If there’s one thing that the streaming era has laid bare, it’s that hip-hop runs popular music. For the first time since Nielsen began tracking the U.S. music industry in 1991, hip-hop/R&B is the leading genre of music, pulling in a full quarter of total consumption for the first half of 2017, while hip-hop albums have topped the Billboard 200 for 22 weeks this year so far, led by the biggest debut of the year, Kendrick Lamar‘s DAMN.
Billboard‘s inaugural Hip-Hop Power Players list recognizes those who are driving and guiding hip-hop’s surge right now. To compile the list, a committee of Billboard editors and reporters weighed a variety of factors, including but not limited to impact on consumer behavior (as measured by metrics such as album and track sales, streaming volume, social media and radio and TV); company growth; career trajectory; reputation among peers; and overall impact in the hip-hop industry during the past 12 months. Where required, record-label market share was consulted using Nielsen Music R&B/hip-hop market share. Unless otherwise noted, Billboard Boxscore and Nielsen Music are the sources for tour grosses and sales/streaming data, respectively.
ANTHONY “TOP DAWG” TIFFITH, 47
Executive Of The Year
Founder/CEO, Top Dawg Entertainment
In the last 12 months, Tiffith released Kendrick Lamar‘s most successful album yet and introduced breakout star SZA, more than doubling TDE’s market share in R&B/hip-hop to 4.72 percent, Billboard estimates. But when it comes to Lamar, Tiffith is thinking about his “setup for after this music shit”: “It’s my job to protect him, like, ‘Let’s get some apartment buildings over here, let’s go buy some shit back in the hood.'” (Meanwhile, Lamar just signed with Nike.) It’s this pragmatic, take-nothing-for-granted philosophy that has guided Tiffith since he built the TDE studio in his Carson, Los Angeles home, before he even had any artists or knew how to work the equipment. “It’s a different mind-set,” says co-president Terrence “Punch” Henderson. “He wants to build something. He’s not looking for praise from people.” Although Lamar is eager to give it: “We’re carrying on an ideal that started with him first.”
CHRIS ATLAS, 45
Senior vp/head of urban marketing, Warner Bros. Records
Atlas jumped to WBR in June after nine years at Def Jam, where he recently helped push Kanye West and Big Sean to No. 1 bows on the Billboard 200. Now he’s the marketing linchpin of the label’s new move back into rap, highlighted by partnerships with Drake’s OVO and promising labels Think It’s a Game and Tha Lights Global. “I see it as a challenge,” he says. “I’m not trying to do what I did at Def Jam. I’m trying to have a new, more focused approach.”
Book That Inspires Me: “The Art Behind the Tape. It’s all about the history of mixtapes.”
TUNJI BALOGUN, 34
Senior vp A&R, RCA Records
Balogun earned his stripes at Interscope, where he helped sign Kendrick Lamar. Now he’s using his position at RCA to further advocate for “left-of-center black artists, and have them succeed on their own terms.” So far, so good: This year, his signee Bryson Tiller scored a Billboard 200 No. 1 with True to Self, and Balogun landed a coveted placement for SZA‘s “Love Galore” on HBO’s hit show Insecure.
Biggest Issue Facing Hip-Hop: “Maintaining a level of integrity and communication between the executive -community and the creative community.”
STEVE BARTELS, 54
CEO, Def Jam Recordings
Bartels has just a few months left at Def Jam before Paul Rosenberg takes over in January, but he helped a handful of stars top the Billboard 200 during the past year, including Big Sean and Logic. “In each case, great artistry combined with razor-sharp execution,” says Bartels. He declined to share future plans, but as a keynote speaker at Midem this year, he says he got to “learn about global, emerging-market opportunities.”
Nonindustry Leader I Admire: “Shonda Rhimes. She’s in control of her own vision.”
SEAN “PUFF DADDY” COMBS, 47
CEO, Bad Boy Entertainment
Combs had a big 12 months that included his Apple Music documentary Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, the Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour and being crowned the highest-paid celebrity by Forbes after earning $130 million. In November, he sold a stake in his Sean John clothing line for roughly $70 million. This year, his Bad Boy signee French Montana hit No. 3 on the Hot 100 with “Unforgettable.” “Hip-hop can help build the future of this country,” says Combs. “We have power as artists and creators.”
