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NEAR TRUTHS: THE
STARTING BALOGUN

The anointing of Tunji Balogun as new Def Jam CEO—after an exhaustive search for an exec who’d be just the right fit—is being greeted with cheers across the biz, with the loudest praise coming from the generation of players now finding and cultivating the Black music that truly drives the marketplace.

Balogun, an A&R ace, made his bones at Interscope before a successful run at RCA beginning in 2015; his two biggest signings there, Bryson Tiller and Khalid, racked up impressive sales and streams.

Balogun is the second in this generation of young Black strivers to reach the top post at a major; Motown boss Ethiopia Habtemariam led the pack, earning her CEO stripes early in 2021.

The unilateral expectation among insiders is that Balogun will bring not only expertise in key genres but also culture to the label, and that the autonomy he will likely have there will prove transformative.

Many more industry leaders will emerge from the aforementioned class. This is not because corporations are being pressured to improve “representation” but because these players have come to maturity with an innate understanding of both the new ecosystem and the culture that shapes it.

Jeff Harleston, who has multitasked as Def Jam’s interim boss while also performing his corporate duties as a key member of the UMG inner circle, will remain acting chief until Balogun assumes the post at the beginning of next year.

Having come aboard when Paul Rosenberg left in February of 2020, Harleston made some strong moves—including bringing in Snoop Dogg as Executive Creative and Strategic Consultant and upping Nicki Farag to GM—that should prove helpful to the new boss as he reimagines the place.

 

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