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THE HUMAN TOUCH:
J. ERVING TAKES IT TO THE HOOP

J. Erving is going into year three of Human Re Sources, the distribution and label hub that, he duly points out, is a Black-owned, artist-friendly, full-service company. Erving’s shop has found success with what he describes as an instinctual, focused methodology that enables the discovery and cultivation of talent while maintaining its boutique status.

The self-financed HRS racked up 1 billion streams in year one behind artists such as YBN Nahmir, Brent Faiyaz and Pink Sweat$. Erving and HRS have upstreamed 12 of their artists to imprints within every major label.

How does a company with a handful of employees compete with massive distribution platforms and major labels? “The other guys are about throwing as much as they can against the wall and seeing what sticks,” Erving says. “My brain doesn’t operate that way. My heart doesn’t operate that way.”

While acts generating even modest buzz can often expect fat label offers and wide-net distribution services right out of the gate in the present marketplace, Erving says he emphasizes a hands-on, nurturing approach. “When I’m putting out a record, I need to have my fingerprints on everything that’s involved with it,” he insists. “Being in the trenches with the artist has always been my role. Building with the artist—that’s the fun part.”

With Erving doing his deep dives with acts, longtime partner Troy Carter became the face for their associated endeavors. Erving compares Carter’s “hiatus” (when he left their management company Atom Factory to join Spotify) to Michael Jordan’s departure from the Bulls to play baseball in the middle of his prime. “I feel like Scottie Pippen sometimes,” Erving (who knows a thing or two about superstar ballers) admits. When Jordan left, you’ll recall, Pippen carried the Bulls and put up MVP-caliber numbers. Erving created HRS when the Atom Factory partnership ended—but now the two have joined forces once again, updating their 20+ year collaboration by merging Carter’s Q&A with HRS. “When MJ came back to the Bulls, they won a few more championships, that’s the goal with Troy coming out of Spotify and us merging.”

Human Re Sources will begin what Erving refers to as “2.0” behind new artists like Jensen McRae, Bren Joy, JAHMED, ICECOLDBISHOP and Brandon. Their next crop of acts hope to follow in the footsteps of HRS’ successes from their freshman class, including Pink Sweat$, whose breakthrough single “Honesty,” released through HRS, was just certified platinum.

Being an A&R source and feeder to major labels has its benefits, but Erving is now focused on working with acts beyond development and making some bigger moves. “Our goal is figuring out how to participate long-term,” he says. Part of the long-term competitiveness includes an investment into artists that’s more than a check. When artists partner with Erving and HRS, he argues, they get “a guy who’s going to be in the studio; who’s going to be at the first show in front of 15 people; who’s going to take calls at 3:00 in the morning. That’s the world I come from.”

And he has his eyes on goals well beyond short-term chart action. “Moving culture,” he says, “is a lot more than being added to the New Music Friday playlist.” The culture-moving team assembled by Erving wears multiple hats and drives in lanes well beyond their title. Before Brent Faiyaz cemented himself as an indie R&B breakthrough, HRS facilitated a TikTok campaign leading to over 420k UGC videos that drove 15m additional streams in the record’s first month. (Erving cites the support of believers like Faiyaz manager Ty Baisden as critical to the company’s early success.)

Before the launch of Human Re Sources, a certain music mogul asked Erving why he was pursuing an “unoriginal idea” like distribution instead of trying to manage a superstar act. “It was something I had to see through; I wouldn’t want him to have that conversation with anyone else or discourage others from building on something they were passionate about,” Erving explains. “I want younger black executives to know what’s possible if you’re passionate about something and put the work in.”

With HRS, Erving now not only has equity in a platform, but his partners have equity and ownership of their own music. Going against that mogul’s advice and following his gut, Erving says, “was a pivotal moment for me.”

 

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