Biggest Issue Facing Hip-Hop: “We have to start dealing with the problems facing our community: The violence is a human-rights issue; we are facing an education crisis. We have to use our influence.”
DAVE FREE, 30 // TERRENCE “PUNCH” HENDERSON, 35
Co-presidents, Top Dawg Entertainment
Free and Henderson have been with TDE since the 2000s, creating their own lanes of power under founder Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith. Free is Top’s No. 2 and Kendrick Lamar’s manager and “creative partner,” co–directing the video for “Humble,” the MC’s first Hot 100 No. 1 as a lead artist. Henderson handles A&R duties and manages SZA, whose debut LP, Ctrl, hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200. Both are working on the impending launch of TDE’s film division, expected later this year. “Our friendship comes before the business,” says Free. “It’s like a brotherhood.”
Book That Inspires Me Free: Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. “It’s about the idea of constant repetition. Anything you do often, you’re going to get good at it.”
Executive vp/head of urban A&R, Republic Records
Among Goldstein’s proudest recent success is The Weeknd, whose 2016 LP, Starboy, had the fourth-biggest debut of the year. Though he “had everything in him,” Goldstein began working closely with the singer in 2014, introducing him to collaborators and encouraging him to push toward pop. “He knew I had great taste and guidance,” says the former DJ.
Nonindustry Leader I Admire: “The Dalai Lama — he has cracked the code.”
AUBREY “DRAKE” GRAHAM, 30
OLIVER EL-KHATIB, 33
OVO Brand Creative
As the streaming era has solidified, Drake has emerged as its perfect star. In March, his “playlist” More Life broke his own record — set with 2016’s Views — for simultaneous song debuts on the Billboard Hot 100 (21) and most streams in a single week (384.8 million) on its way to passing 1 billion in just three weeks. Toss in a Summer Sixteen Tour with Future that added $13.6 million to his bottom line and a sold-out eighth annual OVO Fest in August, and Drake’s team is firing on all cylinders.
JOHN JANICK, 39
Chairman/CEO, Interscope Geffen A&M
STEVE BERMAN, 54
Vice chairman, Interscope Geffen A&M
JOIE MANDA, 43
Executive vp, Interscope Geffen A&M
Interscope Geffen A&M has been -mining platinum recently, thanks to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only and Rae Sremmurd‘s surprise No. 1, “Black Beatles.” That run helped boost market share from 8.6 percent to 11.5 percent (year to date) while underscoring the executive team’s collective strengths: Manda drives the partnerships with Cole’s and Mike WiLL Made-It’s imprints and handled recent deals with LVRN, 6LACK and Playboi Carti; Janick and rap vet Berman oversee the Lamar/Top Dawg relationship. “Kendrick and Top Dawg are visionaries,” says Janick. “I’m just lucky to be a part of it.”
Dream Collaborator: Janick: “Donald Glover. The guy can do anything.”
MICHAEL KYSER, 51
President of black music, Atlantic Records
Atlantic leads the pack when it comes to R&B and hip-hop — to the tune of a 15.1 percent market share as of Aug. 10, versus 10.8 percent a year prior. Fueling that growth? Gucci Mane, who had his first No. 1 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums with Everybody Looking, and most of all, breakouts by what is arguably music’s most impressive roster of rap newcomers, including Lil Uzi Vert, Kyle and Cardi B, whose “Bodak Yellow” is No. 2 on the Hot 100. Kyser credits the label’s “incredible A&R team — they help keep me ahead of the curve.”
App I Can’t Live Without: “Waze. I do a lot of traveling, and it hasn’t failed to get me where I need to be yet.”
KEVIN LILES, 49
Co-founder/CEO, 300 Entertainment
Liles’ 300 continues to prove itself when it comes to breaking new acts. Migos‘ “Bad and Boujee” rode to the top of the Hot 100 in January, and the album it’s from, Culture, topped the Billboard 200 with 131,000 equivalent album units in February. Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley‘s Hot 100 hit, “First Day Out,” shows 300 has more in the tank, even after the departures of co-founders Lyor Cohen and Todd Moscowitz. “Artist development is always going to be No. 1 for me,” says Liles.
