During Chance the Rapper’s acceptance speech for Best New Artist at the Grammy’s – the first black hip-hop artist to do so in nearly 20 years – he was accompanied on stage by his manager, Pat Corcoran, and longtime collaborator, Peter Wilkins (Peter Cottontale).
Much has already been written about Chance’s unorthodox ascent to the top of the rap pyramid – favoring merchandise deals and touring as revenue streams – as opposed to traditional dealings with record labels. Not surprisingly, Chance was quick to thank the men who helped him navigate being “independent.”
“I want to thank God for putting amazing people in my life, like Pete and Pat, who have carried me since 2012,” adding, “I know people think that independence means you do it by yourself,” he continued, “but independence means freedom. I do it with these folks right here.”
Artists will always get the most attention as they’re the ones who stand in the forefront and receive the adulation from fans and corporate entities alike. But Chance’s acceptance speech highlights the importance of stable leadership in an otherwise tumultuous industry.
Here are eight musical impresarios you should know about.
Client: Chance the Rapper
In addition to Chance the Rapper’s historic night, his aforementioned manager, Pat, also earned a notably accolade this year when he landed on Forbes’s “30 Under 30” list in the musical field.
A native Chicagoan who grew up with aspirations of becoming a pilot, Corcoran met Chance through another bubbling musical act while the former attended college at DePaul University and the latter was still in high school.
“I met Chance through working with the Kids These Days band in Chicago, they’re all part of the Save Money collective,” Corcoran told The FADER. “Chance was their buddy, and he started doing these listening parties they they all went to, and I went and supported him, they were amazing. He released 10 Day before I was initially involved, but I was a huge fan. A week later, I was at this radio station with another artist and I saw Chance and his dad. Me and his dad spoke, and we all had a good time. I got a call the next day from his dad like ‘Me and Chance want you to work with us.’ We met up the next day, and that was April in 2012. It’s coming up on three years.”
What sealed the deal? Wings at Hooters, naturally.
“We all met up at Hooters, had some wings and were like, ‘Let’s do this,'” Corcoran remembered.
As Chance’s music blossomed and his name became more recognizable amongst industry folks, Corcoran helped him field offers from the likes of Epic, Universal, Sony and Colombia. Their initial thought was that they would sign with a major, but a sold-out show at a 500-person venue marked their first indication that they might be able to navigate the treacherous waters alone.
“As we went along, we learned on the fly about how deals actually work,” Corcoran said. “And we discovered going with a label wasn’t for us.”
Those working alongside the duo immediately notices the mutual respect Corcoran and Chance have for one another.
“Pat lives and breathes Chance, and is relentless when it comes to long-term goals,” said Cara Lewis, founder/president of Cara Lewis Group and Chance’s agent since late 2012.
From staying independent to releasing a now Grammy-winning project for free, Corcoran is certainly carrying the torch for music managers in a post file-sharing world.
Client: Kendrick Lamar
As high school peers, Dave Free and Kendrick Lamar bonded over their love of hip-hop and the latter’s intricate rhyme patterns which earned him acclaim at Centennial High School in Compton, California.
After Free graduated, he took a job as a computer repairman. A chance encounter with TDE’s Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, marked an important opportunity for Free to get Kendrick’s music into the hands of someone who had real experience in the record industry. Up until that point, Tiffith had been managing producers who had crafted songs for rappers such as The Game and Juvenile.
Although the computer was completely shot – something Free knew from the moment he set down in front of the desktop – he played along with the “fix it” charade long enough to get Tiffith interested in a teenage Kendrick Lamar’s s music.
Soon after, Lamar was signed to TDE – based strongly off the impression that Free had on Tiffith.
In describing his relationship with Free, it falls more in line with working with a relative than a business partner.
“It’s more like working with a brother that just so happened to love what I do, too,” Lamar said of Free. “So when you put these two individuals into creative spaces, it’s a different type of chemistry. It’s a different type of bond. It’s a bond that really can’t be broken … whether it’s in the studio or behind the camera. It’s like Voltron.”
As the President of TDE, Free not only manages Lamar, but also helps shape the overall vision for the label. Additionally, he’s also always on the lookout for the next big artist.
“You have to have a desire, an unbroken desire, to be successful,” said Free. “You can’t actually sleep, you know what I mean? You have to see every opportunity and make something of every opportunity. There’s a million other people dying to have your spot, and they would do anything to have it. You can’t just look at this as a hobby.”
