Originally published February 28, 2017
If Daniel Caesar is honest with himself, his natural skill set lies in his artistic ability more so than his business savvy. Still, the 21-year-old singer-songwriter claims to have aspirations to be like Jay Z.
Born in Toronto, Canada, Caesar is slowly adapting to life outside of his hometown. He’s played a handful of shows in the U.S., particularly in Los Angeles where he sold out the 700-capacity Echoplex at an average ticket price of $14.
His breakout single “Get You” amassed over 10 million streams on Apple Music since its October 2016 release; he’s nestled in with The Weeknd, Childish Gambino and Chris Brown on the platform’s charts. According to his management, the singer's catalog has garnered over 20 million global streams on Apple Music and 12 million streams on Spotify, with a listenership of over 740,000 per month.
He’s struck a nerve with his audience artistically. He may have to trade in his lyric sheet for a spreadsheet soon.
Ogden Payne: You’ve been releasing music since 2015, so to some, you’ve had a relatively rapid rise. What do you attribute your growth to?
Daniel Caesar: Honestly man, it’s just the music. I still ask myself the same question. Sometimes I hear songs on Soundcloud that I think are really dope, but they aren’t doing as well as my stuff is doing. I think it comes down to honesty. [My music] is more of an artistic thing as opposed to a business thing. I think the art form [of music] today is in an interesting space. A lot of artists are aspiring to fill an archetype as opposed to being themselves. Even if they can’t quite put their finger on it, fans can tell.
Payne: Are there times where you have to put the business first and the music second?
Caesar: [The business side] doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s kind of exciting. I trust my team with my life. It’s not one of those situations where if I don’t know what’s going on, then there’s the possibility that I could be exploited. I know I’m taken care of. At the same time, I want to get better at it. Real power is being able to take care of yourself. My job is to make art, but I aspire to do more than that.
It’s not just a money thing [with us], it’s a cultural thing. We’re trying to build something that goes past money. Nobody is making decisions based on temporary needs. We’re all on the same page, and we all know what we’re trying to get. We know everybody’s going to eat at the end of the day. A lot of artist managers have to get what they can while they can, which shows they don’t believe 100% in what’s happening. We just all have an understanding of what we’re trying to do.
Payne: Independent hip-hop artists have the advantage of following a fellow or preceding artists’ blueprint to success. R&B singers don’t necessarily have that luxury. Who do you model your business after?
Caesar: Chance [The Rapper]. The music industry is changing and we’re in no man's land right now. It’s still hard to say that I want to follow this method or that method because realistically, things will be very different in a few years. So, [my team and I] are trying to take a step back and analyze the trends and see where things are moving. We’re trying to see where the holes are, then expose them.
Payne: Would you say that your investment, financial or otherwise, has paid off?
Caesar: I’m transitioning from being a starving artist. My producers had success outside of the Daniel Caesar brand, so they invested money, time and resources. They funded the first video and a lot of other things that I’m so thankful for. I’m aware that I’m in a position that most artists aren’t in, so I’m just trying to be worthy of it. [Music] is our day job. We all give everything we have to this.
Payne: How do you define success?
Caesar: To me, it’s building something that I can give to my children. I want to have a catalog or a share in a company. I’m trying to take my family’s name from lower-middle-class to aristocracy. I have my sights set high. I feel successful now, but I still have a long way to go.