This week, a pair of young MCs came together on a track that propelled each of them to new career highs on the charts. “Calling My Phone,” the latest single from Lil Tjay featuring 6LACK, flew onto the Hot 100 to an impressive No. 3 debut, while also topping the Streaming Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Songs charts while taking social media by storm.
The song’s success is a milestone for Lil Tjay, and is the latest big moment for a rising crop of formidable hip-hop and R&B talent at Columbia Records, which also includes Polo G, The Kid Laroi, Lil Nas X and others. And it helps Columbia’s executive vp/co-head of A&R Imran Majid earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
While buzz for “Calling My Phone” first began to simmer when the song was teased on TikTok, helping it vault into the top five of the Hot 100, Majid says the song’s success comes more from Columbia’s track record of artist development and trusting the A&R process. And Tjay, despite being just 19, is far from a brand new sensation, as his debut album, True 2 Myself, reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200 in 2019, while Polo-Tjay collaboration “Pop Out” climbed all the way to No. 11 on the Hot 100 that same year. But “Calling My Phone” is a singular moment for the Bronx-born MC and one that Majid says reflects on Columbia as a destination for great music.
Here, Majid talks the success of “Calling My Phone,” the crop of rising hip-hop/R&B artists on Columbia and why “this company has become a place where artists like that, and many others, want to be, and that is something A&R and all departments are very proud of.”
Lil Tjay’s “Calling My Phone” with 6LACK debuted at No. 3 on the Hot 100 this week, the first top 10 of his career and an impressive debut for any single. What key decisions did you make to help him achieve that?
Trust the A&R process and trust the A&R’s around you. It started when Tjay had a session with one of our other artists on the roster and he met the producer G.Ry (who produced Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later” and “Calling My Phone”). He sent me the song from the session and it was amazing, and the big thing that came out of it for me was he said, “It took me 15 minutes to do.” So when it came down to setting up more sessions for Tjay, we were like, Let’s get him back in with G.Ry since he was able to make that song so easily. Tjay’s A&Rs Maria Arangio and Luis Mota flew to L.A. and got in the studio with Tjay, G.Ry, Bordeaux and Non Native and sent me the hook of the song the next day. We all thought it was great. As we were releasing new music for Tjay at the end of last year, Maria and Lu kept telling me they had a feeling about this song. So my job was to trust them and get the rest of the staff to believe in this song as much as we did. Tjay put an amazing verse on the song and when the 6LACK verse came in, my jaw dropped and we all knew we had a masterpiece. (Shoutout to Tim Glover at Interscope and LVRN for getting 6LACK on the song.)
The song also came in at No. 1 on Streaming Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Songs, his first No. 1 on each chart. What helped make it so huge on streaming right out of the gate?
Tjay is not an overnight success. We have been developing him from the time I met him at 17 years old until now. His first album True 2 Myself is certified platinum and he has over 10 songs certified gold or platinum. He is a superstar and people wanted a core hit song from him, but our job was to help elevate the sound. When you have an unexpected feature like 6LACK on a song with Tjay, you wake up two rabid fan bases, and the result is a global hit.
Columbia has a very strong roster of young, rising R&B/hip-hop talent. How have you prioritized those genres in your A&R department?
[Chairman/CEO] Ron Perry and [GM] Jen Mallory have done an incredible job building a staff that just has great taste — a lot whom have great taste in R&B/hip-hop. So when we set out to build the A&R staff, signing and developing next-generation R&B/hip-hop acts was top priority. We went after acts that we felt we understood and would have a great impact culturally. We can look acts like Lil Tjay, Polo G, Lil Nas X and Kid Laroi in the eye and confidently say, “We understand you and where you want to go.” This company has become a place where artists like that, and many others, want to be, and that is something A&R and all departments are very proud of.
What’s the biggest factor in helping an artist break through today? And how has that changed during your time in the music business?
Great music, strong vision and an incredible team. I don’t think that has changed in the history of the business. The only thing that has changed is the technology on how the music is brought to the fans. But I just think it’s important to keep it simple and to trust the process.