Clients: Migos, Lil Yachty
Started in 2013 by Kevin Lee, better known as Coach K, and Pierre Thomas, or Pee, Quality Control Records has found key Atlanta artists like Migos, Lil Yachty, OG Maco and Rich the Kid and turned them into stars – while also managing the careers of established veterans like Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane and Pastor Troy.
Migos proved to be the rare combination of talent mixed with new media methods of discovering new artists.
“Zaytoven called me. He called me like, ‘you heard about these boys?’ I’m like, ‘oh shit.’ You know how I really heard about them? The hipster kids. The hipster kids be on the grungiest, dirtiest shit first,” Coach K recalled. “It’s different. They want to be the first ones who was on it. We knew about that. I remember hollering at some of the little hipster cats like, ‘yo, you heard of Migos?’ They were ‘fuck yeah, Bando!’ I was like ‘I’m going after these boys.’ For real. I gave new shit, on the brink shit, for my young cats.”
Despite his experience in the business, Migos was also a first-of-its-kind venture for Coach K.
“It’s my first time dealing with a group,” he said. “So it’s a lot of work. They’re three individuals. And individually, all three of them could be solo acts and stand up on their own. So dealing with three individuals is like, you’ve got to really take into consideration that there’s three of them. So you’ve got to give each one their time. But they’re stars, man.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Coach K next discovered Lil Yachty in 2016 and immediately saw star potential in someone who had already cultivated an image and was completely comfortable in his own skin.
“I’ve got a lot of little young guys who bring me music,” Coach K recalled. “He played me Yachty’s music and was like ‘you know what man, I don’t know if you’re going to like this. It’s weird.’ [As] soon as he played it I was like, ‘I want to find him.’ Once I saw it, I knew he was a star. Hands down. Superstar. What we about to build, it can’t be stopped. And it’s probably never going to be seen again. Serious.”
While other less seasoned managers might have been offput by Yachty’s unique sense of style, Coach K saw it as an asset.
“It was like your first meeting with Marilyn Manson,” Coach K said. “You’ve got this freakish look, but he’s not scared of who he is. He’s wearing it with pride. Instantly I said, ‘This is it.’”
Like so many others who find themselves helping artists sign lucrative deals and steer clear of controversy, Oliver El-Khatib’s first love was music before turning to the business side of things.
He and longtime Drake collaborator, Noah “40” Shebib, were both part of the same DJ collective, the Lebanon Dons. From 2008 to 2009, they were also roommates – living in a condo along Toronto’s lakeside.
Although both had musical aspirations, cost-of-living dictated that each find stable employment. In turn, El-Khatib picked up a job at a menswear boutique, Lounge, that was the go-to stockiest for urban wear in Toronto at the time.
This is where he would meet Drake.
As chance would have it, the would-be-superstar was actually looking for Shebib’s roommate, 40, who just so happened to be a fan of Drake after hearing the Boi-1da-produced “Do What U Do” on the radio.
“I was hunting for him, he was looking for me,” 40 said. “It was Oliver who gave me the kick in the ass I needed.”
Drake has called El-Khatib the “ear of all ears,” and credits him with identifying The Weeknd’s “it” factor.
Client: A$AP Rocky
Long before Chace Infinite was credited with helping usher in the A$AP movement, he himself was an artist who released music alongside DJ Khalil under their shared moniker, “Self Scientific” – culminating in 2005’s Change, and the eight-song Trials of the Blackhearted as a free download online in 2011 with features from Game, Talib Kweli, Big K.R.I.T. and Freddie Gibbs.
Additionally, Chace was an integral part of Lower East Side clothing shop, Prohibit NYC, which some have stated “served as the womb for A$AP’s combination of style and sonics” and spearheaded the importing of Japanese selvedge denim as far back as 2001.
As for the origins of their business dealings, A$AP Rocky recalled a mutual call to arms brought forth by the late A$AP Yams who wanted the group and its most prominent solo artist to steer clear of normal industry pitfalls.
“Money never was the motive for [Chace], and he didn’t get involved with us for money at all, Rocky said. “He was just being a big bro to us, really guiding us and giving us wisdom… He make sure we on time… That’s just our extra pair of eyes, that’s our big brother, literally. Our big brother.”
Ibrahim “IB” Hamad
Client: J. Cole
Much in the same way that Kendrick Lamar and Dave Free used a share learning environment to cultivate their relationship, so too did J. Cole and long time manager, Ibrahim “IB” Hamad.
While they both attended St. John’s University in Queens, they were going out to a club one night and Hamad heard someone freestyling over Consequence’s “Grammy Family.”