MIKE WILL MADE-IT, 28
CEO, Ear Drummer Records/EarDrummers Entertainment
The Atlanta superproducer is already rap’s most ubiquitous beatmaker, and now his executive moves are coming to fruition as well. Rae Sremmurd, the breakout star of his Interscope-backed Ear Drummer Records, ended the year with the unlikely six-week Hot 100 reign of “Black Beatles” — his first No. 1. And in 2017, between performing at festivals including Hard Summer, Mike led his in-house production team to big commercial gigs, including remaking “It Takes Two” for Target with Lil Yachty and Carly Rae Jepsen, and remixing soda brand Fanta’s theme song.
RICK ROSS, 41
CEO, Maybach Music Group
Ross’ Maybach label still has a strong roster anchored by Wale and Meek Mill, who recently hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200 with Wins and Losses. Ross’ Rather You Than Me, his first album for Epic after years on Def Jam, bowed at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, selling 106,000 copies. This summer, Ross partnered with Roc Nation’s Lenny S and The-Dream for SIGNED, their show on VH1.
President, Epic Records
Rhone arguably has had the toughest job of any label executive during the past few months. In May, Epic CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid abruptly exited the company following a claim by a female assistant alleging sexual harassment. Rhone, Epic’s No. 2, found herself piloting the label through the turbulence — while maintaining a winning streak fueled by a rap-dominated, Billboard 200-topping roster that includes Travis Scott and Future. It’s not the first time Rhone has run a label — she was the first black woman to head a major when she led Elektra in the 1990s — and she has aced her latest test: Her Sony Music bosses are reportedly auditioning her to permanently replace Reid. (Rhone declined to comment on this.) In the weeks after Reid’s departure, DJ Khaled hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, 21 Savage’s major-label debut bowed at No. 2, and French Montana scored his first No. 1 on the Hot Rap Songs chart with “Unforgettable.”
ETHIOPIA HABTEMARIAM, 37
President, Motown Records; president of urban music/co-head of creative, Universal Music Publishing Group
PIERRE “PEE” THOMAS, 37
CEO, Quality Control Music; co-founder, Solid Foundation Management
KEVIN “COACH K” LEE
COO, Quality Control Music
Motown/Capitol Music Group’s 2-year-old joint venture with Atlanta-based hip-hop label Quality Control Music is “making Motown a destination for some of the hottest artists in music,” says Habtemariam. Migos’ smash hit “Bad and Boujee” (QC/300 Entertainment), featuring Lil Uzi Vert, is the third-most-streamed song of 2017 as of Aug. 24. And Lil Yachty scored his first Billboard 200 top five this year with debut album Teenage Emotions as well as MVP guest stints on two Hot 100 top five hits, D.R.A.M.‘s “Broccoli” and Kyle’s “iSpy,” the latter of which is the ninth-most-streamed track of 2017 thus far.
GHAZI SHAMI, 40
In describing his lean, efficient hybrid label-distributor, Shami often slips into metaphor: too many labels focus on “home runs” rather than putting players “in scoring position”; others may have the “might of King Kong,” but EMPIRE wins with the “precision of Bruce Lee.” After grabbing six nods at the Grammys with D.R.A.M.‘s “Broccoli” (No. 5 Hot 100 peak), Fat Joe and Remy Ma‘s “All the Way Up” (No. 27) and Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, Shami’s got the rest of the industry sharpening its kung-fu skills. “A lot of times the restaurant isn’t about [the food], it’s about the cooks,” he says of EMPIRE. “We’ve found a niche way of doing things.”
KANYE WEST, 40
CEO, G.O.O.D. Music
West spent the past year focusing on his executive duties at G.O.O.D., releasing projects from Desiigner, John Legend and Big Sean, the latter of whom earned his second Billboard 200 No. 1 with I Decided. In addition to launching his Yeezy Season 5 collection and expanding his mega-deal with Adidas (Yeezy-branded stores and sports performance gear are on the way), West was a strong road act, grossing $52.7 million from 39 shows on his Saint Pablo Tour in 2016 (despite canceling the final 21 shows).
BRYAN “BIRDMAN” WILLIAMS, 48 // RONALD “SLIM” WILLIAMS, 49
Co-CEOs, Cash Money Records
Despite the fact that its marquee artist, Lil Wayne, is sitting on the sidelines amid a legal dispute with the label, the New Orleans-born, Miami-based Williams brothers’ Cash Money roared to a 6.5 percent market share through Aug. 10, as Drake’s More Life shattered Ed Sheeran‘s record for most Spotify streams in a day with 61.3 million listens. “We never lost the focus on being successful,” says Birdman.
