To mark this year’s celebration, Billboard’s Chapter & Verse column will be posting a series of editorials covering various aspects of the music industry. David Linton, former senior VP at Capitol Records following VP stints at Island and Arista, kicks off the series from his vantage point as chairman of the non-profit Living Legends Foundation. ( Launched 27 years ago, LLF honors trailblazing executives of color in radio and music. Linton weighs in on the challenging history and future of black music executives amid a new era of pride—and change. 

The question recently raised by Billboard in “Why Hasn’t the Hip-Hop Boom Pushed More Black Executives to the Top?” (April 13) is one that’s been asked dozens of times during the past decade. In fact, the real question should be: “Why were black music executives the sacrificial lambs during the music industry’s difficult years?” Black music (rap, R&B, gospel, jazz, reggae) always maintained its prominence in the marketplace.

However, the internal mechanisms at labels changed to ensure white executive dominance and growth by putting more emphasis on “rhythm crossover” or “rhythmic” radio (rap music marketed to white/Latino audiences) via New York’s WQHT Hot 97, Los Angeles’ KPWR Power 106 and their major city clones that made rap/hip-hop their core music. That gave rise to non-black executives who were then given the nod as experts in the hip-hop arena since they marketed music to those stations. Meanwhile, in order for those songs to reach those formats originally, they had to prove themselves by becoming hits on urban radio which was worked predominately by black executives.

While music is the universal language and colorblind, as are the audiences that listen, music marketers inside the labels unfortunately aren’t. Someone listening to Power 106 doesn’t know or care what department markets the music or the categories assigned to the stations. Only those inside music companies care. I recall internal battles about securing budgets to promote black artists to black radio while the seemingly unlimited budgets to promote the same artists to rhythm crossover was just the cost of doing business. Read more from Starlight PR.


Thanks to the author Gail Mitchell.