Timbaland and Swizz Beatz — who took Verzuz from pandemic entertainment to a still-evolving, profitable wealth generator for Black artists — rule Billboard’s list of the executives leading the genres forward now.
Executive vp urban music and marketing, Warner Records
Senior vp A&R, Warner Records
Senior vp A&R, Warner Records
Warner Records’ banner year included hip-hop hits such as CJ’s “Whoopty,” with a Latin remix from Anuel AA and Ozuna, as well as Saweetie’s and NLE Choppa’s ongoing successes, and gold records for Erica Banks and YFN Lucci. Daniels, 41, Bolden, 36, and Atlas are prioritizing artist development, which, Atlas says, is more necessary than ever: “Coming out of the pandemic after a year without touring, developing new artists will need time and support to make up for the lost year.” Adds Bolden: “You can have records that do numbers but never truly build the artist into a star.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “We continue to see too much violence in our communities. As an industry we need to remain vigilant in supporting programs that can provide opportunities, alternative outlets and options for growth for our young people as a way to truly influence change.” —Atlas
President, 4th & Broadway; executive vp, Island Records
At Island, Burnette helped propel Skip Marley’s success with his H.E.R.-assisted track “Slow Down,” his first leader on any Billboard airplay chart, reaching the top of Adult R&B Airplay. At the helm of the revived 4th & Broadway, Burnette hopes to do the same with Young Devyn, newly signed during the pandemic. Says Burnette: “She brings a fresh perspective to the game through raw lyricism and her relatable life experiences as a young African American girl from Brooklyn.”
Concert I’m Looking Forward To: “The Rolling Loud festival in New York City, Miami and Los Angeles. The energy at those shows is unmatched. I love the fact that they also give new artists a chance to shine.”
Executive vp East Coast labels, Universal Music Enterprises
In the newly created role she’s been in since May 2020 at UMe, the global catalog and special markets division of Universal Music Group, Bynum works with senior executives at Republic, Island, Def Jam and Cash Money to develop strategic initiatives across their urban rosters. Bynum previously worked at Cash Money/Young Money/Republic with both emerging artists Jacquees and Kiana Ledé and stars including Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Drake. “[We need] more people of color in decision-making roles,” says Bynum, who is proud of UMe’s “ongoing commitment to meaningful change inside and outside the company.”
The Power of Black Music in One Word: “Motivating.”
Leighton “Lake” Morrison
Tyree “DJ Drama” Simmons
Co-founders, Generation Now
Generation Now’s roster of young stars includes Lil Uzi Vert, Killumantii and Seddy Hendrinx. But it was Kentucky rapper Jack Harlow who secured another win for the Atlanta-based label with his 2020 album, Thats What They All Say, which debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. “Jack’s trajectory has changed so much since the pandemic,” says Morrison, 42. “We’re excited to see his first real show back.”
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “Bob Marley, because he kept me at peace.” —Simmons
A&R, Republic Records; founder, SC Company
Senior vp A&R, Republic Records
VP marketing strategy, Republic Records
Executive vp A&R, Republic Records
VP marketing strategy, Republic Records
In addition to winning label of the year at the inaugural Clio Music Awards along with honors for its campaign for The Weeknd’s After Hours, Republic scored with a recent trio of chart triumphs: The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” broke the Hot 100 record for most weeks in the top 10 (59), rapper-singer Coi Leray earned her first top 40 hit with the Lil Durk-assisted “No More Parties,” and Pop Smoke’s posthumous album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and became the longest-running No. 1 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums since 1990. “He’s one of one,” says Nimrod, 26. “His legacy is absolutely untouchable.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “We need more Black women to be properly represented, recognized and uplifted into top-level roles within our industry. We are the foundation, and the merit we bring to the table needs to be amplified further and louder in order to efficiently expand our ecosystem.” —Nimrod
Founder/CEO, 1501 Certified Entertainment
Crawford launched his label after retiring from Major League Baseball in 2016, hoping to spotlight undiscovered artists. He has already succeeded in that by signing Megan Thee Stallion, who has amassed 11 platinum singles and two Hot 100 No. 1s. Next up? Erica Banks. Says Crawford of his rising artist: “We just got our first gold record with our newest rap superstar.”
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “There’s a lack of recognition of the machine behind the artist, especially toward those of us who invest our own money and time in unknown talent we believe in. There needs to be acknowledgment of the amount of hard work it takes and who greatly contributes to the artist’s success.”
Brandon “Lil Bibby” Dickinson
Founder, Grade A Productions
George “G-Money” Dickinson
Partner, Grade A Productions
Partner, Grade A Productions
In July 2020, Grade A Productions and Interscope Records released Juice WRLD’s posthumous album, Legends Never Die, which debuted atop the Billboard 200 with the biggest week of 2020 for any R&B/hip-hop set. “Properly honoring Juice WRLD’s legacy was an amazing achievement,” says Jideonwo, noting that he finished 2020 at No. 4 on Billboard’s year-end Streaming Songs Artists chart.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “We should look to better serve artists who are not signed. If we’re able to provide programs that help independent artists find financial stability, we can help grow and advance the independent community. Many artists just need a bit of help in order to progress their crafts to the next level.” —Jideonwo
VP A&R, Virgin Music
Virgin recently made a deal with Soulja Boy to release the prolific rapper’s latest hit, “She Make It Clap.” Originally a Twitch freestyle, the tune went viral, leaping from No. 19 to No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Triller U.S. chart in April. Durand, 40, would like to see oversaturation in the genre cease to allow more focus on quality over quantity. “There are so many songs and albums being released weekly that it doesn’t give fans time to really digest an album,” he says.
The Power of Black Music in One Word: “Trendsetting. We create the sound and everybody else copies it, or attempts to.”
Executive vp creative development, Sony Music Group; executive vp, The Orchard
In December, Sony acquired Human Re Sources, Erving’s Los Angeles-based distribution and artist services company, from the music/tech firm Q&A, and folded it into The Orchard. Human Re Sources, which Erving describes as a “boutique company that’s primarily made up of young, nontraditional people of color,” is continuing to sign and develop artists directly. The deal is “going to help create jobs for people of color,” he says. “People will come to recognize that we are doing good work and will want to hire these new executives.”
Concert I’m Looking Forward To: “The DJ D-Nice concert. I feel like I’ve partied with D-Nice throughout quarantine at home, and to be able to do that in person will be a great time. I’m a fan of how he moves a party, and I know there’s going to be a lot of nostalgic moments.”
Executive vp urban music, Columbia Records
Senior vp, urban promotion, Columbia Records
Senior vp A&R, Columbia Records
Senior vp content development/co-head digital marketing, Columbia Records
VP digital marketing, Columbia Records
VP A&R, Columbia Records
Senior director of marketing, Columbia Records
Home to Beyoncé, John Legend and Tyler, The Creator, Columbia is equally devoted to its next generation of superstars. The label notched two Grammy nods with Chloe x Halle, including best progressive R&B album for Ungodly Hour, as well as Hot 100 No. 1s from Lil Nas X, with “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” and Polo G, with “Rapstar.” The latter bolstered his mainstream breakthrough with the 2020 album The Goat, followed by this year’s Billboard 200 No. 1 Hall of Fame, which “showed his growth as an artist and put him with his peers musically,” says Ohneswere, who also cites as a highlight Polo G’s “sit-down interview with [NBA star] Scottie Pippen and his L.A. Leakers freestyle, which deftly paid tribute to DMX.”
Concert I’m Looking Forward To: “The Day N Vegas Festival. Really great lineup with Tyler, The Creator, Baby Keem, Polo G, Joey Bada$$, SZA and Kendrick Lamar.” —Ohneswere
During the pandemic and amid calls for racial justice, Anderson .Paak delivered “Lockdown,” which captured the moment and set the company on a mission to “provide the wide-reaching platform to get the song and video to the people” during a tumultuous time, says Gorotiza, 36. The song won the artist his fourth Grammy Award, while his catalog has surpassed 1.3 million album consumption units in the United States. As Gorotiza adds, “the bigger win is getting people to pay attention to a truly prolific artist, a lifetime artist.” In July, Warner Music Group acquired the assets of 12Tone Music, bringing .Paak and the label’s other acts to WMG.
The Power of Black Music in One Word: “Foundational. You can easily argue that most — if not all — genres of music stem from Black culture. I’m eternally grateful to have it in my daily life.”
Founder/CEO, 10K Projects
Senior vp business and legal affairs, 10K Projects
Executive vp/head of creative, 10K Projects
In June 2020, the independent label 10K Projects pledged $500,000 to support social justice causes through a new charitable division, 10K Together. The initiative includes paid internships for Black youth, support for local Black-owned businesses and a creative fund to pay for “dream projects” for creatives of color, says Price, 40. The company awarded $10,000 to each of three winners last summer. Meanwhile, 10K Projects landed three songs in the Hot 100 top 20 since June 2020 with signees Internet Money (“Lemonade”), Surfaces (“Sunday Best”) and Trippie Redd (“Miss the Rage”).
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Recent court rulings that hip-hop lyrics can be admitted as evidence of a defendant’s guilt. The rulings are dangerous, could have a silencing effect on the tradition of Black storytelling through hip-hop and also very clearly and disproportionately impact Black creatives.” —Price
Founder/president, Rostrum Records
Grinberg’s Rostrum Records, which launched the careers of Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, reached a new milestone in April when it signed Rich the Kid to release the rapper’s recordings in partnership with BMG. The company’s songs were streamed a whopping 2.4 billion times globally in 2020, according to the label, and Grinberg anticipates that number will increase this year. Rich the Kid’s signing solidified Rostrum’s “position in hip-hop,” says Grinberg, 43, while further highlighting that “ ‘independent’ doesn’t mean ‘small.’ ”
The Change We Still Need to See: “Many artists from past decades had very bad deals that are often still unrecouped. Sony made a great step in getting rid of these artists’ unrecouped balances so that they can start to see revenue from streaming, but more needs to be done.”
President, urban, eOne
Amid celebrating the 30th anniversary of Death Row Records — which it acquired in 2013 — eOne’s music division also scored with its current roster. Sevyn Streeter’s “Guilty” (with Chris Brown and A$AP Ferg) cracked the top 25 of the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart, while Blueface has earned 2.2 billion on-demand streams in the United States. His latest song, “Outside (Better Days),” is a co-release with 5th Amendment/Empire. The company, which was acquired by a Blackstone Group investment fund from Hasbro in a deal that closed June 30, has big plans for Juicy J’s album, The Hustle Continues, says Grunblatt.
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “Bob Marley, because his music is rebel music, both spiritually and politically.”
Chairman/CEO, Motown Records
Tramiel “Twin” Clark
Senior vp, Motown Records
VP artist relations, marketing and special projects, Motown Records
VP A&R talent, Motown Records
Senior director of digital marketing, Motown Records
Lil Baby, who was initially signed to Motown in a joint venture with Quality Control and is now signed directly to the label, had the top album of 2020 in the United States with My Turn, which earned 2.6 million equivalent album units. Motown has regained its status as “a stand-alone record label within the Universal Music Group ecosystem, something it hasn’t been for 20 years,” says Habtemariam, who is only the second woman of color to be appointed chairman/CEO at a major label since Epic Records chairman/CEO Sylvia Rhone.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “The rise in mental health issues, as well as destructive behaviors such as crime and drug abuse. Our responsibility in supporting our artists stretches far beyond their music. We support them holistically.” —Habtemariam
Co-founder/chief business development officer, Create Music Group
Head of urban, Create Music Group
Director of A&R, music publishing, Create Music Group
Create — an emerging power player in independent distribution with annual revenue topping $100 million after working with artists like Tory Lanez and 6ix9ine — introduced an innovative new product, Create Carbon, a credit card for distributed clients that allows them to access their royalties as soon as they are earned. The Create executives say such transparency is the future of the industry, and that’s why the company is “building tools that help artists gain a clearer understanding of their worth.”
Concert I’m Looking Forward to: “The Rolling Loud festival. It’ll be exciting to see a lot of artists together again in the same place. I’m looking forward to the festival environment returning, because it can foster exciting and unexpected
Interim chairman/CEO, Def Jam Recordings; general counsel/executive vp business and legal affairs, Universal Music Group
GM/executive vp, Def Jam Recordings
Executive vp, Def Jam Recordings
Executive vp A&R, Def Jam Recordings
Senior vp urban promotions and artist relations, Def Jam Recordings
Senior vp A&R, Def Jam Recordings
In the wake of chart-topping albums from Jhené Aiko, Justin Bieber and Big Sean, Def Jam’s team has also proved that it can break artists that don’t “fit the traditional definition of what it means to be a commercial act,” says Preston, citing Aiko’s Chilombo and upcoming label priority Kaash Paige. In June, Def Jam announced the creation of an in-house task force, Def Jam Forward, to promote social, economic and educational equality for its Black and larger minority community members, and label executives and artists supported the reopening of Los Angeles’ Leimert Park to commemorate Juneteenth. “It was beautiful to see a major label’s presence at a historical event that means so much to our community,” says Preston.
The Power of Black Music in One Word: “Unstoppable.” —Preston
VP, commerce and digital, Black music, ADA
In the past year, Howard has overseen ADA partner releases including HITCO’s gold-certified SAINt JHN album, While the World Was Burning, and its No. 4 Hot 100 “Roses” and accompanying remix, which have been certified platinum and gold, respectively. ADA has also had success with U.K. rapper Central Cee’s Wild West album, which spent nine weeks in The Official U.K. Albums Chart’s top 40. “Our other talents Rubi Rose, Ayiana Lee and BJRNCK are all poised to break out this year,” says Howard.
Favorite Artists During the Pandemic: “Freddie Gibbs, Griselda, Moneybagg Yo and also a lot of Prince and Sade, because like everyone else, my emotions ran the gamut after being in quarantine for 16 months.”
Senior vp A&R, Atlantic Records
VP streaming and sales, Atlantic Records
VP marketing, Atlantic Records
Ali B Bianchi
VP marketing, Atlantic Records
Director of digital marketing and sports partnerships, Atlantic Records
Senior director of marketing, Atlantic Records
Atlantic’s roster of established and emerging artists has continued to rack up Hot 100 hits between Cardi B (“W.A.P.” featuring Megan Thee Stallion, “Up”), Silk Sonic (“Leave the Door Open”) and the label’s latest breakthrough, rapper Pooh Shiesty (“Back in Blood” featuring Lil Durk). “Atlantic has consistently been a company that truly believes in artist development,” says Darrale Jones, citing Lizzo’s rise as an example, with the “Truth Hurts” artist “on the runway building and building until it was her time to take off.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “Established talent embracing up-and-coming artists. It can be challenging for brand-new artists to afford big features or receive guidance from established artists. I’d really love to see them take these younger artists under their wings and offer them more support.” —Darrale Jones
Kevin “Coach K” Lee
COO, Quality Control
Pierre “P” Thomas
CEO, Quality Control
Read Billboard’s cover story on Quality Control artist Lil Baby here.
Co-founder/CEO, 300 Entertainment
Executive vp/head of A&R, 300 Entertainment
Senior vp marketing, 300 Entertainment
Senior vp promotion, 300 Entertainment
VP A&R research, 300 Entertainment
VP A&R, 300 Entertainment; vp, YSL Records
300 Entertainment’s marquee artist, Megan Thee Stallion, scored three wins at the Grammy Awards in March, including best new artist and best rap song for her “Savage (Remix)” featuring Beyoncé. Other highlights for the company in the past year include Young Thug’s recent Slime Language 2 compilation album topping the Billboard 200, released in partnership with the rapper’s Young Stoner Life imprint, and Fetty Wap’s 2014 single “Trap Queen” earning diamond certification from the RIAA for 10 million digital units. Liles says he’s also proud of the label’s new music distribution company, Sparta, which launched in June to empower independent artists and entrepreneurs. Adds Liles: “Independence is in our DNA.”
Favorite Artists During the Pandemic: “Marvin Gaye. A lot of the things he sang about with What’s Going On became the soundtrack to 2020. Lastly, Mary J. Blige’s My Life album — the My Life documentary is a must-see.” —Liles
Founder/CEO, Alamo Records
VP A&R, Alamo Records
Executive vp/GM, Alamo Records
Alamo, in which Sony Music recently acquired a majority stake, watched signees Rod Wave and Lil Durk each notch their first No. 1 debuts on the Billboard 200: Wave for his third studio album, SoulFly, in April, and Durk for his collaborative album with Lil Baby, Voice of the Heroes, in June. Both are among the six Alamo artists who performed at the Rolling Loud festival in Miami in July. “Hip-hop is at the top of the charts,” says Hargrave, “and it’s no mistake that this starts and refuels mainstream trends.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “More celebrations of what Black music really is: a springboard for a full spectrum of expression and representation to the mainstream.” —Hargrave
President, RCA Records; co-founder, Keep Cool
Executive vp A&R, RCA Records
Executive vp marketing, RCA Records
Senior vp marketing, RCA Records; CEO, Six Course Entertainment
Aaron “Dash” Sherrod
Senior vp A&R, RCA Records
Co-head of promotion (hip-hop, R&B, mixshow), RCA Records
RCA won a bronze 2020 Clio Award in recognition of its integrated multimedia marketing campaign for Black Music Month. Titled “Black Sounds Beautiful,” the campaign highlighted the work of genre-defining R&B and hip-hop artists signed to the label, including Alicia Keys, Khalid, Childish Gambino, H.E.R. and Kirk Franklin, who have a collective social media reach of 100 million across platforms. The campaign allowed the label to recognize “how much of a role R&B/hip-hop music plays in overall music and culture,” says Williams.
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales, because it created a bit of escapism from the heaviness of what was going on in the world.” —Williams
Antonio “L.A.” Reid
Head of A&R, HITCO
The independent label founded by Reid and Goldstuck celebrated a breakout year with rapper Rubi Rose, who landed on the cover of XXL’s 2021 Freshman Class summer issue, which was “an incredible acknowledgment for her,” says Johnson. The breakout star was also featured in Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “W.A.P.” video and released her debut mixtape, For the Streets, in December. Another recent coup is “the rise of SAINt JHN,” says Johnson, citing the July release of his SZA collaboration “Just for Me,” which led “into the launch of the summer blockbuster Space Jam: A New Legacy,” he adds.
The Change We Still Need to See: “While I love the push to have more Black executives inside the major labels, the real push should also be to support more independent labels and production companies. It is the vision of labels like Quality Control, LVRN and HITCO that will become the major labels of the future.” —Johnson
Chairman/CEO, Epic Records
Executive vp urban promotions, Epic Records
Executive vp/head of A&R, Epic Records
VP mixshow and lifestyle promo, Epic Records
VP A&R, Epic Records
Senior director of sales, Epic Records
Sylvia Rhone’s team at Epic watched Giveon’s 2020 single “Heartbreak Anniversary” take off on TikTok, amassing over 1.5 billion streams and peaking at No. 16 on the Hot 100 more than a year after its release, while his album When It’s All Said and Done… Take Time, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. Epic also helped drive the success of projects from the Black Eyed Peas, Travis Scott, Future, 21 Savage, DJ Khaled, DDG, Tyla Yaweh and Littlejohn 4K, among others. Rhone is equally proud of Sony Music Group’s 2020 social impact campaign, Your Voice, Your Power, Your Vote. “Through a series of short films and PSAs featuring artists and songwriters from the Sony roster like Pharrell Williams, DJ Khaled, H.E.R. and will.i.am,” she says, “we encouraged and empowered voters to take action and be heard.”
The Power of Black Music in One Word: “Reflective.” —Rhone
Founder, Pick Six Records
Shalizi’s Pick Six Records this year partnered with Interscope for the release from the newest Pick Six artist, Morray. The North Carolina rapper also scored a hit with his collaboration with J. Cole on “my.life,” which reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 in May, and Morray will join Cole on tour this fall. Meanwhile, Texas-born Pick Six artist Wacotron has gained nearly 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.
CEO, South Coast Music Group
Senior vp, South Coast Music Group
VP marketing/head of operations, South Coast Music Group
South Coast Music Group’s marquee star, DaBaby, released his third studio album, Blame It on Baby, in April 2020, notching his second consecutive No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and his first Hot 100 No. 1 with the Roddy Ricch-assisted “Rockstar.” The latter earned him top rap song and top streaming song honors at the Billboard Music Awards, as well as nominations for best rap song and record of the year at the Grammys. In April, DaBaby made his live return with his first post-pandemic show in Orlando, Fla., with the SCMG and Interscope teams on site to deliver “multiple platinum-plus album and single plaques for his accomplishments,” says Taylor.
Favorite Artists During the Pandemic: “Zay the Goat and Littlejohn 4K. When I listen to them, I hear and feel the hunger, passion and truth that every artist needs to make it to the next level.” —Carter
Founder, Internet Money
Executive producer, Internet Money
Daniel “Birdman Zoe” Desir
Manager, Internet Money
Production collective and record label Internet Money cemented its rising star status last year with the multi-artist album B4 the Storm, which debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200, led by its breakout hit, “Lemonade.” The track dominated both stateside and abroad, peaking at No. 6 on the Hot 100 and the Billboard Global Excl. U.S. charts, among other top rankings in “all places I’ve never been to but look forward to experiencing,” says Taylor, 28. “In Australia we had a top 10 album, in the U.K. we went No. 1 and in Portugal we went No. 2. It’s just cool that fans now know who Internet Money is because of what we were able to achieve during quarantine.”
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “The Weeknd. The overall rollout of his album is an example of how, with good planning and brand identity, you can stretch an album’s life span. It’s rare to see artists live out their albums and let you be part of their world. Great albums tell an overall story, and he did that.” —Taylor
Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith
Founder/CEO, Top Dawg Entertainment
Terrence “Punch” Henderson
President, Top Dawg Entertainment
TDE counts “surviving the pandemic” as the company’s chief recent win, says Tiffith. Still, the house that Kendrick Lamar built did more than just make it through. Lamar’s 2012 breakthrough album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, earned the distinction of spending over eight years on the Billboard 200, while “on top of that, we’ve had two top 10 entries for SZA on the Hot 100 with ‘Good Days’ and [a featured spot on] Doja Cat’s ‘Kiss Me More,’ ” says Tiffith.
Concert I’m Looking Forward To: “TDE’s annual Christmas concert and toy drive in the Nickerson Gardens projects [in Los Angeles]. Nothing means more to me than giving back and putting a smile on kids’ faces.” —Tiffith
Chairman/CEO, Capitol Music Group
Executive vp urban promotion, Capitol Music Group
Senior vp global creative, Capitol Music Group
Senior vp video production, Capitol Music Group
Continuing to move R&B and hip-hop forward is on the top of Vaughn’s mind, as is continuing CMG’s success with new signee Mooski, whose “Track Star” topped the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart in May. “The challenge is always to evolve,” says Vaughn. “R&B and hip-hop have been dominant in the U.S. for some time now in terms of consumption. How can we, as a creative community, identify and uplift new voices, sounds and perspectives, and in doing so, reach more people with music?”
The Change We Still Need to See: “Long-term meaningful commitment to mentorship and professional development opportunities for underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in the executive ranks of our business.” —Vaughn
CEO, Victor Victor Worldwide; senior vp A&R, Universal Music Group
In June 2020, Victor established a philanthropic division of his VVW company, the Victor Victor Foundation, with a $1 million pledge to fight systemic inequalities in the music industry. The organization now supports students in Brooklyn through the Fund for Public Schools, with an initial grant of $25,000, as well as a $100,000 contribution raised from the sale of rapper Pop Smoke’s capsule collection with Palm Angels. “You can’t wait around for other people to do the work,” says Victor, who also played an integral role in the release of Pop Smoke’s posthumous album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and has yielded two top 10 hits on the Hot 100.
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “Donna Summer. She defined my favorite era, disco.”
Bryan “Birdman” Williams
Ronald “Slim” Williams
Co-founders/co-CEOs, Cash Money Records
Cash Money reported close to $20 million in global recorded music revenue in 2020, thanks to its current acts and catalog roster of Nicki Minaj, Drake and Lil Wayne. The company has expanded its infrastructure in promotion, marketing, video, publicity and streaming to benefit its next class of talent, which includes Jacquees, Eighty8, Reese Youngn and Casper Bluff. In October 2022, the Williams brothers will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Living Legends Foundation, which recognizes entertainment industry trailblazers.
Executive vp/co-head of A&R, Interscope Geffen A&M
Senior vp/head of urban digital marketing, Interscope
Senior vp/head of urban marketing, Interscope
Senior vp A&R, Interscope
Senior vp/head of urban promotions, Interscope
Caroline “Baroline” Diaz
VP A&R, Interscope
Thanks to its culture-dominating roster — including Juice WRLD, DaBaby and Summer Walker — Interscope Geffen A&M earned three top honors in 2020: top Billboard 200 label, top Hot 100 label and top label on Billboard’s year-end charts. IGA’s partnerships with CMG and Dreamville were also successful, securing No. 1 Billboard 200 debuts from Moneybagg Yo and J. Cole, respectively. “Those huge accomplishments really showcase how well the Interscope team works together with our partners,” says Wyskoarko.
The Change We Still Need to See: “We must continue to fight for representation across all verticals in the industry, from creatives to C-suite executives, and stay committed to the long-term work required for meaningful change.” —Wyskoarko
Co-founder/head of operations and touring, LVRN
Co-founder/head of A&R, LVRN
Sean “Famoso” McNichol
Co-founder/head of marketing and brand partnerships, LVRN
Co-founder/creative director, LVRN
In May, LVRN — whose roster includes Summer Walker, Shelley (formerly known as DRAM) and 6LACK — announced a slew of executive hires and company promotions to bolster its female leadership. “We believe in empowering women across the board and hope to continue to show women coming up that there is always a place at the table for them,” says Baiden, who adds that the move was “the missing link.” The Atlanta-based label and creative agency also recently signed to its management roster Toronto R&B duo dvsn, which is also repped on the label side by Drake’s OVO Sound.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Artists and labels need to find more efficient ways to stay active but still create demand without oversaturation.” —Baiden
Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter
Founder, Roc Nation
CEO, Roc Nation
Vice-chairman, Roc Nation
Roc Nation surged into 2021 with clients J. Cole, DJ Khaled and Moneybagg Yo, who combined to rule the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 with their latest albums. The label and management company’s talent roster also continues to score with new albums from Willow and Snoh Aalegra and an expected set from Belly. In September, Roc Nation will put on the 10th edition of its Made in America festival, which will take place at Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway with performances by Justin Bieber, Lil Baby and Megan Thee Stallion.
Concert I’m Looking Forward To: “The Made in America festival, because Jay-Z continues to curate a stellar lineup.” —Perez
Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad
Co-founder, Dreamville; manager, J. Cole
Cole collected his sixth Billboard 200 No. 1 album in May with The Off-Season, which launched with 282,000 equivalent album U.S. units — 2021’s biggest week for a hip-hop release. “The energy around the release felt like a special moment,” says Hamad, 37. Cole kicks off a 17-city tour on Sept. 24, and the following month the Dreamville roster — which includes Bas, J.I.D., Omen, Lute, Ari Lennox, Cozz and EarthGang — will reunite for a one-night-only concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. The label is also working on its multidisciplinary media and content divisions, which formed last October.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Respect for our genre. A lot of times we still don’t get the same look and push as a pop artist.” —Hamad
Sean “Love” Combs
Founder, Combs Enterprises, REVOLT, Bad Boy Records
Combs spoke out in April with a scathing open letter to corporate America. “If you love us, pay us,” he wrote, taking issue with the national advertising spend on Black-owned businesses like his cable network REVOLT, stating that the amount of spending by national advertisers on Black-owned businesses was less than 1% of $239 billion in 2019. Two months later, on June 1, he upped the stakes with a “buy Black” initiative, announcing a partnership with cloud computing giant Salesforce to launch Shop Circulate, a digital marketplace for Black-owned businesses. “Building Black wealth,” Combs says, “starts with investing in Black-owned businesses.”
Founder, Club Quarantine, Brand Nice
D-Nice established the Instagram livestream series Club Quarantine — with attendees including Rihanna, Michelle Obama and Drake — to help create a sense of togetherness amid the pandemic. In June, he partnered with Live Nation Urban to launch a live-music series based on the livestream, with the first in-person event “already sold out” at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl in August, featuring Common and The Isley Brothers, and followed by a Brooklyn show in September, with Stephanie Mills and KRS-One. “I’ve seen an overwhelming response from the artist community,” says D-Nice.
The Change We Still Need to See: “More Black executives driving Black music conversations.”
Senior vp A&R, EMPIRE
In 2020, the San Francisco-based distributor and record company launched its music publishing division with signings including producer !llmind and songwriter Justin Love, as well as EMPIRE recording artists Young Dolph and Yung Bleu. But what Etminan is most proud of is the independent company’s 2021 Grammy nominees, including D Smoke, Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist and The Free Nationals. “D Smoke getting that best new artist nomination, our first since Anderson .Paak a few years ago,” he says, “was icing on the cake.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “Getting rid of traditional record deals that don’t empower the artist.” —Etminan
Founder/CEO, CMG Records
With a career spanning over three decades, Yo Gotti has always dreamed of building the next big-time rap label. After watching the likes of JAY-Z, Birdman and Master P transition from artists to boardroom executives with their respective imprints, Gotti saw himself following their path, bringing his Memphis flair into the mix.
Today, his label, the 14-year-old CMG, not only boasts a formidable roster — including Moneybagg Yo, 42 Dugg, EST Gee, Bloc Boy JB and Blac Youngsta — but also announced an eight-figure partnership deal with Interscope Records in June.
“I’m a student of the game. I try to look into everybody’s story and history,” says Gotti. “When we talk about Cash Money — Birdman and Slim — and Roc Nation, some of these people I was not only able to study but almost sit in the classroom [with] because I was there to experience it firsthand. I take everything I can learn, take it in and do my thing.”
Read the full story on Yo Gotti and CMG here.
Aubrey “Drake” Graham
Co-founder, OVO/OVO Sound
Noah “40” Shebib
Co-founder, OVO/OVO Sound; producer
Co-founder, OVO/OVO Sound
President, OVO Sound
The OVO team stands behind Drake’s continued dominance in pop and R&B/hip-hop. Drake ranked No. 5 on Billboard’s year-end top artists chart for 2020 and No. 5 on the year-end Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Artists recap. In June, Drake’s “One Dance” was one of a select number of tracks named to Spotify’s Billions Club playlist for having scored more than 1 billion streams. Also that month, during an interview at the Ultimate Rap League’s N.O.M.E. XI battle rap event, the Toronto MC stated that his next, much-awaited full-length album, Certified Lover Boy, will arrive before the end of summer, but an official release date has not been set.
Full Stop Management, Giant Records, Giant Music Publishing
In February, it was reported that Shawn Holiday, the Columbia Records co-head of urban music, was launching a new label and publishing venture with The Azoff Company. The highlights of the months since, says Holiday, include a deal between Giant Music Publishing and DJ SwanQo, who co-produced and wrote “Up,” the No. 1 Hot 100 single from Cardi B. “A huge achievement for us,” says Holiday. “This signing happened as a result of my relationship with [rapper/songwriter] Pardison Fontaine that I have built throughout my years of working with him. Pardison delivered DJ SwanQo to us, and this marks another exciting milestone in our professional relationship. We are looking forward to all of the successes this partnership will bring.”
The Power of Black Music in One Word: “Transformative.”
Founder/CEO, Hallwood Media
Executive vp, Hallwood Media
Senior vp A&R, Hallwood Media
Hallwood Media, which manages producers and songwriters, launched in May 2020 but already has contributed to some of the biggest hits of the past year, including two Hot 100 No. 1 singles produced or co-written by their signees: Cardi B’s “Up” (Yung Dza) and Polo G’s “Rapstar” (Murda Beatz). Hallwood has recruited other producers from across the globe, including Daysix from the Czech Republic and Zypitano from the United Arab Emirates, both of whom produced Rod Wave’s “Rags 2 Riches,” and Elyas from Germany, who worked on “Solid” by Young Thug & Gunna, featuring Drake. The latter track debuted at No. 12 on the Hot 100 and was featured on Thug’s Billboard 200 No. 1 album, Slime Language 2.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “The glorification of drugs and violence. We need more artists with voices to make music with positive messages or at least to let their fans know that music is just entertainment, and that drugs and guns aren’t cool.” —Litwin
Co-CEO, Blueprint Group; partner, Maverick
Cortez “Tez” Bryant
Co-CEO, Blueprint Group; partner, Maverick
CEO, BPG Records; partner, Blueprint Group
Partner/chief marketing officer, Blueprint Group
Head of digital strategy, Blueprint Group
Bryant and Roberson count the blockbuster release of management client Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” among their top achievements of the past year — silencing any talk that the Atlanta native (co-managed with Adam Leber of REBEL) could be a one-hit wonder, following the record-breaking “Old Town Road,” featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. “Montero” secured Lil Nas X his second No. 1 on the Hot 100 and topped both of Billboard’s global charts, reestablishing the artist as a hitmaker with staying power.
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, because great, classic music keeps me in a positive zone for the future.” —Roberson
Wassim “Sal” Slaiby
Founder/CEO, SALXCO/XO Records
Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye
Co-founder, XO Records
Amir “Cash” Esmailian
Co-founder, XO Records
Co-founder, XO Records
Artist manager, SALXCO
Team XO celebrated a major win in early 2021 when The Weeknd became the first solo Black Canadian artist to headline the Super Bowl halftime show. The pop superstar then embarked on an awards show sweep: 10 Billboard Music Awards, five iHeartRadio Music Awards, five Juno Awards and a flurry of SOCAN, ASCAP and BRIT Awards in the wake of his 2020 album, After Hours. Beyond these accolades, Slaiby, 41, says that “what’s even more special is Abel and XO’s drive to give back to those in need. His initiative to help the Ethiopian crisis [highlights] his passion for philanthropy.” Meanwhile, SALXCO client Doja Cat, co-represented by 10Q Management, earned three Grammy nominations, hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 with “Say So” featuring Nicki Minaj and aggregated 3.7 billion U.S. streams. SALXCO also signed EDM supergroup Swedish House Mafia, which recently returned with new music and is planning a 2022 global tour. “I can go on and on,” says Slaiby of his company’s various endeavors, including managing new client Sean Combs. “We’re busy.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “Equality and opportunity for all.” —Slaiby
Stoute’s drive to empower artists has fueled his recent successes, from registering more than a million independent acts with UnitedMasters to creating two virtual SelectCon events attended by 1.6 million people, which “each provided inspiration and advice to help artists build their careers on their own terms,” says Stoute. In April, Apple Invested in UnitedMasters, Joining Andreessen Horowitz and Alphabet’s investment, which will “translate to more resources, tools and opportunities for UnitedMasters’ community of independent artists,” he says.
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “Tobe Nwigwe’s songs ‘I Need You To (Breonna Taylor)’ and ‘Make It Home’ brought people together across the country regardless of economic status or race and garnered support from LeBron James, Madonna, Michelle Obama and the NBA to name a few.”
Co-founder/CEO, 10Q Management
Co-founder/president, 10Q Management
10Q Management’s marquee artist Doja Cat (co-managed with Gordan Dillard of SALXCO) was forced to delay her tour supporting her 2019 album, Hot Pink, when the pandemic hit. She rallied with high-profile award show performances, including the 2021 Billboard Music Awards in May, where she debuted her SZA-featured, Hot 100 top five hit “Kiss Me More.” “She never really got to bring her vision to life,” says Kaplan, noting that the live performances gave fans “a glimpse of what to expect from her live show.” The experience elevated the rising star to the level “we knew she would and should be at when we started working with her years ago,” adds Asrat.
The Change We Still Need to See: “The creatives who make the product have to not just have a voice, but the deciding voice in how their art is presented, exploited and monetized. Without that involvement, things won’t really change.” —Kaplan
CEO, Good Money Global
After nearly two decades in New Orleans’ hip-hop scene — working with Lil Wayne’s Young Money and Sqad Up — Banks’ managing career took off with the success of Baton Rouge, La., rapper YoungBoy Never Broke Again, who scored three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 in under a year and also topped the Artist 100, Hot 100 Songwriters, Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Top Rap Albums charts. With artists such as rappers RJAE and Rojay signed in 2020 and plans to open a studio in his hometown, Banks and Good Money Global are aiming for continued strength post-pandemic.
The Change We Still Need to See: “I would like to see a change in the younger generation with gun violence and having guns on display as a way of expressing how gangster they are.”
Founder, Riveter Management
Launching Riveter Management in 2018, Bryant guided the rise of Trippie Redd, whose 2020 album, Pegasus, peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in November. The rapper’s Playboi Carti collaboration “Miss the Rage” debuted at No. 11 on the Hot 100 in May, marking the highest bow for both rappers as lead artists.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Artists are starting to get accolades for their accomplishments; however, there is still a lack of Black executives leading the genre.”
Leber, who has managed Lil Nas X with his former partners at Maverick, announced in April the formation of his new management company, REBEL (his surname spelled backward), in partnership with Live Nation. He retained Lil Nas X (with Gee Roberson), Miley Cyrus and Labrinth as clients in the move. “I launched REBEL the same week we released Lil Nas X’s ‘Montero (Call Me by Your Name),’ ” says Leber. “I can’t think of a better way to start things off than with a song that caused so much controversy simply because the artist was being his truest self.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “Tolerance. We’ve got to be more tolerant toward one another.”
Founder/CEO, London Ent.
Last year, London, who manages Post Malone, launched the subscription-based concert-streaming service AUX Live, which allows artists to perform for their fans around the world and doubles as a library of archived concerts. London’s next goal is to allow fans to purchase tickets to live shows that they can enjoy from home. “I feel as if the pandemic has taught us to hustle even harder and be innovative,” he says.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “The pandemic shuttered a lot of historic venues, especially in the underground circuit. And these venues were crucial in the development of artists early on in their careers in a lot of markets.”
Founder/CEO, MBK Entertainment
President/managing partner, MBK Entertainment
MBK had “incredible moments” to celebrate in 2021, says McLean-Williams, thanks to the talent of clients including H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas. The artists earned a song of the year Grammy in March for writing “I Can’t Breathe,” and a month later, their “Fight for You” earned the Academy Award for best original song — the first time in 35 years that a songwriting team won an Oscar and a Grammy in the same year for different compositions. “Two African American women winning both accolades back to back is historic,” says McLean-Williams. “Seeing the joy on their faces after each win was heartwarming and priceless.”
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “R&B is not dead and will never die — it’s the core, the lifeblood of all music. It deserves the same marketing dollars, visibility and respect as ‘pop’ music.” —McLean-Williams
President/CEO, Goliath Artists; president/CEO, Shady Records; president/CEO, Goliath Records
In December 2020, Rosenberg, 50, helped steer the deluxe release of his longtime client Eminem’s latest album, Music To Be Murdered By, which resurged to No. 3 on the Billboard 200. The Detroit rapper’s catalog also continues to soar: His 2002 No. 1 Hot 100 hit “Lose Yourself” became one of just a handful of songs to reach 1 billion streams on Spotify in February, while his 2005 greatest-hits album, Curtain Call, has spent almost 10 consecutive years on the Billboard 200. “Respect for the culture has always been the cornerstone of hip-hop,” says Rosenberg. “Anyone who is entrusted with the music and artistry needs to ensure they’re actively working to advance that legacy.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “People taking large steps toward each other for greater understanding by communicating with one another. I’m a firm believer that most problems start and end there.”
CEO, Emagen Entertainment Group
Music manager, Emagen Entertainment Group
Saleh, whose management roster includes hip-hop stars like Nas and Gunna, says that “collaborating with David Ali on managing Kehlani” was a major recent win, as the R&B singer scored her highest-charting album to date with 2020’s It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Also, Saleh used his platform as a founding member of the Black Music Action Coalition to increase voter registration in the Black community.
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “Wizkid. I thought he had the album of 2020.” —Saleh
Founder, Cactus Jack
GM, Cactus Jack
While the pandemic slowed down the music world, Cactus Jack moved at rocket speed. Stromberg applauds his team for innovative ideas throughout the year, including the highly successful Travis Scott x Fortnite event and the rapper’s Cacti Agave Spiked Seltzer deal and McDonald’s partnership. Tickets for the 2021 Astroworld Festival sold out in 30 minutes — before the lineup was announced, and Cactus Jack apparel has become top-grossing merchandise on several sales platforms, says Stromberg. The Cactus Jack team also launched philanthropic partnerships with the Parsons School of Design in New York and the city of Houston.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Hip-hop drives the culture, and artists need to know their value and retain their rights and ownership and not be taken advantage of by major corporations.” —Stromberg
Managing partner, Range Media Partners
After seven years at C3 Management — where he signed rapper Jack Harlow, among others — Thomas, 33, joined Range Media Partners as managing partner in July. Thomas still works with his marquee star, who scored his first Grammy nomination in 2020 for best rap performance with “Whats Poppin’, ” followed by an appearance on Saturday Night Live. “It felt like the culmination of a year of hard work and success,” says Thomas, “but also the byproduct of half a decade of Jack pushing himself to evolve.”
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “Frank Ocean. Frank’s music has soundtracked so many moments of my life, from late-night parties to the first dance at my wedding. His catalog hit the full spectrum of emotions we all went through during the last 18 months.”
Justin “Meezy” Williams
CEO, Meezy Entertainment
In the spring, Williams, 32, helped his star client, 21 Savage, break into the movie business when he brokered a deal for the rapper to executive-produce the soundtrack for the next Saw film installment, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, and contribute the theme song. “Putting that whole thing together and having everyone on our team play a part opened a lot of doors for us in Hollywood for the future,” he says. Williams is also proud of the rapper’s appearance at Miami’s Rolling Loud music festival in July along with A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott and Post Malone.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Knowing what you sign. Understanding leverage and not following everything that looks shiny. A lot of managers and companies don’t give a f–k about building you a solid team or understanding that all money ain’t good money.”
Founder, Anthony Wilson Management
Wilson took on Chris Brown as a management client, calling the artist “authentic” and “the ultimate performer.” He also flexed his talent for visual media over the past year, executive-producing 50 Cent’s upcoming Starz drama series, Black Family Mafia, which reports say stars Snoop Dogg, La La Anthony and Kash Doll, among other well-known music names.
The Power of Black Music in One Word: “Strength. It is the key ingredient to our daily lives. Black music has a very strong influence on the majority of the human population, not just African Americans. We work to it, work out to it, cook, dance [and more].”
Head of U.S. label relations, YouTube
Artist partnerships lead, YouTube
Artist relations manager, YouTube
Artist relations manager, YouTube
Through the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund, established in 2020, the YouTube Music team named 21 artists to its inaugural class, provided them with grants and worked with community organizations to reach underserved youth aspiring to enter the music business and other creative fields. The next iteration will feature expanded eligibility to include songwriters and producers, while the company’s Artist on the Rise programs have continued to highlight young up-and-coming R&B/hip-hop artists like 24kGoldn, Latto, Jack Harlow and Rod Wave.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Equity for Black artists and improving monetary outcomes, and improving visibility and opportunities for the elevation of Black executives.” —Baker
In late June, as the temperature warmed and COVID-19 vaccination rates rose, a sense of normalcy started to return to the world. Restaurant patios overflowed; nightclub lines wrapped around the block; festival and tour announcements flooded social media. And yet still, the pandemic’s top virtual entertainment series made headlines when, on June 26, Soulja Boy and Bow Wow went head-to-head in a Verzuz battle.
