Before I got into the live event space, I was very adamant on doing research in different respectable markets that I was going to potentially do events in and see how people were selling tickets, what was happening. I was asking how much venues cost to rent. I didn’t just go into it blind thinking I had a great idea that people were going to naturally gravitate towards.”
Now, a typical day for the CEO consists of various calls and meetings, or if he’s on tour, acting as a touring manager for the show. Prioritizing success and results over ego and bureaucracy, Johnson notes that the general mission of the company is to “serve underserved markets” and “create memorable experiences with incredible people.” He also encourages an open environment for discussion and debate.
“I always encourage my team to step up and say something when it occurs. Don’t wait to speak up if there’s something you want to see a change in or that you want to bring to the table. Don’t let it be bottled up inside you until you get to a point of frustration,” says Johnson. “No idea is a bad idea, and there’s a comfort level we all have with each other. People aren’t afraid to be observant of things that might not be in their department. We all have individual goals, but we value each other as a team from top to bottom.”
In addition to fostering a safe-space culture internally, Johnson also saw the importance of centering the event around a black female DJ. After doing extensive research, Johnson recalls how he managed to find out about R&B ONLY’s marquee DJ, DJ Dauché. “We were hiring various DJs in different markets to open up for DJ Printz, and we stumbled across Dauché. It was a research process where I was talking to influencers in various markets about what was going on on the scene and their respective cities. And that’s how I found her.”
Recognizing the need for black female representation onstage and not just the three male hosts, Johnson decided to give Dauché a shot at doing a show. What he experienced was game-changing. “Once we brought her in, the whole energy shifted and changed. She can play and blend records and say stuff in between those records about her experiences as a black woman. There’s no way a man could say those things and have the same effect it has on women in the crowd.” He adds, “She’s been incredible, not just being a great DJ, but becoming a better performer and connecting with the audience. I’m so lucky to have someone like her a part of the show.”
Before becoming a DJ, Dauché worked as a photographer, manager and promotions person. She says her experiences at that time taught her how to network and allowed her to observe DJs from a distance. Eventually, she took a DJing class with DJ Artistic. Thanks to Artistic, Dauché has flourished in her craft. “What I always loved about him was he’s professional, warm and welcoming.” Aside from teaching the class, Artistic also offered his equipment for use for Dauché to practice on in his garage. After a year of perfecting her craft, one night, she realized her potential to be a professional DJ. “Literally, I was at an event. Art was DJing, and he told me to play the next song. It was a defining moment that let me know I could really do this.”
Since that night, Dauché has polished her skill set and now the resident DJ at R&B Only. “I’ve watched people literally cry and thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ Being onstage period is a blessing, and watching people dance and get excited is mind-blowing. R&B ONLY is just an amazing factor in my life that has opened my eyes to what music can do.”
Tank echoes Dauché’s sentiments. “People want to feel shit, they want to connect, and now the opportunity is provided by COLORS.”
Check out R&B ONLY’s remaining tour dates below, and purchase tickets here: