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The Deals: ‘Buss It’ Rapper Erica Banks Signs to Warner, WMG Expands in MENA

A roundup of notable music industry deals from the past two weeks, including Erica Banks' signing to Warner Records and WMG's investment in Rotana Music.

Warner Records has launched a strategic partnership with Gee Roberson and Jean Nelson’s BPG Music that will provide services for young Black artists and entrepreneurs who covet the global reach of a major label while looking to retain their creative autonomy. Roberson and Nelson will serve as advisors to Warner Records under the agreement, which brings emerging rappers Erica Banks and David Sabastian to the label.

The nature of the new partnership is exemplified by Banks’ eventual signing to Warner, which came about after Dallas-based 1501 Certified Entertainment, which first signed Banks and was on the lookout for a major label partner, was steered by Roberson to the company. Speaking of Banks, the rapper recently scored a breakout hit with her single “Buss It,” which went viral on TikTok after the fan-created #bussitchallenge caught fire on the social video platform.

Sabastian, who is also described as a fashion designer, activist, visual artist and arts educator, founded Believe in Yourself Records and recently released the album We Are God. With Roberson and Nelson’s guidance, Sabastian has also brought Believe in Yourself Records to live under the BPG/Warner umbrella.

“Our goal at BPG/Warner is to discover, mentor, and grow the next generation of musical and cultural innovators and disruptors,” said Roberson and Nelson in a statement. “We want to use our knowledge and experience to help them navigate the process and take their careers to the next level, while maintaining their creative and business independence.”

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Gee and Jean on this forward-thinking partnership,” added Warner Records co-chairman & CEO Aaron Bay-Schuck and co-chairman & COO Tom Corson. “They’re bringing their brilliant A&R minds and industry expertise to a unique portal that champions artistic freedom. This fresh business model charts new territory in the relationship between original talent and the major label ecosphere. They’ve already brought us two amazing artists in Erica Banks and David Sabastian, with whom we have very different, specially tailored deals, and we’re looking forward to collaborating on many more exciting projects.”

Warner Music Group (WMG) has invested in Rotana Music (part of the Rotana Group), the Arab world’s largest record label and music repertoire holder, effectively expanding its footprint in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region. WMG’s label services division ADA Worldwide will distribute Rotana’s releases globally outside MENA, as well as via YouTube worldwide.

Rotana’s roster includes many of the Arab world’s most prominent artists, including Mohamad Abdo, Abdulmajid Abdallah, Rabeh Saqer, Rashed Al Majed, Abdallah Ruwaished and Ahlam in the Gulf region and Amr Diab, Elissa, Tamer Hosny, Najwa Karam, Shereen Abdalwahab, Angham, Wael Kfoury and Saber Al Robae from the Levant, Egypt and North Africa.

Established in 1993 and owned by His Royal Highness Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, Rotana is based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with branches in Jeddah, Dubai, Kuwait City, Beirut and Cairo.

“The Middle East and North Africa region is among the most culturally dynamic places in the world today, with burgeoning musical scenes and dramatic consumption growth,” said Simon Robson, WMG’s president, international, recorded music, in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be joining with Rotana, whose significant presence in the market reflects its extraordinary roster of musical icons and outstanding talent. We’re especially excited about the opportunity to both expand our profile in the region and to bring these amazing artists to audiences across the globe.”

Added Rotana Music Holding CEO Mr. Salem Al Hendi, “This is an exciting time, and we at Rotana are very happy with this partnership, which will facilitate Warner Music’s reach into the MENA music industry and fan communities, just as it will benefit Rotana in our global expansion objective. The creative culture in MENA is so vibrant and diverse, and this partnership will enhance the exchange of music and ideas, while promoting and supporting local artists on the global stage. I would like to congratulate His Royal Highness Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal on this win-win partnership, which is aligned with Saudi Vision 2030 to keep pace with changes taking place globally, including in entertainment and the digital music landscape.”

WMG’s deal with Rotana follows the 2018 launch of Warner Music Middle East, which encompasses 17 markets in the Middle East and North Africa.

Kacy Grine & Co acted as the financial advisor to Rotana Music in negotiating the deal.

Sofar Sounds has acquired ticketing company Seated for an undisclosed amount. Under the deal, Seated, which will continue operating as an independent company, will have some of its tools integrated into the Sofar artist dashboard.