Over 3 million viewers tuned in across Instagram, Fite TV and Triller to watch the two face off in front of a live audience — the latest sign that as fans return to in-person concerts, Verzuz isn’t going anywhere. Since its inception in March 2020, the battle series created by multihyphenates Swizz Beatz and Timbaland has become a cultural staple, highlighting the impact of Black artists. It also has become a thriving business, attracting brand sponsorships, including a multimillion-dollar deal with Diageo, parent company of Cîroc. Swizz says that allows Verzuz to pay artists “at least” what they would make from doing a traditional show — and in the process help redefine how legacy acts can build wealth. In March, Verzuz was acquired by the Triller Network for an undisclosed sum, and Triller co-owner Bobby Sarnevesht confirms that come the fourth quarter, it plans to take the company public. “Verzuz is not just for the pandemic,” says Swizz. “It’s for the culture.”
Read the full profile on Billboard’s executives of the year, Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, here.
Interim head of music, SoundCloud
Head of artist development and relations, SoundCloud
After a yearslong process — and what she describes as a “very tense and emotional” 2020 — Montes, 44, and her team at SoundCloud discovered a way to bring fairer payments to artists, in the form of “fan-powered” royalties. Starting in April, acts could establish a deeper connection with their fans “so that the artists are encouraged to build a real audience who will support them both on and off SoundCloud,” she says.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “It’s important to remember the work and activism that started last June and to remember to keep that energy going and stay united. Let’s be less critical and more supportive in real life and not just our socials.” —Montes
Head of hip-hop and R&B, Amazon Music
Senior label relations manager, hip-hop and R&B, Amazon Music
Hip-hop music curator, Amazon Music
As the streaming platform continues to grow, this year Amazon Music’s hip-hop team highlighted Black artists who shatter genre barriers through the new playlist PRSM. “Through this playlist and similar programming,” says Balogun, “we continually strive to ensure that the right artists, genres and sounds are being served to our listeners while also increasing their opportunities for artist discovery.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “More storytelling in music. Our strength has always been our ability to create our own worlds sonically while illustrating life with lyrics. Right now, we [need to] document the moments we’re experiencing beyond emotions and really tell stories that connect with people and can stand the test of time.” —Balogun
Global creative director/co-head of artist relations, Apple Music
Host/global head of editorial, hip-hop and R&B, Apple Music
Programming exclusive Apple Music radio shows like Mo Talk Radio With Monica and Lil Wayne’s Young Money Radio were among the highlights of the past year for Jackson and Darden. The hit pandemic series Verzuz hosted by Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, now on Triller, came first to Apple Music in July 2020 in a unique deal that had the artist battles, which began on Instagram, simulcast on Apple and Apple Music 1 with audio and eventually video and highlights on demand.
Co-founder/chief marketing officer, Audiomack
VP marketing and brand strategy, Audiomack
Audiomack’s recent achievements include securing licensing deals with the three major labels and integrating the artist-first music streaming platform into the Billboard charts. The music discovery app also selected rappers Pooh Shiesty and Rod Wave for the company’s #UpNow series, which provides specialized marketing, editorial programming, social promotion and playlisting to support their artist development.
The Change We Still Need to See: “More Black executives in C-suite positions. Global culture is influenced by American culture, and American culture is influenced by Black culture. Black music and culture helped create the new economy.” —Johnson
Head of R&B/soul, Spotify
Head of hip-hop and R&B, artist and label partnerships, Spotify
Creative director/head of urban music, Spotify
Spotify influences Black music culture with RapCaviar, the most popular hip-hop playlist on the streaming platform with nearly 14 million followers and a robust social media following that has “become an extension of the hip-hop team’s editorial voice,” says Chery. Next up is Feelin’ Myself, which boasts 1.8 million followers and was launched in 2019 in the hopes of “leveling the playing field for female artists.” Its first marketing campaign exclusively featured female performers. “The playlist has become the second-fastest-growing and second-biggest hip-hop playlist on Spotify,” says Chery.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Rappers have been dying at an alarming rate. We lost XXXTentacion, Mac Miller, Nipsey Hussle, Juice WRLD, Pop Smoke, King Von and Lil Loaded in less than three years. I can’t remember a time in hip-hop history when we were surrounded by this much death.” —Chery
Josh “J1” Raiford
Director of hip-hop, Pandora; program director, SXM Pandora Now
Raiford — a graduate of Atlanta’s historically Black Morehouse College — says his involvement in SXM/Pandora’s Pathways Associates Program was “very special to me.” The program will provide recent graduates and early-career professionals from historically Black colleges and universities with the opportunity to take part in a 12-month training, networking and mentorship program geared toward bringing more diverse talent into the streaming service and “the development of more Black executives and decision-makers,” he says.
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “Lil Baby. He continues to evolve and improve. His song ‘The Bigger Picture’ really showed his versatility and understanding of many social issues.”
Chief content officer, TIDAL
Wilson says that the months following Square’s acquisition of TIDAL in March have been the most exciting in the streaming platform’s six-year history, noting that “a lot of game-changing plans are on the horizon.” With hip-hop and R&B “at the forefront of pop culture [as well as] market leaders at streaming, physical sales and digital sales,” the company aims to be the “most nimble digital service provider, with outsize cultural influence and impact,” he adds. “Some call TIDAL ‘the people’s app.’ It’s what we strive to be each day.”
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “How many artists struggle to sustain fan and media interest over time, even with acclaimed releases. Too much quality music is discarded too quickly due to a consuming desire to discover the next new thing.”
VP A&R, administration, operations and production, Artist Partner Group
VP A&R, Artist Publishing Group
VP A&R, Artist Partner Group
Artist Partner Group saw 24kGoldn’s “Mood” first hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 last October — then again in November, December and earlier this year in January. APG, led by Mike Caren, also became a fully independent label separate from Warner Music Group in the past year, with its previous shared Atlantic recording roster staying there — and landed its first hit with Cico P’s “Tampa.” The success continued in March with a Grammy win for songwriter Derrick Milano for Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” remix.
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “The Kid LAROI because of how dynamic and well-written his music is. Good songs always win.” —MacFarlane
Partner, Primary Wave Music
Greener in the past year signed Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis to Primary Wave’s management division and closed a deal with BMG for their new album, Jam & Lewis Vol. 1. He helped Fantasia and her husband, businessman Kendall Taylor, launch their social media channel, Taylor Talks Tuesday. Greener says now it’s time for “real industry recognition” of R&B and hip-hop — especially at the Grammys. “Beyoncé, Kanye West, JAY-Z, Drake, SZA, Kendrick Lamar… none of these artists [have won album of the year]. It sounds odd just hearing that.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “More women as producers and heads of labels. Women in the power seats.”
Senior vp creative, Sony Music Publishing
VP creative A&R, Sony Music Publishing
Senior director of creative, A&R, Sony Music Publishing
Senior manager of creative, A&R, Sony Music Publishing
Sony Music Publishing opened a fifth U.S. office in April 2020, complete with a studio complex in Atlanta. Located in the former RedZone Entertainment space where artists and producers have made music for Beyoncé, Rihanna, Future and Usher, among others, the complex in the city’s Buckhead neighborhood will offer master classes and songwriting workshops for music creatives from the area. “It is an honor to better serve our Atlanta songwriters and give back to the city’s dynamic music community,” says Holder. Nunez recently signed R&B breakout singer Giveon.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Predetermined creative boundaries.” —Holder
Co-head of A&R, Universal Music Publishing Group
Director of A&R, Universal Music Publishing Group
U.S. international A&R director, Universal Music Publishing Group
In June, UMPG took home publisher of the year at ASCAP’s Rhythm & Soul Awards, landing No. 1 hits on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart from The Weeknd (“Blinding Lights”), DaBaby and Roddy Ricch (“Rockstar”) and Drake and Lil Durk (“Laugh Now Cry Later”). Those wins were “a major testament to the hard work of our talented songwriters and team,” says Jones. Nayyar signed and represents Grammy winner Burna Boy from Nigeria and his producers. She also created UMPG Nightshift, a global songwriting collaboration initiative with writing camps taking place in Paris, London and Atlanta and on Zoom during the pandemic.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Lack of education about the business. As a publisher, it is shocking that people are more concerned with their credits showing up on Spotify than they are about making sure they properly registered their song at ASCAP and BMI.” —Gelaw
Senior vp creative synch, Kobalt Music
VP business affairs and commercial strategy, Kobalt Music
Kobalt celebrated a 2020 Clio Music Gold-winning entry for client Moses Sumney, whose track “Doomed” was featured in an anti-racist ad for Procter & Gamble. Lakey says he wants to see “Black music represented more in the music synchronization world” and “Black songwriters and producers being considered for original and bespoke work.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “More diversity in industry boardrooms. Until we have more of us at the table with authority, meaningful change will always run the risk of dilution to the point of insignificance.” —Brown
Senior vp A&R, BMG
In May, BMG re-signed songwriter-producer Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II in a deal that was a “total team effort,” says Nkhereanye. Emile has recently been honored for his work with H.E.R. — including an Academy Award for best original song for “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah and a song of the year Grammy for the protest anthem “I Can’t Breathe.” “Black music represents 44% of music on the Hot 100, but we’re only 4% of the decision-makers,” says Nkhereanye. “That has to change.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “The lack of senior-level leadership.”