“I was like, ‘oh shit, who the fuck is that?!,'” Hamad remembered. “That’s me,” [J Cole] responded. “The more and more I listened to it, I was like, ‘yo we need to do something. We need to put a tape out.’ That’s kinda how it started. It started more like, ‘this is my homie and whatever help I can give him along the way, I’m going to do that.'”
Under Hamad’s leadership, J. Cole’s latest project, 4 Your Eyez Only, topped the Billboard 200 for the fourth time in as many albums and all 10 tracks hit the Hot 100 despite having no features.
But Hamad doesn’t believe he, J. Cole and their team are taking a “us against the world” mentality. Rather, they see the value in their core fanbase.
“I don’t think there’s any secret to this,” he said. “There is no marketing plan with that. Cole has built his fan base. They trust him, and they trust his product. At the same time, he kind of just goes away after he puts out the music and people want to hear from him. He’s not on social media. He’s not in the news, he’s not in the press, he’s just in his own world, so when he decides to come out and say something, it holds weight. And people care to hear what he has to say. He’s built that over seven years of just doing right by people, doing right by his fans, and putting in the work. Once you put in that work, you kind of have the freedom to be able to do things your way, at your own pace and on your own time.”
Clients: Future, Nas
Anthony Saleh has been in the music business since he was 23. Unlike other upstarts, his first gig involved handling the career of Nas who at the time of his hiring was ridding himself of longtime collaborators and managers after an album misstep with Hip-Hop is Dead.
Saleh’s impact would be near immediate. He executive-produced Nas’s 2008 untitled album, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
He has also been instrumental in helping Nas curate an image as one of the foremost venture capitalists in hip-hop – investing anywhere from $100,000-$500,000 USD in companies like Lyft, Dropbox, Coinbase and Tradesy. Sales estimates that their QueensBridge Venture Partners has done more than 100 deals in the last six years – leading CNBC to call Nas one of the “most influential celebrity investors.”
Atlanta hybrid entertainer, Future, found himself in a similar situation as Nas after he released his sophomore album, Honest, in 2014. Both he and his management team were disappointed that they had only sold 50,000 units sold in its first week – leading Future to seek out new management in Saleh.
Under Saleh’s leadership, Future regained form with three number one projects – notably setting the world ablaze with DS2, EVOL and his collaborative project with Drake, What a Time to Be Alive.
Client: Kanye West
Kanye West has the ability to turn anyone around him into either a certifiable star, or at least someone that the populace is familiar with. However, his longtime manager, Izzy Zivkovic, has managed to remain firmly in the background despite a decades-long association with the multi-hyphenate.
While West has gone on to be co-managed by Scooter Braun, Zivkovic has stayed on as co-manager – surely reaping the financial rewards while keeping his anonymity.
Perhaps the most high-profile aspect of Zivkovic’s life is that he is married to British fashion designer Louise Goldin.
Client: Big Sean
Zeno Jones has had a thirst for the music business since he was a self-motivated high school student who realized if he became a jack-of-all-trades, his value would increase exponentially.
“If you take the time to learn every skill set within your field, you will always win,” Jones said. “I’ve taken those words with me every step of my path.”
In 2005, Jones made his first connections to Big Sean and his group of friends. He was struck by Sean’s style of promotion and self-motivation which fell in line with how he also approached the business.
“I was at the Def Jam listening event where Sean asked Kanye West if he was looking to sign any artists,” Jones remembers. “‘Ye responded with a quick ‘nope’ and gave a light laugh, then told the room Sean rapped for him early that day and was dope, but proceeded to say ‘but I’m not looking to sign any artists.'”
Three years later, Jones came on in an official capacity – handling Sean’s street team.
“I asked why he didn’t have a street team. [Sean] said, ‘shit I need one, do you know how do to it?’ I told him, ‘hell yeah, I’ll do it lets get to work.’ Shortly after that I started recording shows or any other moments. I literally started on a flip cam or whatever kind of camera I could get my hands on. Throughout the years I started teaching myself more and more about video [and started] putting out ‘Weekend Recaps’ – a video blog series we started in 2009.”
Following a summer tour, the team regrouped and Big Sean realized he needed a change in his management hierarchy.
“I told him, ‘man, let me do it, I know I can kill it!’ After a few conversations about it he really looked at me and asked me again. I told him I was super ready and that was the start of me working officially in management. I think Sean and I work great together because we have been in the trenches together. In 2009 – following Wale’s tour – we opened up in front of packed houses [in] Boston and [only] 50 people in Toledo, OH. We also keep a good balance of friendship/work. I learned early you have to keep the respect level high both ways for it to really work.”
- Featured/Main Image: Nabil Elderkin