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Craig D’Souza joins WME as partner

Agent Craig D’Souza, known for his work with UK rap and hip-hop artists such as Stormzy, Dave, J Hus, and Krept and Konan, has joined WME as a partner.

Based out of the company’s UK office, D’Souza brings a roster that includes Aitch, Arrdee, Dave, D-Block Europe, Fredo, Headie One, Jacob Banks, J Hus, Joy Crookes, Krept and Konan, Mist, MoStack, and Young T and Bugsey. His hiring was announced today (3 August) by WME Music co-heads Lucy Dickins, Kirk Sommer, and Scott Clayton.

D’Souza (pictured) began his career at nightclub agency Mission Control, becoming managing director in 2007, and went on to oversee the growth of the business into the live touring market over the next three years. He left to join Primary Talent International in July 2010.

With Primary Talent, D’Souza guided Stormzy’s live career from 250-capacity club shows in 2015 through to his 2019 Glastonbury headline performance and a sold-out world tour. The grime superstar recently signed a global deal with CAA, while Primary has brought on board Anderson Paak agent Beckie Sugden (formerly of X-ray) as its latest hire.

D’Souza, who was Music Week’s UK agent of the year in 2020, moves into his new position at WME immediately. He is the agency’s latest new partner, following the hiring of hip-hop agents Caroline Yim and Zach Iser in the US earlier this year.


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Spain’s Bring the Noise launches booking agency

Spanish festival promoter Bring the Noise has launched Rebel Beat Agency, representing some of the biggest urban acts in Spain.

The Gijón-based company, whose events include Resurrection Fest (30,000-cap.) and O Son do Camiño (34,000-cap.), says it hopes Rebel Beat Agency will become “one of the main artist agencies” in Spain.

The agency’s roster features many of the country’s biggest urban and hip-hop artists, including El Jincho, Israel B and Kidd Keo, one of the most-streamed Spanish artists on Spotify and Twitch.

The agency’s roster features many of Spain’s biggest urban and hip-hop artists

Other Rebel Beat artists include Paranoid 1966, Ayesha Chanel, Ácida and Yung Sarria, as well as several indie and rock acts.

In addition to its festivals, which also include Caudal Fest, Tsunami Xixón and Metal Paradise Festival, Bring the Noise promotes hundreds of shows a year.

Rebel Beat is the latest new European agency to launch this year, following Route One Booking in the UK earlier this month, and the first by a promoter.


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Move Concerts allies with hip-hop platform Damn!

Move Concerts, the largest independent promoter in Latin America, has partnered with influential urban show Damn! to grow its digital footprint while concerts are on hold.

Damn!, described as the most important hip-hop programme in the Spanish-speaking world, has a strong and growing fan base in Argentina, Mexico and Spain, with more than 430,000 subscribers on YouTube. The show is broadcast on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6–8pm Argentina time.

The partnership will see Damn! film its show from a new studio complex created by Move Concerts Argentina and the programme’s co-producer, MAD, which provided technical support. The new studio is located at Move Concerts’ Argentinian HQ in Buenos Aires.

According to Move, the partnership is “the first step by Move Concerts and Move Management to show the strong commitment they have made to urban artists”.

The collaboration with Damn! is the latest Covid-era initiative for Move Concerts, which also has offices in Miami, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Costa Rica. The company last month hosted Latin America’s first drive-in concerts, and was a partner on La Morada, an online entertainment venue that raised money for Colombian production crew.


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Urban sprawl: How hip hop conquered Europe

For a stark reminder of how completely rap and hip hop has taken over mainstream culture, consider the case of NWA.

Thirty years ago, the group released a song that so incensed the authorities and white America – ‘Fuck tha Police’, taken from their debut studio album Straight Outta Compton – that the FBI felt compelled to write a letter to the band’s label and distributing company complaining that “advocating violence and assault is wrong and we, in the law enforcement community, take exception to such action.” Police started to refuse to provide security for their concerts and, condemned by politicians, for a short while they revelled in their status as “the world’s most dangerous group.”

Fast-forward to today, and the recent arrest of rapper Asap Rocky in Sweden. Charged with assault following an altercation with a 19-year-old male and forced to remain behind bars until his trial – there is no right to bail under the Swedish criminal justice system – the chorus of celebrity pleas and fan petitions to “Free Asap” were joined by none other than Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States of America. “Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM,” he tweeted in late July. “Very disappointed in Prime Minister Stefan Löfven for being unable to act. Sweden has let our African- American community down in the United States.”

