How Julius 'J' Erving Is Empowering Hip-Hop Artists With New Digital Distribution Company

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Hip-hop artists are becoming savvier. The days of naive rappers trading the rights to their music, and future income, for fame, and a mediocre advance are slowly dissipating.

Enter Human-Re-Sources, a “competitive digital distribution company for artists who want to take back control of their music,” created by veteran artist manager, Julius “J” Erving. Prior to creating his company, Erving handled artist management duties at Atom Factory, overseeing acts such as John Legend, Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth before moving to Maverick Management.

Human-Re-Sources’ roster boasts budding acts such as Brent Fayaiz and YBN Nahmir. Additionally, the company supports the music career of NBA point guard Damian Lillard, a.k.a. Dame D.O.L.L.A., who holds collaborations with Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz.

Ogden Payne: How did Human-Re-sources come about?

J. Erving: I’ve been in management for almost 20 years. As a manager who has been in it as long as I have, and been blessed enough to work with high-level talent and executives over the years, I’ve watched the industry change a lot. The exciting thing about where things sit now is that it’s ever-changing, which is kind of the reason I got into music and management to begin with. For a large part of my career, I was partners with a guy named Troy Carter, who’s over at Spotify. Understanding how aggressively these digital streaming platforms are moving, I felt like creating an alternative for music distribution for artists made sense. I have a sports background and I’ve watched what’s going on in the NBA with the collective bargaining agreement, and I feel like we have an opportunity to do something similar in music, where we give the artist the control back.

Payne: What does a traditional deal and profit split look like between your company and the artist?

Erving: It’s an 80/20 split where the artist owns their masters. We don’t participate in 360 rights. It’s a very clean deal. We’re looking at doing one-offs on projects, so it’s not like we’re tying artists up for five to six albums. Our hope and our goal is that the artist feels good about working with us, we’re having success, and we continue to move on to the next projects they’re putting out. It’s really simple and clean.

Payne: When you look around at competition, such as EMPIRE Distribution, Kobalt or even TuneCore, what separates your company from theirs?

Erving: I think our relationships with the DSPs (digital service providers) is special. I think that in understanding what it is that their goals and agendas are, and being aligned with wanting to give artists some control back, that puts us in a really cool spot. Beyond that, my background is in management and it gives any of the projects that we work some label services by default. We’re still sitting with Maverick Management and still have access to what tours are going out and what branding opportunities are there and just having the ability to sit in this information superhighway. I think it really allows for us to help create those opportunities and introduce those opportunities to the artists that we’re working with, or the managers and their teams to really help facilitate all of the growth that these artists need to really break.

Payne: It seems as though more artists are opting for distribution deals rather than major label contracts. Do you see the model Human-Re-Sources implementing disrupting the major label system?

Erving: I don’t think our goal is to be disruptive to the major label system. Our goal is to support independent artists and established artists who are looking to move more independently. In the most humbly observant way, I watch how my kids consume music. My kids don’t get in the car and turn on the radio station. They’re listening to Spotify, they’re listening to Apple Music, they’re listening to Soundcloud and YouTube. There was a time when I was coming up that the big goal was to get a record deal. Now, these kids are like, "How do I get on [Spotify’s playlist] Rap Caviar?" I’m just watching the industry change and not trying to sit on the sidelines until all of these changes happen, I want to be a part of giving these artists another option. I think that’s the goal for us.

Payne: Sometimes it appears as though artists don’t fully understand what it takes to be successful in the music business. Is this true? Is there something that artists need to know and understand before investing into their career?

Erving: I think they’re understanding a lot more than we did coming up. A lot more of them are looking at creating ownership and taking responsibility for their careers, creating music without waiting for an A&R or a recording budget. The artists these days are very proactive in that way. There’s certainly a lot we can learn from these new artists and how they’re moving.

Payne: What made you want to work with Damian Lillard as an artist? What is the plan to mold his artistry into a career people can take seriously?

Erving: He’s dope. I don’t think Dame is just a dope MC for an NBA player, I just think he’s a dope MC, clearly by some of the co-signs via Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz and other people who have collaborated with him - these are not guys who just collaborate with anybody. He put together a really solid body of work. The unfortunate part for us on the music side is that in terms of supporting, going on tour, making television appearances, and a lot of the stuff we need artists to do is tough because his day job happens to be being one of the best players in the NBA.

Payne: Moving forward, how are you going to define the growth and success for your company?

Erving: That’s a good question. We’re already starting to surpass some of our early goals. The amount of progress that we’re looking at currently has far surpassed what I thought we’d be looking at. Our heads are down, we’re hyper-focused on building. There are new layers being added to this damn near daily. The goal is to keep our head down, keep doing the work, keep building, keep finding great stuff and just keep going.