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Executive of the Week: Gunna Manager Ebonie Ward

"We took time to make sure this final installment would be as memorable as the Mona Lisa."

In a tight race for the top album in the United States this week, Gunna‘s DS4Ever eked out a victory over The Weeknd‘s Dawn FM, arriving at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 150,300 equivalent album units in the week ending Jan. 13, according to MRC Data.

It was Gunna’s second straight No. 1 album and the best one-week total of his career — as well as the best first-week number for his label, YSL/300 Entertainment, according to 300 chief Kevin Liles. It’s validation of the upward trajectory of the rising MC, whose album concludes his Drip Season series — and for his manager Ebonie Ward, whose efforts earn her the title of Billboard‘s Executive of the Week.

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Here, Ward tells Billboard about the yearlong preparation that went into the release of the album, how Gunna and his team stays flexible while sticking to their formula for success and how doors are continuing to open in the management field.

“Women are not and will not be hidden in the background anymore,” Ward says. “We are the gatekeepers for our clients. We are leading and strategizing in a way that our voices are being heard, we are being seen and are a part of the conversation.”

Gunna’s DS4Ever debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 this week, his second straight No. 1 album. What key decision did you make to help make this happen?

The key decision was sticking to what has always worked for us: a body of work that reflects cultural identity. We like to make sure his fans can resonate and connect with the music, not just by listening, but becoming a part of his album experience and creative space. In this case, it was the Power of Pushing “P” and keeping it Player, while always applying Pressure.

Like his previous album WUNNA we tied it back to astrology, Drip or Drown we brought listeners to the aquarium and took them underwater with us. The key is to always find a way to connect with the masses, while staying authentic.

This was Gunna’s best-ever first week in terms of units earned. What did you do to help this project reach that milestone?

We never compromised the art of the album to conform to what’s popular to increase numbers. DS4Ever is the final installment of the series, and every single detail was conceptually thought through. Working alongside Gunna and his creative director Spike Jordan was pivotal to the success of this album to connect his best body of work musically with a clear vision.

We created a timeless body of art in its full capacity, from the music to the videos down to the artwork. We took time to make sure this final installment would be as memorable as the Mona Lisa, a period in history that is unforgettable, undeniable, a moment in time we will never forget and that will last forever.

How did you set this album up differently than his previous work in terms of marketing or other promotional support?

While we stuck with the same formula, we made sure to be flexible and over-prepare as a team. We have been working on this album for over a year, so many things were done in advance. We met all 2021 with our amazing team over at 300 Entertainment, going through creative strategy, ideas and putting real time into how to make this an impactful body of work.

Working with our core team alongside our partners 300/YSL, Young Thug and closely with producers Turbo, Taurus, Wheezy and Metro Boomin was key to ensure all aspects of DS4EVER was connected. This is our most prepared body of work and by being overly-prepared, it allowed this album to show Gunna’s’ growth, potential and reach.

DS4Ever was released at the beginning of January, a time that’s traditionally quiet in terms of releases as the year gets underway. Was that a consideration, or was this just the natural time to release this album?

We originally wanted to release this album in March, but when Gunna called me on 12/21/21 saying he wanted it to come out on 1/7/22 there was really no reason not to, because we had been preparing for almost a year. Preparation allowed us to be flexible in pivoting release dates when he called an audible.

This is the final installment of the Drip Season series. What does that signify for where you plan to go next with Gunna’s career?

This series ended on Gunna’s best music to date and demonstrates why Gunna is a solid contender. To make sure Gunna’s album was received in its original form no deluxe was released the first week.

We plan to continuously keep growing and elevating in all aspects of his career. While this is the final installment, it’s the start that signifies where Gunna is going and how he will continue to over-deliver as new doors continue to open for him.

How has management changed over the past few years?

It’s no longer just men. Women are not and will not be hidden in the background anymore. We are the gatekeepers for our clients. We are leading and strategizing in a way that our voices are being heard, we are being seen and are a part of the conversation.

Find more in our Executive of the Week series here.