In the past, Seated has provided ticketing services, including direct-to-fan presale and VIP ticketing, for artists including John Legend, Robert Plant, Dillon Francis and Death Cab For Cutie. During the pandemic, the company has powered livestreams for Nathaniel Rateliff, Andrew Bird, Joan Baez and Best Coast and also launched a Shopify integration to increase artist revenue by 35%. It additionally has a tour listings platform and has developed text messaging presale signup technology.

Sofar, which promotes small concerts in nontraditional venues for members of its community, is currently in over 400 cities around the world.

“Seated and Sofar share a common vision of putting artists first. During this past challenging year, that’s been our primary goal: to support the independent musicians who rely on touring to connect with their fans and make a living,” Sofar Sounds CEO Jim Lucchese told Pollstar. “These musicians are why Sofar exists. I’m incredibly excited about what Sofar and Seated are building together to do more for artists, both digitally and in person when live music returns.”

“In January of 2017, John Griffin and I set out to build the future of what ticketing should be. Our bet was that in the near future, artists would want more control of their ticketing experience and a more direct connection with their fans,” said Seated co-founder and CEO David McKay. “Today Seated is joining the team at Sofar Sounds – a huge step in our goal to help empower artists to take control of their ticketing experience and fan data. Together, we’re going to be able to do even more for artists.”

Sofar and Seated paid out a combined $3 million globally to artists affected by the pandemic in 2020.

UTA has signed Australian rapper, singer, songwriter and producer The Kid Laroi.

The 17-year-old performer, who recently became the youngest Australian solo artist ever to top the ARIA Albums Chart, has enjoyed breakout success with his debut mixtape F*ck Love, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. His most recent single, “Without You,” currently sits at No. 44 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has been certified gold by the RIAA. Back in 2019, his track “Go” feat. Juice WRLD reached No. 52 on the Hot 100 and received an RIAA platinum certification.

The Kid Laroi is currently working on his debut studio album. He is signed to Grade A/Sony Columbia and is managed by Peter Jidenwo, Brandon “Lil Bibby” Dickinson and George Dickinson.

Christian label imprint Centricity Music has partnered with Warner Music Group’s ADA Worldwide for distribution in 2021, following a decade with CCMG/Universal. Beginning Jan. 1, all active Centricity Music titles became available for retail accounts to purchase through ADA.

Centricity Music’s roster includes Lauren Daigle, who has been named Billboard’s Top Christian Artist three years running and whose albums How Can It Be and Look Up Child have been certified platinum by the RIAA. Other top acts on the label include Unspoken and Chris Renzema.

Looking ahead, Centricity will release Daigle’s first new song in two years, “Hold On To Me,” on Feb. 26. Other forthcoming releases include new music from Renzema, North Point Worship and Coby James. The label recently released Apollo LTD’s sophomore album, Nothing is Ordinary, Everything is Beautiful and Jordan Feliz’s third album, Say It.

Entertainment One (eOne) has struck a global deal with 1501 Certified Entertainment, the Houston record label owned by former Major League Baseball player Carl Crawford. The first release under the agreement will be an upcoming project by emerging Houston rapper Stunna Bam.

In music, Crawford is best known for discovering Megan Thee Stallion, who he signed after coming across her Instagram posts. The label is also home to “Buss It” rapper Erica Banks.

Gospel and inspirational music label RCA Inspiration has struck a strategic partnership with entertainment company Marquis Boone Enterprises to release forthcoming projects from Kelontae Gavin and Fresh Start Worship.

Under the partnership, RCA Inspiration will offer cross-departmental support including distribution, radio promotion, marketing, sales, publicity and production.

Founded in 2013 by the Atlanta-based artist manager, pastor and author, Marquis Boone Enterprises’ management roster has also included Casey J, Bri Babineaux and Tasha Cobbs Leonard.

Gavin, who first rose to prominence in 2014 via a YouTube video that showed him singing a hymn in his high school cafeteria, released his debut full-length album, The Higher Experience, in 2018. That release hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart and netted Gavin four Stellar Gospel Music Award nominations. His second full-length, The n.o.w. Experience, is slated for release on Mar. 5.

Fresh Start Worship leads worship out of Fresh Start Church in Duluth, GA under Boone’s leadership. Their debut full-length album Fresh Start Worship, released in 2018, spawned the single “Mention,” which reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Gospel Airplay chart.