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LVRN: R&B, REBORN

The story of LoveRenaissance—aka LVRN—began in 2012, when five Georgia State University students—Justice Baiden, Carlon Ramong, Junia Abaidoo, Sean Famoso McNichol and Tunde Balogun—bonded over a shared love of great music and distinctly unique backgrounds that informed their passions. In the years since, the collective has partnered with Interscope and forged a powerful new revival of R&B that has yielded the biggest debut album from a female R&B artist in over 10 years, Summer Walker’s Over It

The path to this moment for LVRN has been a deliberate one, focused strategically on finding and embracing what is compellingly new. “The craziest shit makes no sense, but that's what makes it exciting,” affirms Balogun.

And it shouldn’t be surprising that such a studious crew manifested from a college campus.

“Our ears as far as music were a little different because of the way we were brought up,” explains Balogun about the genesis of the label. “The majority of us grew up in the suburbs, but we're also first-generation immigrants. I'm Nigerian. Junia and Justice's families are from Ghana. Sean is from Jamaica and Carlon from Trinidad. We were exposed to Caribbean and African music at an early age, and of course hip-hop and R&B, but we’ll listen to everything from Nirvana to everything else.”

In 2012, R&B was in the doldrums. It was height of the EDM movement—Rihanna teamed with Calvin Harris for “We Found Love,” LMFAO was all over the charts and Ellie Goulding debuted with one of the biggest pop hits of the year, “Lights.” The group of young entrepreneurs saw an opportunity in the making.

“My freshman year of college, the music business was always what I wanted to do, but everybody knows there's no real blueprint to get in,” Head of A&R Baiden remembers. “I had the immigrant chip on my shoulder: ‘I'm gonna figure it out, no matter what happens to me, no matter how I need to do it, I'm going to do it.’ And I had found an artist that I was really passionate about, but realized that I didn't know anybody and knew it was going to take a village. Slowly bumping my head, I found people in my school that happened to have the same interests as I did, and we slowly just started piecing everything together.”

One element emerged early as a blueprint for the label: They let the music guide the path of the company, not the other way around.

Balogun recalls, “One of our first artists under LVRN, Raury, wasn't R&B. Nothing we do will be something you're going to ‘get’ at first glance, ever. It’s all left of center. After Raury, we developed D.R.A.M. and then 6LACK (pictured at left with Interscope's Joie Manda and Tim Glover), so we're like, ‘Damn, we're not really a rap label; we’re kind of more R&B, and we're good at this. Let's focus everything in this lane, because there's a big gap.’”

“It’s a little bit of two things,” adds Baiden. “Number one is genuine interest, the type of music that we gravitate to, but number two is being students of the game and understanding the niche. When we were coming up, there seemed to be such a disconnect with music and what I fell in love with music for, as far as “the love” element of it.  The female fan base was being neglected—especially being from Atlanta, there's a certain tempo and content that felt like it needed a balance. Being very strategic, we decided to authentically follow that lead and gravitate to artists who had that overall message in their music.”

Another aspect that was being woven into the foundations of LVRN was the grassroots-to-release support systems for the artists they brought on.

“Our whole model is 360 in a sense, or full service,” Balogun, pictured at right, notes. “We have the label, which is a partnership with Interscope. We have a management company. We also have a publishing company. We are getting into TV and film. We really try to be a one-stop shop for all of our clients.”

“From my studies, the job of an A&R has evolved since the 80's and 90's,” Baiden says. “Back then, because it cost so much to make a record, A&R was absolutely essential in the recording of the music. Now you can make a song on your iPhone. The job has transformed. What I do is get in the mind of the artist to really understand who they are. I'm the bridge between what the artist is trying to say and how the fans consume it. I try to help the artists realize all their goals and connect them to the right creatives, who can make their stories a little bit more interesting.”

There’s no more compelling development story than that of Summer Walker (seen at left). Even her discovery was startlingly unique: a LVRN studio manager whose name is Summer Walker, googled herself one day, and found several music links from a namesake. After getting acquainted, studio Summer Walker brought artist Summer Walker to LVRN, who signed her.

“That in itself is the craziest starting-out story ever,” Balogun admits. “Executives in the industry have to be more in tune to learn from artists and their teams and embrace trial and error. The Summer Walker development was not a perfect thing at all. We had to unlearn everything we ever thought about what a female R&B act should look like. Summer had tattoos on her face. She looks like a new person every day. At first it was confusing, and we were like, ‘Yo what are we supposed to do here?’”

The LVRN playbook became more about listening to what their artists want and then developing something with a wider lens informed by who that artist actually is—not trying to bend them to an existing marketplace or trend.

“I draw a parallel to sports,” says Baiden. “If I'm the head coach and I have a new student who’s a brilliant shooter, I'm going to make sure that we equip him to play to his strengths. Go to the corner and shoot your jump shot. Now what we're gonna do is, set you up so you're going to catch the ball every single time in the corner and you can nail that shot. What we do best is allow the artists to realize their strengths because we know our strengths. So once that trust is mutual, it's water.”

Right now, the momentum of that mindset is certainly flowing like water, along with the avalanche of streams for music LVRN is putting out—Summer Walker is rapidly approaching 100m for Over It, and she’s widely tipped for multiple Grammy nominations. Next up will be new music from 6LACK, and the 2020 debut of their newest signing, Santi.

“The reason Atlanta is able to keep producing, time and time again, is because we support each other,” says Baiden. “That's really the secret sauce, honestly.”

“I was getting sick of people saying ‘Yo, back in the old days…’” adds Balogun. “I'm 31. I don't know no old days. Being from Atlanta and growing up in the center of black music and black culture and seeing how people really do welcome it, the biggest thing for me is that it’s the music people want, and it's accessible now.”

 Above: At Coachella, Interscope chief John Janick and Vice Chairman Steve Berman are joined by Phyve Walker, Balogun and Baiden, TV giant Kenya Barris and LVRN's McNichol, Ramong and Abaidoo.

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