Mark Pitts, who became RCA President early in 2021, has been part of the label’s fabric for a decade, heading Urban Music for the company and shepherding an array of hot acts on his own ByStorm JV imprint, where he retains the title of CEO. The Brooklyn native was an aspiring artist (as part of the rap group Three Left) when he sat down with fellow Howard alumnus Sean Combs—then head of A&R at Uptown—and had a career epiphany, opting to pursue the biz rather than the spotlight. Pitts subsequently worked with artists like The Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans, TLC, Usher, Chris Brown, Nas, J. Cole and Miguel in his capacities as artist manager, producer and label exec (in the latter role he served at Rising Tide, Arista and Jive prior to joining the House of Nipper).

As for how he got his start in the business, “At first I was an intern, an assistant,” Pitts recalls. “Puff and I lived together in Scarsdale while I was trying to find my lane. Around that time, he met Big. I was the only one in the crew from Brooklyn, so I wound up running around with Big and working my way into doing the day-to-day stuff for what was at the time Bad Boy Management. We were always together, Biggie and me. When Puff got fired from Uptown and got the new deal with Arista, he put Big on Bad Boy Records; Big was with Bad Boy Management but was previously signed to Uptown. That’s when Big said to me, “You know, you’re doing all this yourself. I’m with you—why don’t you take a shot?” And I was, like, “Ooh, OK, hell yeah!” That was the beginning of Mark Pitts Management, which led to ByStorm.”

Timing is everything, and Pitts launched his management company just as Biggie was working on an album that arguably changed hip-hop, putting him in the middle of a pivotal moment in musical history.

“It’s so crazy,” he acknowledges. “Big was only alive as an artist for three years. In the midst of that, Puff had his vision. Every day, you’re figuring it out. Everything happening was like, ‘For real? What? THAT happened?’ I really wish I could say I knew what was going on, but we were just in it; I didn’t understand how important it was until afterwards, after he was gone, and we saw the effect he had. We had no idea—I didn’t realize any of that until his funeral. When I was in the limo and we came off that bridge… We had just left the funeral and were going to drive down and make a pass by the block where he lived. The sea of people lined up, that shit right there, was an emotional moment for me; that’s when I was like, ‘Holy shit,’ when I realized, ‘This is what you was in.’”

Pitts has experienced meteoric success, unthinkable tragedy and enormous challenges, but his outlook remains grounded in gratitude, generosity and possibility. Beyond his considerable acumen and professional experience, Pitts has been instrumental to company culture, serving as mentor to countless younger execs.

“My dad told me a long time ago, when I first started getting into the game and trying to make it, that the best way I can help others is to help myself. The way the Internet is, these artists can go from zero to 100 in a few months; they become millionaires, or a new manager is born because they’re the homeboy. The problem is, they skip a lot of lessons. And the more I saw that, the more it made me realize it’s my duty to give back because there’s no one mentoring. I put the onus on us, though, not the artist—we’re not doing the best job on this side.

“My thing is, I want to A&R the A&Rs; I want to A&R the next execs. I use the management skills I started with to maneuver that. The more you educate the young artists and execs, the better partners you create. We need to do a better job with the artists.

“A new artist or manager should never come into a room and not understand who they’re sitting with. Know where the money is coming from, ask the questions, break it all down. I make them think about it.

“Even with that, though, you must have honor and be a good business partner. Say what you mean; mean what you say. This is my biggest thing: Have a code. You can move, get your hustle on, but you don’t need to be hustling. There’s a difference. There’s nothing wrong with getting your money, but do it with integrity. I’m still in the system because I have integrity. This is why it’s a blessing to be in this position right now—the young kids know there’s someone in the seat that’s from it, that comes from the struggles, the ups and downs, being in the hood. Your past “doesn’t define you, but it prepares you. I’ve seen so much. So I am trying to mentor and educate. That is for real.

“That’s one of the biggest things I’ve realized: I’ve been in the system a long time and I worked my way up; I’ve done a lot of things, from management to publishing, and I’ve always been stand-up with the business. And that’s important because it could have gone another way—I did everything in the hood coming up, trying to find my way. The point is, like you said, if I can do it, you can do it.

“It’s almost like what Steph Curry did for kids. He wasn’t born with it; he worked on his craft. And it made basketball more inspiring and more attainable to young kids who don’t have the natural gifts of what you think a basketball player is supposed to be.”

Speaking of team sports, Pitts considers his A&R squad “Absolutely the best in the game. And I give most of that to Peter Edge. Now that we’re getting more into the rap space, which is my agenda, we need to do our thing with these streams and pick up marketshare. We’ve brought in some amazing additions to accomplish that, and it’s starting to show.”

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