Nonindustry Leader I Admire: Slim: “Mark Zuckerberg. He took something that was meant to be local and made it global.”
DION “NO I.D.” WILSON, 46
Executive vp, Capitol Music Group
In June, this veteran producer-executive jumped to Capitol Music Group after three years at Def Jam. Overseeing A&R and production, Wilson also assists senior management with the creative direction of CMG’s collective of labels. That now includes the relaunch of pioneering rap imprint Priority as an indie-leaning distributor focused primarily on emerging acts. Wilson also reunited with JAY-Z, producing the entirety of his first album in four years, 4:44.
CORTEZ BRYANT, 37
Partner, Maverick; COO, Young Money
SHAWN GEE, 45 // GEE ROBERSON, 42
The longtime partners, whose rosters include Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, The Roots and G-Eazy, continue to win as part of Maverick’s management consortium. This past year, Minaj surpassed Aretha Franklin for the most total appearances among women on the Hot 100 with 76, and G-Eazy headlined The Endless Summer arena tour in 2016, averaging 11,536 tickets per show. Gee launched Live Nation Urban, which will develop new hip-hop festivals and events, including Spotify’s Rap Caviar Live concert series.
Prized Possession: Bryant: “A hard drive I keep in a safe with hundreds of unreleased Lil Wayne records. I have some gems!”
SHAWN “JAY-Z” CARTER, 47
Founder, Roc Nation; owner, TIDAL
JAY BROWN, 43
CEO, Roc Nation
DESIREE PEREZ, 47
COO, Roc Nation/TIDAL
TIDAL and Roc Nation’s core team put up big numbers from the latter’s label division with J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only and JAY-Z’s 4:44, both of which topped the Billboard 200. The management wing had a bullish year with DJ Khaled, who landed No. 1 and No. 2 hits with, respectively, “I’m the One” and “Wild Thoughts”(featuring fellow client Rihanna), and Big Sean, who had a No. 1 album and became Puma’s global ambassador. The company kept its eye on growth too, launching Roc Nation Latin, beefing up its management roster by signing Yo Gotti and Fat Joe, and renewing JAY-Z’s Live Nation partnership in a $200 million deal. TIDAL, despite shedding yet another CEO, secured its near-term future by selling Sprint a 33 percent stake in a $200 million deal.
PAT CORCORAN, 27
Manager, Chance the Rapper; founder, Haight Brand
It has been a whirlwind year for Corcoran, who helped Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book become the first-ever streaming-only release to win a Grammy in February. Corcoran and his team — which handles publishing, merchandise, press and label operations for Chance in addition to management — were instrumental in organizing Chance’s Magnificent Coloring Day Festival at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago last September, which broke the venue’s attendance record and grossed $2.2 million. “It was one of the most special days for Chicago — ever,” says Corcoran.
Nonmusic Leader I Admire: “Elon Musk. I want to change the world like he has.”
IBRAHIM “IB” HAMAD, 33
Co-founder/president, Dreamville Records
As J. Cole’s right hand, Hamad has been focused on -turning their Dreamville label into a self-sustaining company — starting with cutting a deal to get Cole’s masters back under his control. Hamad’s past year also included rolling out Cole’s fourth straight No. 1 album, 4 Your Eyez Only, which arrived with 492,000 equivalent album units alongside a documentary produced with HBO and a still-ongoing tour that grossed $9 million from nine shows reported to Billboard Boxscore so far.
Biggest Issue Facing Hip-Hop: “Too many artists are chasing the money touring, forcing them to play buildings that are too big for [them]. They’re overplaying.”
BEYONCÉ KNOWLES, 36
CEO, Parkwood Entertainment
STEVE PAMON, 46
COO, Parkwood Entertainment
Beyoncé had former Chase executive Pamon take over operations of her management company in late 2015, and the move has paid dividends: Her you-had-to-be-there Formation stadium tour, which wrapped in October, took in over $256 million and sold 2.2 million tickets; activewear line Ivy Park continues to thrive; and Parkwood has primed one of its acts, teen sister duo Chloe & Halle, for a breakout with its forthcoming debut LP.