For a figure as divisive and controversial as Trump to even know who Asap Rocky is – and let’s not forget his new BFF, Kanye West – speaks volumes as to rap and hip hop’s current cultural status. The genres have long since been regarded as the new pop, with the biggest stars now elevated to first name, superstar recognition – Kanye, Cardi, Nicki, Jay, Tyler, Kendrick. And, of course, Asap, whose first two albums went platinum, selling over 750,000 copies combined and topping charts the world over (and racking up billions of streams).

Europe is fertile ground for the genre, and not just at A-list level – everyone we spoke to for this feature emphasised the strength of localised scenes across the continent driven by passionate, committed individuals; talent is spread far and wide.

“The hip-hop scene in Europe is stronger than it has ever been”

“The hip-hop scene in Europe is stronger than it has ever been,” says Jay Belin, a music agent for WME in London. The agency books some of the biggest names in hip hop globally, and so has witnessed the genre’s growth on this side of the Atlantic first hand. “Whether you are talking about chart positions, hard ticket sales or festival inventory, there are more urban artists owning the leader board than ever before,” he adds.

“Night and day,” says Belin’s colleague James Rubin, a music partner at WME, when asked to compare the scene today with five or ten years ago. Back then, he says, only the very top acts globally sold “real tickets and played serious slots at major festivals. Nowadays, most A-level events have a large percentage of foreign and domestic hip-hop artists on their bill, and the hard ticket business is healthier than ever.”

“Hip hop in the European market is at the forefront of the industry,” says Ari Bernstein of ICM Partners, an agency that reps rising new stars such as Little Simz, Bhad Barbie and Migos. For Bernstein, an abundance of such fresh, exciting talent is evidence of the genre “exploding” over the last five years and how the demographic of people calling themselves hip-hop fans is only getting bigger. “And as you can imagine, as the demographic and the audience grows, so do ticket sales,” he says of the healthy live scene.

WME partner Brent Smith, who represents the likes of Drake and Kendrick Lamar, states: “Drake is the most streamed artist in the world since streaming began and he can sell out several O2 Arenas in London, three AccorHotels Arenas in Paris, etc., across the territory. This tells you everything you need to know about the general health of hip hop in the UK and Europe.”

“It lends itself perfectly to the memes and viral videos kids have been sharing”

Urban expansion
While urban music – a term which many feel doesn’t properly capture the passion and intensity of the best rap and hip hop – has undoubtedly become something of an unstoppable juggernaut, many people tie its rise to that of streaming, technology and increased social media use, platforms without which the scene would not have grown to become as dominant as it has.

“Urban music has absolutely taken over because it lends itself perfectly to the memes and viral videos kids have been sharing,” says agent Mike Malak at Paradigm. “That makes certain songs ‘cult’ faster, and further boosts the excitement around a particular artist or track.”

“It is a culture that reacts very strongly and instantly with social media and streaming, and an act can elevate themselves very quickly through these channels,” agrees Steve Strange of X-ray Touring. He’s worked with Eminem for over 20 years, something he describes as “a fantastic experience throughout,” and sees the rise of such superstars as being indelibly tied to the modern world and new music-industry structures.

For Caroline Simionescu-Marin, a consultant for WME’s music team, it’s more about platforms such as streaming and YouTube lowering the barriers to entry for a lot of rap music, and helping it break through the underground to become the mainstream. “Apple and Spotify are hiring the right gatekeepers, and in turn, turbocharging editorial for a lot of artists who wouldn’t have a look in otherwise,” she says, pointing to rapper Dave topping the UK album chart as proof of this new paradigm.


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 85, or subscribe to the magazine here.

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The Radar Station: Aussie drill act OneFour take Sep top spot

OneFour, ‘Australia’s first drill rappers’, were the fastest-growing new artists online last month, in a Radar Station first for the controversial UK-born hip-hop scene.

The band, from Mt Druitt in western Sydney, have been hailed by Vice as “Australia’s most exciting rappers” – but have been subject to similar harassment and censorship as that faced by drill acts in the US and UK, with authorities accusing their songs of promoting violent crime.

