At the first 'Billboard' R&B Hip-Hop summit, Gucci Mane performed, Polo G, Flo Milli, Usher and Moneybagg Yo held panels and BLXST won the Rising Star Award.
We weren't just about to put out our R&B Hip-Hop Power Players issue and be done with the topic. Because we take all things groovy very seriously here at Billboard, it was only a matter of time before we launched a huge summit filled with conversations between today's coolest musicians and producers to celebrate the genres of rap, soul, jazz, funk and, of course, R&B and Hip-Hop.
At the first ever Billboard R&B Hip-Hop Summit, presented by Amazon Music’s Rotation on Aug. 17, we were not only treated to an awesome Gucci Mane and Pooh Shiesty performance, but we also got to pick the brains of everyone from Polo G to Flo Milli to Usher to Moneybagg Yo and more. Oh, and a super-deserving budding artist took home the very first R&B Hip-Hop Rising Star Award.
Keep reading for a quick summary of everything that went down at Billboard's first ever R&B Hip-Hop summit, or watch the panels for yourself here.
Gucci Mane and Pooh Shiesty Performed
Wearing a snazzy green suit, Gucci Mane kicked off the summit with a super classy performance of "Like 34 & 8," joined by Poosh Shiesty and backlit by flashing circles of light. This year's grandest gathering of hip-hop's best and brightest individuals was rung in by a musical exhibition that was both energetic and low-key -- perfectly matching the vibes of the interviews and panels that followed.
Polo G Sat Down With Billboard Writer Heran Mamo
Polo G joined in for a one-on-one with hip-hop writer Heran Mamo, discussing everything from what it takes to be a "GOAT" -- resilience, bravery, uniqueness and greatness, according to the Chicago rapper -- and working with Nicki Minaj on their song "For the Love of New York." "It was just like a big testament on how far I came in my career," he said of the collaboration.
After a short discussion on the importance of drill music, Polo G touched on the release and consequential success of his chart hit "Rapstar," then shared that he's working on the deluxe version of his Billboard 200-topping album Hall of Fame. When asked if he'd be adding more collaborations for the extended album, "I've never even been a type of artist to be collab-heavy.” But he also allowed, "This time around, for my deluxe I'll probably have an artist or two.""
To finish out the candid interview, he and Mamo bonded over their "Jordan Year," a.k.a. turning 23 years old. Polo G's will begin next year, and he said his goals are to work on his artistry -- and make "a lot of money."
Female Rappers Weighed in for "The Rappers Playbook"
This summit wouldn't be right without acknowledging the super exciting, ever-growing market for female artists in rap. Heran Mamo led a conversation with four of the genre's leading ladies -- Flo Milli, Kash Doll, Rubi Rose and Snow Tha Product -- on how they got their start, working in a male-dominated sphere, the importance of women supporting women, colorism and more.
Three Top Music Managers Talked "Management 101"
Shifting away for a bit from artists and focusing in on the business side of music industry, writer Neena Rouhani held a virtual roundtable between pros Arnold Taylor, Gordan Dillard and Tunde Balogun talking about the triumphs and tribulations of being a modern-day music manager.
The men in the room are managing names like Doja Cat and Summer Walker. What does that entail? "Patience," according to Taylor. "Sometimes you get a crazy artist as a new artist, but when they become superstars... you have to understand life, it ain't even about music at that point. I've gotta teach you the walks of life, not just how to put great music out." Dillard agreed, saying a big part of the job is "raising humans" by keeping artists rounded.
Juggling all the hats of being an artist's manager is incredibly difficult, so Rouhani asked how the guys keep from being overwhelmed. "It's about setting boundaries, man," said Balogun. "I'll go to therapy, I'll book a vacation -- of course, managers' vacations ain't regular vacations, you're still on call!"
BLXST Won Big
Presented by Amazon Music’s Rotation, Billboard's first ever R&B Hip-Hop Rising Star Award was given to BLXST. As an artist totally unique for his sound and chart success, Billboard recognized him as a musician capable of growing into a global icon. And this week on Thursday, August 26th at 5:00 p.m. ET, Billboard and Rotation will present the full Rising Star Award Presentation with Blxst. Streaming live on Amazon Music’s Twitch Channel, the event will feature an interview and performance by Blxst, in addition to a live fan Q&A.
The artist, whose album Sixtape 2 dropped last month, took a minute to thank his family, label and musical influences throughout the years. "O.G.s in the game I grew up listening to -- you know, the Pharrells, the Kanye Wests, Ryan Leslie -- the beats and lyrics y'all created just shared that motivation for me," he said. "It just convinced me to take that leap of faith, just to follow my dreams."
Usher, Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox Broke Down the Making of 8701
Twenty years ago, Usher's 8701 was released, bringing with it three smash hit singles and going Platinum four times. Billboard's executive director of R&B Hip-Hop Gail Mitchell talked with the legendary R&B musician/cover star of the latest magazine issue and his producers Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox about everything that went into making the album that changed their careers.
The three reminisced on how they met and the beginnings of the creation process, which involved figuring out how to infuse Atlanta's sound into the record. As they were writing, they said they incorporated events happening in real time in Usher's life in the lyrics, which is why the album turned out to be so soulful.
When the three really got going, the music was becoming so good that Usher literally couldn't keep his clothes on. "When he came back to the studio and he heard the song, it hit him so well that he got nekkid when he recorded the vocals!" Dupri recalled.
The "New Guard" of R&B Chatted About the Genre’s Next Wave
Naima Cochrane led a conversation between the "new guard" of R&B -- artists Victoria Monet, Tone Stith and Joyce Wrice. The group discussed what it truly means to be "R&B," the future of the genre, and why some newer artists might want to break away from/expand beyond that label.
"I feel like the more time goes on, the harder it gets to write a song that hasn't been written already," Monet said. "This generation has been posed with a challenge to come up with more creative ways to say the same things we were feeling in the '60s, '70s, '80s."
They also talked the difficulties of songwriting these days, with Stith saying "I don't think songwriting is a lost art at all. If you push the ball further and you just keep trying to be creative, it's going to stand out and it's going to have it's time."
The "new guard" trio didn't go through the video without diving into the "old guard," each naming their biggest old school R&B influences. For Monet and Wrice, it's Brandy and Aaliyah, meanwhile Stith loves Bob Marley and Lauryn Hill.
"Memphis MVPs" Ja Morant and Moneybagg Yo Talk Music and Sports
Carl Lamarre facilitated a conversation with two Memphis, Tennessee superstars: Grizzlies star point guard Ja Morant and chart-topping rapper Moneybagg Yo. In spite of coming from two entirely different career paths, the pair of friends had a collaboration of sorts with the rapper -- whose album A Gangsta's Pain spent two weeks atop the Billboard 200 -- creating a track called "Rookie of the Year" for Morant's docu-series Promise Land.
The two talked about how the song came together in the studio, the city they now both represent, their shared work ethic and friendship. "He take pride in the game like I take pride in music," Moneybagg said about Morant. And when Lamarre asked for their advice for kids growing up in Memphis looking to them as role models, Morant responded, "If you don't believe in yourself, then who will? It always starts with you."