President of A&R, U.S., Warner Chappell Music
Senior vp A&R, Warner Chappell Music
VP A&R, Warner Chappell Music
Senior creative director, Warner Chappell Music Germany
Head of A&R, Warner Chappell Music U.K.
The Warner Chappell team signed breakout R&B singer-songwriter Ari Lennox, whose Shea Butter Baby spent four weeks on the Billboard 200. “It has been incredible to see her progress as both a songwriter and a performer,” says Joseph. “Her unique sound has truly captivated fans around the world with hit songs like ‘Shea Butter Baby’ and ‘Self Love,’ and I couldn’t be prouder to have the opportunity to represent her at Warner Chappell.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “Getting more qualified Black executives — especially female Black executives — in leadership positions across all parts of the music industry, not just in urban- and R&B-focused roles. While things are starting to change and move in the right direction, there’s a lot more work to do to ensure our teams are as diverse as the music we represent.” —Joseph
Former music partnerships manager, Facebook
Prior to departing Facebook earlier this summer, Lewin was chosen for the R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players list on the strength of her recent work for the social media giant. “I’m most excited about the Kid Cudi Oculus Venues show that I booked in December 2020, which was his first performance since the release of Man on the Moon III: The Chosen. I’ve been a fan since high school, and he’s one of the reasons I’m working in music today. This was a full-circle moment for me.” Lewin was also involved in Facebook initiatives featuring Megan Thee Stallion, H.E.R., Miguel, D-Nice and others.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Equity and accountability.”
Executive vp specials, music programming and music strategy, BET Networks
Orlando and her team spent the last year helping to reinvent BET’s award shows. When the 2020 BET Awards aired, they were the first all-virtual major awards show presented after the pandemic began. In 2021, the BET Awards were one of the first to bring back a full, in-person, vaccinated audience, all while sticking true to what Orlando calls the “core” of the awards themselves: “unforgettable moments and the celebration of Black excellence and culture as a whole.”
Concert I’m Looking Forward To: “All of them. I just want to surround myself with people, music and good times.”
VP programming, Radio One
In May, officials in Richmond, Va., chose Urban One’s development proposal — one of six — for a $560 million casino, complete with an on-site TV/radio production studio. The win was “monumental,” says Powell, 48, and will help the company “develop a world-class entertainment destination in Richmond.”
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “New Edition. I’ve been a fan from the very beginning. When I listen to their music, it takes me back to a simpler time in my life.”
Director of artist partnerships, TikTok U.S.
TikTok exposure contributed to the success in the past year of No. 1 Hot 100 hits including Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license,” Cardi B’s “Up” and Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me by Your Name).” In January, the social media company revealed the first class of its new incubator program, selecting 100 Black creators on the platform to take part in educational events and town halls with Common, Charlamagne Tha God and Gabrielle Union, among others, and learn how to advance their careers. The program aims to “further grow and develop an already flourishing Black creative community on TikTok,” says Quinteros, who notes that “three program participants were signed to agencies for representation.”
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “Pop Smoke. He brought back that cocky, flashy New York style of rapping that dominated in the 2000s and felt like a breath of fresh air.”
Urban format captain, Audacy; vp programming, Audacy Atlanta; brand manager, WVEE (V-103) Atlanta
This past year, Rouse participated in Audacy’s partnership with Clark Atlanta University, “which includes our dinner-and-learn series and seminars with our leadership team, our on-air team and teams from our programming, digital, sales and podcast departments. This program will eventually expand to other HBCUs [historically Black colleges and universities],” he says.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Social justice and using our voices to be heard musically and socially.”
VP urban formats/classic hip-hop, Cumulus Media
Cumulus marked Juneteenth this year as a companywide holiday with supporting promos on-air and online. “Our executive team is moving the needle when it comes to inclusion and diversity,” says Smoov, who oversees 37 R&B/hip-hop stations in 25 U.S. markets. Another proud moment, he adds, was navigating the still ongoing pandemic without “massive” cuts within the company: “We did it as a team.”
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “The sameness of the music, sonically and lyrically. Our music moves generations — it has done that for decades. Lately, however, we’ve been in a rut, on the hip-hop side particularly. We have big voices and stars that can change the world. I’d like to see them tap into that.”
VP music programming, SiriusXM
Director of music programming, SiriusXM
On-air host, Sway in the Morning, SiriusXM
In its latest superstar programming collaborations, SiriusXM launched Drake’s Sound 42 channel as well as The 2Pac Channel, a limited engagement channel created with the late rapper’s estate. “They are testaments to our commitment to provide exclusive and compelling Black music entertainment to our subscribers,” says Summers, 47, who believes the industry needs to acknowledge, promote and compensate executives of diverse backgrounds “with the same level of consistency that other executives are afforded.”
The Change We Still Need to See: “Mindsets. Stop looking at us as less than or undeserving of the rights and respects that others take for granted. The times have changed, but the mindsets have stayed the same. Until that changes, we will never advance to where we need to be as a society.” —Summers
President of hip-hop and programming strategy, iHeartMedia; program director, KRRL (Real 92.3) Los Angeles
Executive vp programming/executive vp hip-hop and R&B strategy, iHeartMedia; program director, WWPR (Power 105.1) New York
Charlamagne Tha God
Co-host, The Breakfast Club, iHeartMedia; co-founder/chief creative officer, Black Effect Podcast Network; senior creative officer of cultural content and programming, iHeartMedia
Co-host, The Breakfast Club, iHeartMedia; podcast creator, The Casey Crew
Co-host, The Breakfast Club, iHeartMedia; podcast creator, Angela Yee’s Lip Service
In February, Roddy Ricch and 21 Savage performed for iHeartRadio’s Living Black!, shot at Black-owned businesses across the United States, with Mitchem as executive producer. Last October, iHeartMedia launched the Black Effect Podcast Network with Charlamagne Tha God and iHeartRadio’s HBCU Homecoming, with participating acts including Megan Thee Stallion and Lil Baby. “When homecoming season was canceled,” says Mitchem, “[we] stepped in to bring some of the joy, magic and pride to HBCU members everywhere with an uplifting monthlong celebration across multiple platforms.”
Concert I’m Looking Forward To: “Kirk Franklin. His music centers me and gets me ready to take on the world.” — Mitchem
Yves C. Pierre
Concerts agents, ICM Partners
ICM came out of the gate looking strong this year, signing U.K. soul singer Joss Stone for worldwide representation, shaking up its leadership team to add more diversity to its board and inking Imanbek, which it will share with Primary Talent International (which it teamed up with in 2020 for worldwide representation). “We grew during the pandemic and believe we will come out of this pandemic stronger than ever,” says Reynolds-Drumm. She, Bernstein and Pierre were appointed to the agency’s concerts leadership committee in May.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Recovery. The last 18 months were tough, and it’s important that we not just recover but rebuild stronger and with equity at every level of our industry.” —Bernstein
VP, Wasserman Music
VP branding, Wasserman Music
Paradigm Talent Agency announced the sale of its North American music division to Casey Wasserman’s sports, entertainment and lifestyle marketing agency in March, signaling the launch of Wasserman Music. During a challenging time for the live industry, the creation of a new agency, with a roster that includes Jack Harlow, Gucci Mane and Run the Jewels, was an accomplishment that “speaks volumes on our culture,” says Callender, 36. “We’re determined and resilient.”
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Sitting out for a year with no shows has created a touring bottleneck, as all artists of every genre are looking to hit the road simultaneously. Creativity, innovation and flexibility will be key during this time as we work alongside managers, promoters, festivals and affiliated partners to create opportunities to get these artists on the go, performing and paid appropriately.” —Callender
Co-head of global hip-hop/R&B touring group, Creative Artists Agency
Music agents, Creative Artists Agency
Representing Cardi B, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Saweetie, Lakeyah, Anthony Hamilton, City Girls and NLE Choppa, among others, Cheatham is co-head (along with Joe Hadley) of CAA’s global hip-hop/R&B touring group. He and Hadley oversee a department of 15 agents and executives, including Aliu, who represents Doja Cat, Becky G and others; Brown, who services artists in the genre outside North America; and Thomson, who brought Lil Nas X, Lil Tecca and, most recently, Playboi Carti to CAA. The agency’s most notable achievement of the past year? “Helping establish the Social Change Fund,” says Cheatham, “which aims to invest in and support Black communities.”
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “How we return to live music — at full venue capacities — in a safe way.” —Cheatham
Partners/co-heads of hip-hop/R&B, WME
In 2021, WME expanded its commitment to racial justice when it signed Sean Combs and partnered with the legendary producer/entrepreneur to launch the Excellence program. It aims to be one of the largest virtual development programs for aspiring entertainment executives from underrepresented communities. “This is so important to us,” says Rubin, 42. “It empowers, educates and inspires the next generation of leaders and executives.”
