On March 6th, in the second quarter of a game between the LA Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, LeBron James passed his idol, Michael Jordan on NBA’s all-time scoring list, moving into fourth place. Once the game ended, 2 Chainz stood up from his courtside seat to congratulate James on his historic accomplishment, and took off one of his many chains and handed it to LeBron— a mark of respect, friendship, and admiration.
This tender moment follows the announcement of a partnership between the basketball superstar and Atlanta rapper that both challenged and wowed the otherwise traditional landscape of music A&R.
What is A&R?
Artist and repertoire (A&R) is the division of a record label or music publishing company responsible for talent scouting and artistic development of recording artists. The internet revolutionized the music industry, and with it, the role of an A&R. From the management of artists, album curation, club promotions, or running small record labels, the position has expanded far beyond its conventional role.
A&R with King James
On February 19, 2 Chainz made an announcement on Twitter confirming Bron’s involvement in his fifth studio album, Rap Or Go To The League. “It’s been quite the journey to get here. All night studio sessions, reflecting, & opening up on these records or as I call it therapy! This is my each [sic] one teach one body of work, I wanna celebrate Black excellence,” he wrote that Tuesday morning. “Rap Or Go To The League” the album A&R by @KingJames 3/1.”
It’s been quite the journey to get here. All night studio sessions, reflecting, & opening up on these records or as I call it therapy! This is my each one teach one body of work, I wanna celebrate black excellence! ….. “Rap Or Go To The League” the album A&R by @KingJames 3/1 pic.twitter.com/08Y2fYKJ6X— Tity Boi (2 Chainz) (@2chainz) February 19, 2019
In a behind-the-scenes Apple documentary released in tandem with the record, James and 2 Chainz discuss the album’s rollout strategy, collaborators, and album length. “I think it’d be shocking to people to know how much input you had on it,” 2 Chainz tells James at one point. “You’ve been on it the whole year!”
The Past Life of 2 Chainz
2 Chainz has worn many hats: from being part of Playaz Circle, his past moniker of Tity Boi with Ludacris’ Disturbing
Born Tauheed Epps, in the 10th grade, he was the star sixth man for North Clayton High in College Park, Georgia. At 6’5, Epps was a legitimate Division 1 recruit who eventually nabbed a scholarship at Alabama State University. He played for their basketball between 1995 and 1997.
After felony charges and other situations he’s been hesitant to speak about, Epps went on to make music: “I got locked up in the 12th grade for selling marijuana, which kind of put my dreams back. Some of the stories you hear from me and Meek Mill shine a light on where we come from.”
Rap Or Go To The League
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Lebron discusses the pressure of choosing a lifestyle based off one of two choices: “Biggie Smalls kind of said it best when he said, ‘Either you’re slinging
Afflicted in the same ways, 2 Chainz rejects this two-prong approach to life. “[The album] tries to highlight the African-American option on doing something else to become successful. It doesn’t have to be shooting the jumps or having a wicked crossover. A lot of times in the low socio-economic environments that African-American people come from, we’re told we’re heavy into sports, heavy into rap, but there are so many other options.” The renouncement of the Black American dream matched with their longtime friendship made for a perfect pairing between James and Chainz.
How does Lebron James A&R
The nascent internet-driven music industry, built on disputing traditions is a witness to burgeoning change. In 2019, when careers are made on social media rather than in meeting rooms, it’s only logical to upend other structures within the system.
Already known for bumping songs on his Instagram story and previewing unreleased tracks on Snapchat, Lebron has been known to have a powerful enough co-sign to build careers. “Every Friday when new music comes out, you can count on him being in the back of his Maybach or Sprinter going through the music, quoting lyrics,” 2 Chainz told Vanity Fair on why he brought LeBron into the recording process. “He puts out these videos of him bringing attention to these artists, tagging their lyrics . . . he doesn’t get paid for it. He doesn’t tell the person ahead of time. This is just something he naturally does. So, I thought [giving him] a title like this, with the conversation I was trying to spark, why not bring him in the studio and we can build some concepts together?”
“I helped him put the tracklist together, sequencing, which songs should flow: which song should be first, which one should be last, how to end the album, what should fall in the middle,” James said when asked about the ins and outs of his role. “Executive producer was a title that was given to me. He asked if I wanted to executive produce his album, and I was like, “What does that entail?” He said, “I want you to be part of the process. I want you to be part of the track-list process.” He told me, “I see how much of a wide range of music you love; how you talk about how great music is, different artists that we know, artists that no one’s ever heard of—it’s pretty cool, and I want you to be part of the process.” He told me the title, and he said it’s going to be so much more than what people expect from the name, so I said: “All right, let’s do it.”
The Future of A&R
The reviews for Rap Or Go To The League make it remarkably clear that the role of A&R surpasses any linear process. It’s about passion, understanding music more than the administrative process, and perhaps that’s what makes Lebron such a great choice. Lauded as a “personal triumph” by Pitchfork and praised for its “elite execution” by Complex it’s clear that 2 Chainz has honed in on something that will transform the future of music, and more importantly, A&R.