STEVEN VICTOR, 36
COO, G.O.O.D. Music; Senior vp A&R, Universal Music Group; Founder/CEO, William Victor Management Group
Victor, who got his start managing Clipse, the sibling rap duo of Pusha T and No Malice, has evolved into one of hip-hop’s most dynamic leaders. In addition to managing a roster that now includes Desiigner and new acts Ski Mask the Slump God and D Savage 3900, Victor oversees operations at G.O.O.D. Music, which released Billboard 200-topping albums by Kanye West and Big Sean in 2016. Since November 2016, he also has headed up A&R at UMG, a post that has him reporting directly to chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge.
PAUL ROSENBERG, 46
CEO, Goliath Management; president, Shady Records; incoming CEO, Def Jam Records
In August, Universal Music Group announced that Eminem’s longtime lawyer and manager would take over as CEO of Def Jam in January from Steve Bartels, who has been running the company since 2014. Rosenberg will continue working with Eminem, who reportedly is recording a new album due later this year. He says the biggest challenge facing him and other rap CEOs is “finding [our] funnel. Now that there’s so much access to music, you have to work extra hard to focus your efforts.”
Prized Possession: “An Adidas shell-toe I won at an auction that has Run, D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay’s signatures on it.”
ANTHONY SALEH, 31
CEO, Emagen Entertainment Group
The man who manages Future and Nas knows how to multitask. In March, Future made history when his second new album in as many weeks debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200; the very next day, Mass Appeal (which Nas helped relaunch as a record label and production company in 2014) announced a $6 million funding round led by Universal Music Group. Toss in Future’s Nobody Safe Tour and a new media-tech venture with Jeffrey Katzenberg called WndrCo, and Saleh has his hands full. “Honesty, fairness and creativity” is how he describes his approach. “I love when my artists are happy.”
Biggest Issue Facing Hip-Hop “I hope a lot of these young guys exploding right now end up having real careers — and not just having a moment.”
WASSIM “TONY SAL” SLAIBY, 37
The breakthroughs keep coming for this Lebanese-Canadian manager: Six months after he announced a 50/50 partnership with the all-star Maverick management group, longtime client The Weeknd proved himself a bona fide pop star via No. 1s on the Billboard 200 and the Billboard Hot 100 with Starboy and its title track. Meanwhile, French Montana has his first top five on the Hot 100 with “Unforgettable.” “The most important thing for me,” says Slaiby, “is seeing eye to eye with the artist and building a true friendship with trust.”
First Thing I Do Every Day: “Change my baby daughter’s diaper.”
TARIQ CHERIF, 27 // MATT ZINGLER, 29
Co-founders, Rolling Loud Festival
In just three years, Rolling Loud has become hip-hop’s premier festival. The 2017 edition in Miami featured Kendrick Lamar, Future and Lil Wayne, and -starting in 2018, it will expand to China, Japan and the United Kingdom. Though Zingler and Cherif have already worked with a who’s who in the genre, Zingler hopes the overseas events will feature one artist who has proved to be elusive: “I love how Kanye West creates this hype around anything that he touches. He makes anything into gold.”
Where I Find New Talent: Cherif: “Social media. I’m into studying the ratio of how many retweets, shares and comments -[artists] get compared to their followers.”
ROBERT GIBBS, 40
Partner/music agent, ICM Partners
ZACH ISER, 32
Music agent, ICM Partners
CAROLINE YIM, 38
Music agent, ICM Partners
?It has been a big year for ICM, which reps Future, Lil Yachty and Machine Gun Kelly. Gibbs just wrapped up J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only Tour, which grossed $1 million per show in ticket sales, and is working with Yim for up-and-coming R&B singer H.E.R., who is opening for Bryson Tiller. “We look for artists capable of creating a great body of work and not just a song,” says Gibbs. “The biggest thing for us is rolling up our sleeves and being a part of artist development.”
Stress Relief: Yim: “Eating. Specifically tacos, fries and sweets.”