The group’s latest single, ‘Ladz in the Hood’, released on Monday 2 September, racked up 400,000 views in the space of 24 hours and become the top trending video on YouTube, leading GQ to describe them as the “biggest thing in hip hop right now”.

Spurred by this success, OneFour climbed from No4 in July to the top spot in August, according to the latest Radar Station figures, knocking Coi Leray to number two. A new entry, Kosovar DJ Regard, takes the third spot.

The Radar Station algorithm calculates the fastest-growing new artists by combining data across a number of online platforms, including Spotify, Facebook, Instagram, Songkick and Last.fm. August’s chart-topper was September’s runner-up, Paradigm-repped Coi Leray.

“People are drawn to the feeling it creates. The raw emotion and honesty”

Speaking to IQ, OneFour’s manager, Ricky Simandjuntak, says the band’s global popularity is testament to their ability to speak to a forgotten underclass looked down on by the ‘establishment’:

IQ: What do you think it is about OneFour’s message and music that appeals to so many people – many of whom are drawn from outside the band’s culture and circumstances?
RS: People are drawn to the feeling it creates. The raw emotion and honesty. From the words to the visuals, everything is honest – even if you don’t know anything about that world, the music allows you to feel it all.

Not everyone can digest the content, but most people respect the authenticity. There is a story of overcoming extreme danger and adversity that people are drawn to.

For those who are from the culture, youth here in western Sydney and wider urban Australia are happy that there is finally a group of artists that represent urban, multicultural, working-class people in Australia at a world-class level. They’ve been waiting for a hero to champion.

IQ: As a manager, could you describe your strategy for growing the band’s profile and career so far?
RS: There wasn’t one. The only thing the boys knew how to do was tell their truth, using their own style of storytelling and delivery. The influences are obvious, but they remained true to themselves in the delivery. All Hau [Latukefu, Triple J host], [producer] Solo and I did was provide them the right environment and tools to make the music. The creativity and emotion is all them.

They directed produced their own videos with their own team, they marketed themselves. They spoke to an audience that is going what they go through. We have had minimal involvement up until this point.

“There is finally a group of artists that represent urban, multicultural, working-class people in Australia at a world-class level. They’ve been waiting for a hero to champion”

IQ: What kind of challenges have you faced so far, especially around censorship and hostility from the establishment?
RS: The ‘establishment’  in Australia is still very close-minded and out of touch with young people and people of colour. You only need to look at how they treat the indigenous owners of this country to understand how their fear of immigrant Australians.

The music raises conversation that a lot of people in positions of privilege and authority do not know how to address. So their immediate reaction is damage control and censorship. This includes pressuring venues, promoters, DSPs, schools and nonprofit organisations the boys visit, hotels, licensed venues and the press not to do business with the group. Essentially, they are going out of their way to limit the ability of the group to work and generate income – while in the same breath telling them to get off the streets.

Mainstream media, the news channels and newspapers like the [Australian] Daily Telegraph are only interested in publishing stories that incite fear into the community. These platforms push a narrative for the establishment, not for the good of the people. Fortunately for us, they are platforms that are heading toward extinction.

IQ: Do the band have a live agent or record label, or is it still very early days on that front?
RS: Still very much independent and looking to remain this way until they learn some more.

OneFour recently started to work with Brett Murrihy at WME for live. So if you have work, he is our man.

OneFour climbed from No4 in July to the top spot in August, knocking Coi Leray to No2. A new entry, Kosovar DJ Regard, takes the third spot

IQ: How do you intend to capitalise on this streaming success?
RS: It’s giving us the opportunity to surround ourselves with more experienced people and learn from them. It’s giving us access to better data and people who understand how to interpret it.

To answer your question – we get better at growing.

IQ: Where do OneFour go from here?
RS: It’s early days and there are so many paths to success. Like I said, we are still learning. Artistically, for OneFour the UK has provided so much inspiration, so it’s definitely a goal to learn from and work with artists like Skepta, Giggs, Wiley, Headie One and J Hus to name a few. For me personally, getting the music so good that it’s on the radar of someone like [BBC DJ] Benji B is immense.

Business-wise and culturally, Jay-Z blazed the path that inspired me. To help OneFour create opportunities for people in the fashion that he did – but for Australian youth. That’s the dream.