Concert I’m Looking Forward To: “Festivals have always been a place where people from different backgrounds can discover new artists and bond over a shared love of music.” —Iser
Founder/owner, Cara Lewis Group
For the Cara Lewis Group, 2020 was a year of rerouting tours, booking livestreams and signing branding deals, such as Travis Scott’s partnership with McDonald’s. Now, Lewis says her agency is preparing for “a super-busy fourth quarter” of bookings for BIA, Vic Mensa, Erykah Badu and The Roots, among others. One highlight: Scott’s two-day Astroworld 2021 festival, which “sold out in 30 minutes — 50,000 tickets — without an announced lineup,” says Lewis, whose team is also planning 2022 road trips for Eminem, Chance the Rapper and Russ.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Reading through a recent study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, female Black executives still aren’t getting the positions that they deserve — white male executives in the music industry still outnumber Black women executives 17.7 to one. With Black music shaping what pop culture looks like today, the statistics for Black female leadership should be incomprehensible.”
Partner/agent, music, UTA
Agent, music, UTA
Agent, music, UTA
This year, UTA expanded its global footprint with the acquisition of U.K.-based Echo Location Talent Agency, which brought in clients in hip-hop, dance music and beyond. Recently promoted partner Paglierani, together with Jordan and UTA’s global music brand partnerships team, closed a deal for client YG to be a creative director for K-Swiss, for which the artist is designing two new versions of its classic sneaker, as part of the Compton Country Club campaign.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Venue availability and the potential oversaturation of the touring market in 2021. With so many artists looking to tour again at the same time, it’s going to be challenging for all to succeed. We are seeing great success across initial on-sales, but we may see a temporary drop before we’re able to level back up.” —Paglierani
Co-founders/co-CEOs, Rolling Loud
Cherif and Zingler started the 2021 summer touring season with the announcement of Rolling Loud Presents, the hip-hop festival’s new national touring company with Live Nation, with upcoming tours from Rod Wave, Trippie Redd and Jack Harlow. After multiple pandemic postponements of Rolling Loud Miami, originally scheduled for February 2020, the show finally took place July 23-25 and will be followed by festivals in New York in October and Los Angeles in December. Says Zingler: “I just can’t wait to see all the fans together again.”
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Oversaturation — artists who, either by the label or on their own, do not pursue a unique sound or lane in their career.” —Zingler
President, Live Nation Urban
Gee is preparing for the return of live music with LNU’s first event, Club Quarantine Live, featuring the pandemic’s go-to DJ and rapper, D-Nice. “We sold out the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. and are preparing a rolling announcement strategy for other markets we are playing,” says Gee, noting that he is ready to continue R&B/hip-hop’s steady upward trajectory post-pandemic. “We plan to continue to invest to help scale live platforms in the R&B space, like the Lights On Festival, our partnership with H.E.R., and a few new brands we are building.”
The Power of Black Music in One Word: “Foundational. Black music and Black culture is at the foundation of so much; its influence is seen, felt and heard everywhere.”
President/CEO, Femme It Forward
Last December, Femme It Forward launched its new mentorship program, Next Gem Femme, to accelerate career opportunities for women of color in the workforce. The program has so far connected young industry professionals with over 100 mentors. “The response and support have been inspiring,” says Lowery. “On and off the stage, we need to empower, educate and celebrate women and underrepresented voices in the industry.”
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “The Clark Sisters, because their music inspires me to push forward.”
Tour promoter, Live Nation
Director of tour marketing, Live Nation Concerts
In September, Live Nation Urban will celebrate the return of H.E.R.’s Lights On Festival in Concord, Calif. Now in its second year, the R&B festival — featuring H.E.R., Erykah Badu, Bryson Tiller, Ari Lennox and others — sold out within days. That shows the “demand for R&B as a genre,” says Scott, 28, “which hasn’t traditionally been filled or celebrated at that level.”
The Power of Black Music in One Word: “Fortitude. Black music is a celebration of the struggle. To transcend suffering and create something beautiful out of it.” —Scott
President/CEO, Richburg Enterprises
In May, Warner Music Group tapped Richburg Enterprises — whose clients include SAINt JHN and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie — as the accounting and tax compliance firm for its $100 million WMG/Blavatnik Family Foundation Social Justice Fund. Established in June 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the fund aims to create change for historically underserved and marginalized communities. “The fund’s grant-making supports organizations investing in Black communities worldwide and prioritizes selecting Black business leaders to advance its mission,” says Richburg.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “Financial literacy — from understanding contracts to personal expenses and overall tax consequences.”
Lou M. Taylor
Founder/CEO, Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group
Business manager, Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group
Taylor’s business management company recently created the Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group Finish Line Scholarship, which this year provided $70,000 in funds to help 21 seniors at Spelman College, a historically Black college for women, pay the balance of their tuition. While Cooper represents Travis Scott, Justin Tranter and others, Tri Star’s roster under Taylor, 56, also includes Mary J. Blige, YBN Cordae and the Prince estate.
Most Important Issue Facing R&B/Hip-Hop: “The proper allocation of the earnings generated by an artist actually being received by the artist.” —Taylor
Senior vp membership, ASCAP; executive director, ASCAP Foundation
During the pandemic, ASCAP rallied to “increase revenue collections by 4% and provide the financial support that our members needed during a difficult time,” says George-Middleton, noting that “the crisis is not over.” The performing rights organization established a new Aspire internship program with historically Black colleges and universities to cultivate the next set of Black entertainment executives. “We still need to see more executives of color at the tables where decisions are made, especially relating to Black music,” she says. “Representation is extremely important.”
Concert I’m Looking Forward To: “Beyoncé, because her concerts are electrifying from beginning to end.”
Director of industry engagement, SoundExchange
Despite the pandemic’s economic downturn, SoundExchange in 2020 maintained “business as usual,” says Glover, and paid out $947 million in royalties collected from noninteractive digital radio operations like SiriusXM, Pandora and other webcasters. “I am extremely excited that we were able to continue to pay artists at a time when musicians weren’t able to perform live to earn a living,” he says.
The Change We Still Need to See: “Equality and respect for all Black artists. If Black lives matter, then value them in the music industry as if it does. We don’t need any more symbolic gestures.”
VP creative, Los Angeles, BMI
Among Malloy’s recent signings is R&B breakout star H.E.R., whose achievements in the past year include an Academy Award for best original song, for the Judas and the Black Messiah collaboration “Fight for You,” written alongside D’Mile and Tiara Thomas, and a song of the year Grammy for the protest anthem “I Can’t Breathe.” “Watching H.E.R. and my longtime signee D’Mile take over the R&B scene made me feel like a proud parent,” he says.
Favorite Artist During the Pandemic: “Snoh Aalegra. I love her voice and musicality — all real songs. I would put her on and zone out.”
VP creative, SESAC
Prins, who signed Nigerian star and Grammy winner Burna Boy to SESAC for direct U.S. representation last August, points to the creation of the Diversity & Inclusion Network as one of the company’s highlights from the past year. “I’m proud to be on this team and to have an opportunity to contribute to the committee’s efforts toward change,” he says.
The Change We Still Need to See: “Equality.”
Contributors: Darlene Aderoju, Trevor Anderson, Rania Aniftos, Rich Appel, Chuck Arnold, Katie Bain, Alexei Barrionuevo, Anna Chan, Ed Christman, Tatiana Cirisano, Leila Cobo, Mariel Concepcion, Stephen Daw, Frank DiGiacomo, Marcus Dowling, Thom Duffy, Chris Eggertsen, Griselda Flores, Josh Glicksman, Lyndsey Havens, Gil Kaufman, Steve Knopper, Carl Lamarre, Joe Levy, Jason Lipshutz, Joe Lynch, Heran Mamo, Taylor Mims, Gail Mitchell, Mia Nazareno, Melinda Newman, Glenn Peoples, Jessica Roiz, Neena Rouhani, Dan Rys, Micah Singleton, Andrew Unterberger, Christine Werthman, Jewel Wicker
Methodology: Billboard power lists are selective, with honorees chosen by Billboard editors. Nominations for each power list open not less than 120 days in advance of publication. (For a contact for our editorial calendar of publication dates, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.) The online nomination link is sent to press representatives and/or honorees of companies previously featured on any Billboard power list, as well as those who send a request before the nomination period to email@example.com. Nominations close and lists are locked not less than 90 days before publication. Billboard’s 2021 R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players were chosen by editors based on factors including, but not limited to, nominations by peers, colleagues and superiors. In addition to nominations, editors weigh the success of each executive’s company or affiliated artists as measured by chart, sales and streaming performance. Career trajectory and industry impact are also considered. Unless otherwise noted, Billboard Boxscore is the source for tour grosses and MRC Data is the source for sales/streaming data and radio audience metrics; streaming figures cited represent collective U.S. on-demand audio and video totals.