JOE HADLEY, 29
Agent, Creative Artists Agency
RYAN THOMSON, 28
Agent, Creative Artists Agency
This pair made noise by signing A$AP Rocky and Logic, brokering a deal with Courvoisier cognac for the former and staging the first arena tour for the latter. With a roster that also includes Kanye West, T.I. and A Tribe Called Quest, CAA has Hadley and Thomson focusing on up-next talent: Recent signee Kyle hit over two dozen festivals this summer, and GoldLink will kick off his most extensive U.S. tour this fall.
Biggest Issue Facing Hip-Hop: Hadley: “There aren’t enough minority execs. Not just in hip-hop, but the industry overall.”
Founder/owner, Cara Lewis Group
After 23 years at WME and a three-year stint at CAA, Lewis started her own venture in 2016. This year alone, the New York-based veteran has booked 900 shows and produced tours for Chance the Rapper, Travis Scott, Russ, Khalid and Bryson Tiller, partnering with MAC Presents for branding opportunities with Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters. “Unlike other agents in this genre, I have helped to create the culture and am proud to say I still live in it,” says Lewis, who has worked with icons from Eric B. & Rakim to Eminem since the start of their careers.
Nonmusic Leaders I Admire: “Powerful women pushing their industry forward: Alli Webb from Drybar, Spanx founder Sara Blakely, Tory Burch.”
Drake and Kendrick Lamar have Smith and his WME team to thank for their recent blockbuster treks. The former’s Summer Sixteen Tour with Future — the only rap tour to rank among the 25 highest-grossing treks of 2016, at $71 million — and Boy Meets World Tour totaled nearly 100 dates, while the latter’s sold-out jaunt in support of his chart-topping DAMN. precedes a European leg. “There was a time when you couldn’t even tour hip-hop,” says Smith, who also works with Big Sean, Snoop Dogg, Childish Gambino and Ice Cube. “Hip-hop is now pop. It’s such a healthy place to be in.”
Prized Possession: “An electric guitar Chris Cornell gave me.”
DEBRA LEE, 63
Chairman/CEO, BET Networks
BET’s longtime president of programming, Stephen Hill, resigned in March, but the network continues to be TV’s home of R&B and hip-hop. The long-running BET Hip-Hop Awards and BET Awards are TV’s strongest hip-hop tentpole events: June’s BET Awards, featuring Migos and Chance the Rapper, drew 5.8 million viewers. Says Lee, now a bicoastal resident of New York and Beverly Hills: “As BET has evolved over the years, we never lost sight that our foundation is black music.”
Prized Possession: “Luther Vandross‘ BET Walk of Fame plaque. I bought it from his estate. I love his voice.”
CEO, Urban One
Senior vp programming and content, Radio One/Reach Media
Liggins oversaw Radio One’s recent renaming to Urban One in May, reflecting the unity between the largest black-owned broadcasting company in the United States (founded by Liggins’ mother, chairwoman Cathy Hughes) and its sister cable TV and digital media divisions. Radio One is also the largest radio chain targeting the R&B/hip-hop audience, operating 53 stations in markets such as Atlanta; Raleigh, N.C.; and Baltimore under Stevens’ watch. The secret to the company’s long legacy? Says Stevens: “Compelling personalities who live the lifestyle and love hip-hop.”
First Thing I Do Every Day: Stevens: “Twitter! With all that’s going on in the White House, it’s a must-read.”
Vp urban programming, WVEE (V-103) Atlanta
In Atlanta, hip-hop’s unofficial cultural hub, CBS Radio station V-103 ranked No. 1 in July among listeners aged 18-49. But longtime program director Rouse says he’s most proud of what his -station has done to aid the community during the past year: arming listeners with registration information ahead of the 2016 election, and charity efforts like helping a local parent with funeral costs for a child. When it comes to tunes, Rouse says his team “led the way” on crossing over Bruno Mars‘ “24K Magic” to R&B/hip-hop radio, adding it before the label asked due to fan demand. “For me, it was a no-brainer,” he says.
Where I Find New Talent: “In ATL, you can find new talent everywhere. One night, a waitress at the Waffle House gave me a CD of an unsigned artist who she said was the next big act.”
RON “MILLS” TRIANA, 46
Program director, Hip-Hop Nation/Shade 45
Ron Mills finds a way to balance the wilder side of Eminem’s SiriusXM Shade 45 channel with respected music radio/TV host Sway’s weekday Sway in the Morning show, DJ Whoo Kid’s G-Unit Radio and L.A. Leakers’ #Leakshow. Aside from securing exclusive interviews and freestyles, the Queens native keeps SiriusXM’s 32 million subscribers up on the latest music by leaning on regional and underground DJs. “I look a lot to my DJs, who are all across the country, for buzz artists,” he says. “The DJ is still the cornerstone to me.”
