Warner Music Group announced today (Oct. 31) that the company is officially relaunching Asylum Records in the United States, with Houston rapper Ugly God as its first signing. The label, originally founded in 1971 by David Geffen and Elliot Roberts, has had a successful run in the U.K. since being relaunched there in 2008 with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Charli XCX among its signees.
In making the announcement, WMG CEO recorded music Max Lousada also laid out a leadership team for its U.S. operations, with ADA Worldwide’s Kenny Weagly taking over as president and Dante Ross moving over as senior vp A&R. Weagly will report to ADA Worldwide president Eliah Seton, and the U.S. label will be independent from its U.K. counterpart.
Asylum’s new structure housed under ADA follows a few recent examples of legacy labels being revived as agile, indie-leaning flagships that operate similarly to digital distributors in allowing a wide range of flexibility for artist contracts, along the lines of Capitol Music Group’s resurrection of Priority Records earlier this year. The structure follows the fast-moving changes happening within the streaming-led music business that has emerged over the past half-decade.
“Asylum was founded with artistic freedom as its guiding principle, and the new Asylum expands on that ideal by believing in and supporting our artists’ visions for their music, as well as when and how they want to release it,” Weagly said in a statement. “Our mantra is nimbleness and flexibility — the ability to tailor-make deals, from singles projects to multi-album careers — for original artists across a spectrum of genres.”
The move is also the latest shift in Warner Music Group’s setup under new recorded music boss Max Lousada, who wasted no time after taking over his global role on Oct. 2 in molding the label group to his vision. Lousada quickly announced a shakeup atop flagship label Warner Bros. Records, with Interscope’s Aaron Bay-Schuck set to come in as co-chairman/CEO and RCA’s Tom Corson named co-chairman/COO. Current WBR chairman/CEO Cameron Strang will step down from the label and resign from the board of WMG at the end of the year.
“We’re committed to encouraging entrepreneurship and nurturing diverse musical cultures within the WMG family,” Lousada said in a statement. “Asylum is one of the most revered brands in the music industry, and by relaunching it in the U.S. as a label that’s all about musical independence and flexibility, we are opening another avenue for fresh, innovative artistry to thrive.”
Over the years, Asylum has gone through several different phases, first emerging as a rock and singer-songwriter label for the likes of Jackson Browne, The Eagles and Joni Mitchell in the 1970s, and shifting into a hip-hop imprint in the 2000s as the home of Gucci Mane, Cam’ron, Mike Jones and Bun B, among others, under the direction of former president Todd Moscowitz.
Now, the label has made the urban market its focus once again with many of its initial signings. In addition to Ugly God, whose single “Water” reached No. 80 on the Hot 100 in February, Asylum has deals with New Orleans bounce artist Big Freedia, hip-hop duo Peso Da Mafia, Staten Island rapper Shoneyin and super-producer Mike Dean, whose deal is for protege Dice Soho. The label also has stepped into the dance music community with a deal for 20-year-old DJ Crankdat.
“Kenny will be a strong leader for Asylum because he has a true independent’s approach to artist development, combined with deep experience within the WMG family,” said ADA’s Seton in a statement. “He knows how to marshal the best support network to help create breakthrough moments in music. Dante is a gifted champion of talent, whose A&R instincts and experience have led him to sign game-changing artists and deliver platinum hits. Together, Kenny and Dante will be a magnet for unique, compelling talent.”