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SAL: XO-LENCE
AND EXECUTION

Interview by Michael Dominguez

Over the last decade, Wassim “Sal” Slaiby has ascended to a status few managers achieve: mogul. As founder and CEO of the multifaceted management firm SAL&CO, he also has a partnership with Michael Rapino/Live Nation. He is additionally the CEO of XO, the Republic imprint that scored five weeks at #1 in 2020, and manager of The Weeknd.

Under the SAL&CO umbrella, the proud immigrant oversees an enterprise stocked with next-gen artists and executive talent. From breakthrough acts like Doja Cat, NAV and Bryson Tiller to hitmaking producers like Metro Boomin and London on da Track, Sal has capitalized shrewdly on the opportunities that knocked as a result of his work with The Weeknd and XO, flexing his entrepreneurial savvy with noteworthy investments and partnerships.

As we head into the Grammy season of a year that has seen its share of milestones for the Weekend, XO and SAL&CO despite tremendous, COVID-driven odds, Sal was kind enough to answer a few questions from HITS.

XO has led by example when it comes to taking action this year—supporting COVID relief, advancing social justice and addressing the crisis in Beirut. Why is this important for you?
XO is a family, not just a business, and my partners Abel, La Mar [Taylor] and [Amir] Cash [Esmailian] strongly share the same vision. Giving back is a privilege for all of us. That’s been the case since we got into the game about 20 years ago. My wife, Rima, and I are from Lebanon so when the explosion happened there, we couldn’t just sit and watch. Most of my clients and team are immigrants; we’re a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, which is one of XO’s core strengths.

It’s been another banner year for The Weeknd, but it’s also been a breakthrough year for Doja Cat and Ali Gatie and a big year for Brandy. How do you manage to keep all the plates spinning?
I have the same enthusiasm I felt at the beginning of my career, and I’m hungrier than ever, but now I have the experience to guide me through it all.

So much has happened with The Weeknd—it really was Abel’s year. He broke so many records in the U.S. and globally with After Hours (XO/Republic). “Blinding Lights” came out in November 2019; a year later and the single is still Top 5. 

And I was so proud to see Brandy break records on Verzuz, with over 1.2 million live viewers, and Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris showing support. Not to mention seeing Ali Gatie getting over two billion streams with “It’s You.”

I’m blessed to be working with a roster at this level, building and protecting it every day. Being CEO is a big responsibility I’m very passionate about. I come from a background of building your own label and team. I started my music career at the age of 22, building the first hip-hop label in Canada with my brother [Ahmad] Belly [Balshe]. We were Top 5 in marketshare at Top 40 in less than five years.

I pride myself on being able to identify hits that help elevate artists to the next level. I just go with my gut feeling. I felt it when I met Doja Cat and her team. Only a year in, we were able to have a #1 single with “Say So” and consecutive global platinum singles.

You’ve expanded SAL&CO significantly over the last couple of years. Was that always part of your vision?
It was my plan to expand the company but to do it organically, which has allowed us to create opportunities for other young entrepreneurs, like the ventures I have with Amir [YCFU], who had two #1 albums with NAV, and Neil Dominique [#JUSTAREGULARDAY], who’s having massive success with Bryson Tiller and Pardison Fontaine. And of course I love working with the managers on my team: Gordan Dillard [Doja Cat], Ryan Ramsey [Brandy], Manny Dion [TY Dolla $ign], Dina Sahim [French Montana, Bebe Rexha] and Camille Delaney [Ali Gatie, M.I.A.].

Who have your own mentors been?
I never really had a mentor. I’ve always been on the other side of that, the person someone calls for advice. I think that’s one of the things that toughened me up and made me good under pressure. I can say, however, that I’m following in my father’s footsteps. He’s my role model. He started from nothing and became a very successful businessman before the age of 40. I lost him when I was 10, but the story of his struggles and how he overcame them has always inspired me. 

The Weeknd has scaled the heights of superstardom, yet he’s been mostly left out of the major Grammy categories. What would a Record, Song or AOTY win mean for XO?
We’re just focused on working hard and dominating the market, which we’ll keep doing regardless of whatever acknowledgment may come. We just want to continue impacting the culture.

 

 Sal photo: Koury Angelo

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