Song Stuck In My Head: “‘Butterfly Effect’ by Travis Scott. I pressed for [putting] that record into rotation.”
DOC WYNTER, 56
Senior vp urban programming, iHeartRadio
As head of urban programming at the largest radio group in the United States, Wynter is arguably hip-hop’s most powerful programmer. He has launched over 20 stations in the past 10 years, including WMIB Miami and KRRL Los Angeles. In 2017, he’s most proud of finding and molding new talent and “continuing to grow the urban brain trust” at iHeartRadio, citing DJ A-OH and Angela Watson, on-air talents who have taken on executive programming roles at iHeartRadio under Wynter’s watch.
Stress Relief: “Staying in shape.”
Global head of hip-hop, Spotify
Under Basa’s purview, Rap Caviar, Spotify’s most popular hip-hop playlist, has grown from over 4 million to 7.5 million subscribers in just a year’s time, and added original video to the mix. Beyond that, the New York-based tastemaker launched Rap Caviar Live in Atlanta with special guests Gucci Mane and Rae Sremmurd while managing the service’s hip-hop hub with roughly 30 playlists. “We’re a platform — we call it an ‘enhanced’ playlist,” he says. “It’s not something that can be duplicated.”
Stress Relief: “Prayer, multiple times a day. It works!”
JUSTIN BOLAND, 44
Head of hip-hop and R&B programming, Pandora
When he’s not busy DJ’ing, Boland runs hip-hop and R&B programming at Pandora. He’s got a penchant for breaking new artists including Lil Pump, XXXTentacion and Smokepurpp, whom he cites as inspiration for Pandora’s new Gunshine State station focused on South Florida’s buzzy rap scene. “Seeing the younger artists blow up on Pandora and go from zero to 60 is a huge accomplishment for me,” he says.
Favorite Non-Hip-Hop Act: “Kaytranada.”
CARL CHERY, 38
Head of artist curation, Apple Music
LARRY JACKSON, 36
Head of original content, iTunes/Apple Music
In June, Apple Music announced that its subscriber base had risen to 27 million, thanks partly to high-profile exclusives like Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book and Frank Ocean‘s Blonde. Chery has become one of rap’s most powerful hit-breakers with Apple’s A-List: Hip-Hop playlist — Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” was streamed 46 million times on the platform. “I’ve discovered new artists through fellow curators, managers or A&R [reps],” says Chery of his approach. “I hear about them before they get any kind of online coverage.”
Dream Collaborator: Chery: “I want to A&R the first collab between Nas and Kendrick Lamar to remake Nas’ ‘Life Is Like a Dice Game’ and make it a full song.”
DR. DRE, 52
CEO, Aftermath Entertainment; unknown role, Apple Music
With the 2015 N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton and the HBO docuseries The Defiant Ones, Dre’s storied past has recently taken center stage. But he remains one of the most powerful people in the business. Aftermath has released two chart-topping albums from Kendrick Lamar since March 2016, and Apple Music has grown from 20 million to 27 million subscribers since December 2016. His official role with the company is unknown, but he’s reportedly working on Apple’s first scripted video series, Vital Signs, as well as Eminem’s upcoming album.
JENNIFER DRAKE, 35
Senior director of A&R, Sony/ATV
IAN HOLDER, 36
Vp creative, Sony/ATV
These performing rights organization vets each arrived at Sony/ATV during the past 18 months and gave it a quick cred boost, with Drake signing Kendrick Lamar to ASCAP and Holder inking Frank Ocean to BMI. Drake landed a win by signing Khalid and pairing him with fellow Sony/ATV signee Joel Little for “Young, Dumb and Broke” (80 million Spotify streams). Her talent discovery tip: “The internet and social media are great, but staying connected to people is still the best way.”
Biggest Issue Facing Hip-Hop: Drake: “Staying authentic to its origin: a form of expression for oppressed people. We still have an obligation to uplift the culture.”
