Hip-hop and R&B A&R heavyweight Tunji Balogun has taken the job as Def Jam Records’ new chairman and CEO, according to sources familiar with the situation. The move, effective Jan. 1, 2022, marks Balogun’s departure as executive vp A&R at RCA Records, where he spent six years. Balogun will be based in Los Angeles and report to UMG chairman & CEO Sir Lucian Grainge.
Jeffrey Harleston, Universal Music Group executive vp business and legal affairs, has been filling the role in an interim basis since it was vacated by Eminem’s longtime manager, Paul Rosenberg, in February 2020. He will continue overseeing the label until Balogun officially takes over next year.
“It has been an honor and a pleasure to lead and grow Def Jam over these past two years,” said Harleston in a statement. “Having had the privilege of working with Tunji for more than a decade, I couldn’t be happier to hand the reins over to him. Tunji has all the tools to take the Def Jam brand and artists to new levels of success. He has the vision. He has a track record of signing the best and brightest new talent who ‘move culture’ around the world and has always been an incredible advocate for artists.”
Balogun — who was recently named to Billboard‘s R&B Hip-Hop Power Players list — has been with RCA since 2015 after joining the label from Interscope. He created a lane with alt-R&B artists at RCA, playing an instrumental role in signing Khalid, Wizkid, Goldlink, and Bryson Tiller. More recently he has also worked with Doja Cat, whose third studio album Planet Her in June debuted at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Top R&B Albums chart and No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in June.
In 2018, alongside Courtney Stewart, Jon Tanners and Jared Sherman, Balogun co-founded Keep Cool, a joint-venture label with RCA whose roster includes Normani, VanJess, Lucky Daye and Freddie Gibbs & Madlib. At the time, RCA chairman/CEO Peter Edge called the joint-venture a “natural progression” for Balogun, who Edge said has “an innate ability to understand an artist’s musical genius and […] the potential of their cultural impact.”
In Balogun’s new role, which was first reported by Variety, he will oversee a roster that includes Jay-Z, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, YG, Big Sean, Logic and Alessia Cara.
“Tunji is part of a new wave of dynamic executives who view today’s artists and music through a unique creative lens,” said Grainge in a statement. “Not only does he bring a deep understanding and respect for the cultural significance of what Def Jam has created over the past four decades, but he also sees the boundless potential of what Def Jam can be to a new generation of artists and fans.”
Added Balogun, “I grew up on Def Jam’s music – collecting, listening to and studying their albums and singles – those early moments as a young fan have had a lasting influence on who I am today. Def Jam remains one of music’s most iconic brands and has always represented forward-thinking artists and partners that continue to shift ideas and impact culture around the world. I’m honored to lead Def Jam into its next chapter and thank Lucian and Jeff for their support and this incredible opportunity.”
Balogun started his career as a marketing intern at Warner Bros. Records, setting aside his college aspirations to become a rapper himself. After graduating from Pomona College in 2004, he pursued a full-time job with Warner while — fittingly for today’s news — also working at Def Jam Mobile, which was Def Jam Enterprises’ division for selling ringtones.
Between 2007 and 2015, the young executive served in an A&R role at Interscope, where he worked with Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, The Game, Keyshia Cole and OneRepublic, as well as signing Atlanta rapper K Camp and bringing Los Angeles rapper Cozz to J. Cole’s Dreamville joint venture with Interscope.
Balogun is just the latest in a series of executive shakeups at Def Jam over the past two months. In June, the company announced it had promoted Nicki Farag to executive vp and general manager. Just a few days later, it revealed it had brought on Snoop Dogg as executive creative and strategic consultant. In May, Def Jam’s executive vp and general manager Rich Isaacson departed the label after more than three years.