See below for a Spotify playlist of last month’s Radar Station top 20, plus the full chart with links to artists’ Facebook pages and contact details.

This monthLast monthArtistCountry
21Coi LerayUS
48Black PumasUS
57Sueco the ChildUS
73King CombsUS
86Domo WilsonUS
1014Quin NfnUS
1310Benny the ButcherUS
1425Sophie RoseUS
1547Joba (Brockhampton)US
16-HP BoyzAU
1813Ms BanksUK
1911Flo MilliUS

For more details about the Radar Station, contact info@theradarstation.com.au.


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No prison time for “guilty” Asap Rocky

US rapper Asap Rocky has been found guilty of assault by Stockholm District Court and given a two-year suspended sentence.

The rapper, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, received a ‘guilty’ verdict along with two members of his entourage, Bladimir Corniel and David Rispers.

The assault was not deemed serious enough to constitute a prison sentence, as long as the three defendants commit no further crimes for two years.

The rapper was ordered to pay Kr12,500 (US$1,300) in damages to the victim for “violation of his integrity” and “pain and suffering”, according to the Swedish arm of English-language publication the Local.

Asap Rocky and his two co-defendants spent almost a month in custody in Sweden following the assault. Many objected to the rapper’s pre-trial detention, with artists including Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes and Jada Pinkett Smith urging his release.

Joppe Pihlgren, head of Swedish live music association Svensk Live, told IQ last month that although Rocky being held in a jail cell while awaiting trial “might seem strange in America, where you can bail yourself out if you have enough money… this is not how the Swedish system works.”

Pihlgren said he believed the general public largely supported Rocky’s detention, saying the feeling in Sweden was that “he is accused of committing a crime and he’s being treated like anyone else”.

“We [in Sweden] have a judicial system that treats everyone the same”

“We have a judicial system that treats everyone the same,” explained the Svensk Live head.

Mayers, Corniel and Rispers returned to the United States when the trial concluded on 2 August, where they have been awaiting today’s (14 August) verdict. The return prompted a gleeful Twitter post from president Donald Trump, who had put pressure on the Swedish government to release the rapper.

The rapper made his return to the stage at California’s Real Street festival on Sunday, telling fans “I’m so happy to be here right now.” Rocky also referenced the support he received from fellow artists, stating that “hip hop never looked so strong together, we’re a big, strong community.”

Rappers Tyler the Creator, Schoolboy Q and Lil Yachty announced they would boycott Sweden as a touring destination following Rocky’s arrest.

Rocky was forced to cancel various festival appearances while detained, including headline slots at Sónar in Spain, London’s Wireless festival and Ukraine’s Atlas Weekend.

Lowlands re-announced the rapper’s appearance at the festival this weekend, following confirmation from the artist’s agency, CAA. Rocky is also scheduled to appear in Finland in the next few days, at Live Nation-owned hip-hop festival Blockfest.


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LN launches Rolling Loud in Hong Kong

Live Nation Electronic Asia is launching Rolling Loud in Hong Kong, the first two-day hip-hop festival to take place in the city.

Founded in 2015 by Matt Zingler and Tariq Cherif, the Miami-based Rolling Loud has grown to become a three-day, 60,000-capacity event. The festival now also takes place in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York. This year, an inaugural Sydney edition sold all 20,000 tickets in 38 minutes.

Past performers include J Cole, Lil Wayne, Asap Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone and Cardi B.

In 2019, Chinese hip-hop artists Bridge, K Eleven and Josh, from the Chongqing-based rap and hip-hop label Gosh, performed at Rolling Loud Miami. Chinese ‘hip-hop poet’ Jony J also appeared on the line-up.

“Hip-hop has extended itself across the world and taken over local youth culture everywhere, particularly in Asia”

“Hip-hop has extended itself across the world and taken over local youth culture everywhere, particularly in Asia,” says Live Nation Electronic Asia managing director Jim Wong.

“We are now ready to bring Rolling Loud to my beloved city, Hong Kong, and take the Asia hip-hop music scene to the next level.”

Live Nation Electronic Asia was formed in 2017 to respond to “the region’s rising demand for electronic dance music”. Live Nation recently launched a similar division, Electronic Nation, in the UK, headed up by Cream managing director Scott Barton.