WALTER JONES, 36
Vp creative, Universal Music Publishing Group
STERLING SIMMS, 35
Director of creative, Universal Music Publishing Group
UMPG muscled up by hiring A&R reps Simms and Jones in 2016, and it paid off, with Jones signing Lil Yachty (whose Teenage Emotions hit No. 5 on the Billboard 200) and buzzy R&B singer H.E.R. (he also co-produced her debut EP). Simms, who previously had a career as a singer, inked Charlie Handsome, who produced “Madiba Riddim” off Drake’s More Life. “It’s so rewarding when you discover a new writer,” says Simms. “Those hidden gems are the difference between genius and just putting points on the board.”
Stress Relief: Simms: “Meditation. I take 10 minutes, close my eyes and breathe.”
RYAN PRESS, 37
Co-head of U.S. A&R, Warner/Chappell Music
“I don’t think A&R is a lost art,” says Press, who in the past year signed producer Murda Beatz, PnB Rock and Lil Uzi Vert (who hit No. 7 on the Hot 100 with “XO Tour Llif3”). Signees PartyNextDoor and Swae Lee earned credits on DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” and French Montana’s “Unforgettable,” respectively, both top five hits. “Our goal,” says Press, “is putting songwriters first.”
Dream Collaborator: “Missy Elliott. I’d love for her to make an all-R&B album.”
BUSINESS & BRANDING
MARCIE ALLEN, 43
Founder/president, MAC Presents
The sponsorship veteran joined forces with Cara Lewis in 2016, handling partnerships and endorsements for the mega-agent’s roster, and has since seen her “hip-hop business explode,” says Allen. In the past year, MAC Presents brokered deals between Chance the Rapper and Kenzo x H&M, Khalid and Forever 21, and Ludacris with both AT&T and Twitter. “Hip-hop artists are very hands-on,” she says. “That is what’s making these partnerships stronger than ever.”
First Thing I Do At Work: “Read the news and listen to music. I’m a news junkie.”
JON COHEN, 49 // ROB STONE, 49
This pair’s magazine The Fader is well-known, but Cornerstone’s brand partnerships are just as notable. Recent highlights include Sprite’s Obey Your Verse campaign (featuring J. Cole, Missy Elliott and Tupac Shakur), JAY-Z and Budweiser’s Made in America and partnering with Atlantic to produce videos for the label’s rap acts. “Companies come to us for our cred,” says Cohen, citing Stone’s work with The Notorious B.I.G. “We have a deep history.”
Biggest Issue Facing Hip-Hop: Stone: “Making sure the cream rises to the top. There’s so much great music out there.”
Vp global experiential marketing and partnerships, American Express
Curtis has made hip-hop a central focus of AmEx’s marketing, negotiating a deal with Kendrick Lamar to star in the Shop Small campaign, handling presale tickets for three of the year’s biggest tours (Beyoncé, Kanye West, J. Cole) and introducing Pharrell Williams as creative director of the Platinum Card. What makes hip-hop acts so perfect for brands? They “share a common value around innovation,” says Curtis.
Favorite Artist: “Kendrick. He’s raw, unapologetic and forward-thinking.”
STEVE STOUTE, 47
The former label executive spent the past year beefing up brand partnerships for his JAY-Z-co-founded Translation agency, including work on HBO’s The Defiant Ones and Google’s interactive hip-hop doodle. After a head-turning Apple Music ad with Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson and Kerry Washington in 2015, Stoute worked with Timbaland for a 30-second NBA spot and invested in media brand Mass Appeal by contributing to a $6 million round of Series A funding.
JON WEXLER, 46
Vp global entertainment influencer marketing, Adidas
Adidas doubled its U.S. market share from 2016 to 2017, according to NPD Group, and a huge part of that was Wexler’s deals with rap stars. He launched sneakers with Pharrell Williams and extended Adidas’ pact with Kanye West, which will grow into apparel and Yeezy retail stores. “When we work with hip-hop, it burns brighter,” says Wexler, citing the brand’s history with Run-D.M.C.
Stress Relief “The only time I really sleep is on airplanes — that’s my me time.”
Contributors: Dave Brooks, Alex Gale, Lyndsey Havens, Steven J. Horowitz, Dan Hyman, Hannah Karp, William E. Ketchum III, Carl Lamarre, Gail Mitchell, Dan Rys, Datwon Thomas