Rolling Loud Hong Kong will take place at the Art Park in the West Kowloon cultural district from 19 to 20 October. The full line-up and ticket details will be announced soon.


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Fire forces evacuation of Croatian hip-hop fest

Attendees of Fresh Island festival in Croatia were today (16 July) evacuated following the breakout of a fire close to the festival site.

Organisers of the 7,000-capacity hip hop festival transported fans offsite after reports emerged last night (15 July) of a forest fire near to the festival site on Zrce beach, on the Croatian island of Pag.

Emergency services were still working to contain the fire this morning.

Following the evacuation, the Fresh Island team said they were unsure how the fire would affect today’s beach performances. Headliner Tyga was due to play at Papaya nightclub (4,000-cap.), one of the evacuated venues. Other artists scheduled to perform include Tory Lanez, Stefflon Don and Hardy Caprio.


“We would like to say a big thank you to all Fresh Islanders who were at the festival for being so patient and supportive of each other and for cooperating with security and emergency services during the fire to stay safe,” read a festival Twitter post.

Organisers have confirmed that no casualties have occurred and “everyone is safe”. Updates will be published through the festival’s social media pages.

Fresh Island festival is scheduled to take place from until Thursday 17 July. Past acts to play the festival include  Wiz Khalifa, Migos, ASAP Rocky, Snoop Dogg, Stormzy and Giggs.

Update: festival organisers announce that, following the clearance of the fire, Fresh Island is “to continue as planned with no further disruptions.”


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Live Nation acquires Finnish hip-hop festival

Live Nation Finland has announced the acquisition of the country’s leading hip-hop festival, Blockfest.

Founded in 2008 in Tampere, Finland, Blockfest has grown to become one of the biggest hip-hop festivals in the Nordic countries. Taking place at the Tampere stadium, the two-day festival attracted 75,000 festivalgoers last year.

“This deal cements Blockfest’s position in the festival calendar and will ensure that the festival attracts the hottest international acts going forward,” says Kalle Kallonen, Blockfest founder and chief executive.

“We have a great team who are excited to work more closely with Live Nation Finland to deliver the best possible live experience for our audience.”

“Blockfest is one of the most innovative festivals in Finland and we are thrilled to be a part of its future”

Live Nation Finland’s head promoter, Zachris Sundell, comments: “Blockfest is one of the most innovative festivals in Finland and we are thrilled to be a part of its future.”

“We have always had a great relationship with Blockfest and are looking forward to putting our resources into bringing more of the world’s leading hip-hop, R&B and grime artists to the festival,” says Sundell.

Live Nation Finland and Blockfest have worked together since 2013, bringing artists including including Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Wiz Khalifa, Skepta, Mobb Deep and Lil Wayne to the festival’s stages.

The announcement is one in a string of recent acquisitions for the live entertainment company, including Tennessee-based event marketing company Neste, Canadian venue operator and promoter Embrace Presents and Spanish latin music promoter Planet Events.


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Russian state must “lead and direct” rap music, says Putin

Amid growing censorship of Russian rap artists, Vladimir Putin has ordered advisers to devise a means of controlling hip-hop music.

Alarmed by the burgeoning popularity of rap among Russian youth, the president says the state must shape the direction of urban music in the country, while warning that an outright prohibition on rap performances could actually bolster the genre’s popularity.

“If it [the growth of rap music] is impossible to stop, then we must lead it and direct it,” he told cultural advisers on Saturday (15 December), according to AP.

Putin further noted that “rap is based on three pillars: sex, drugs and protest”, adding that his government is especially concerned with “drug propaganda”, which  “is a path to the degradation of the nation”.

“If it is impossible to stop, then we must lead it and direct it”

Putin’s intervention follows a crackdown by authorities on urban music in Russia, with various security agencies accused of pressuring artists and promoters to cancel planned hip-hop shows.

Husky, one of Russia’s most popular rappers, was this week jailed for 12 days for his impromptu, unsanctioned gig in the city of Krasnodar, which followed the cancellation of an official concert for alleged “extremism”.

According to AP, Husky climbed onto a car, surrounded by hundreds of fans, and chanted, “I will sing my music, the most honest music!”, before being taken away by police.

Other rappers forced to cancel shows in recent months include Gone Fludd and Allj, while authorities have also targeted punk bands such as Friendzona.


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