If you take a look at Elmont Memorial High School's Class of 2007 yearbook and flip to the 10 Years From Now part, you'll discover a photograph of Solomon Sobande and his ambitions. In his hand is a fistful of debit playing cards and roughly $60 in money, which appears underwhelming for somebody with goals of being a future rap mogul. Despite the New York native's modest checking account, his aim of turning into an indomitable pressure in music woke him up day by day of his senior yr of highschool.
"I at all times knew I needed to do that," Sobande, 29 tells Billboard, 11 years later. “There’s been nice heights and there’s been horrible lows. It’s an enormous blessing and that is only the start for me. I’ve lastly arrived."
Sobande's path to the music business was a shaky one. After touchdown a 1.6 GPA throughout his first semester on the University of Hartford in Connecticut, he buckled down that spring and bumped it as much as a Three.eight. Though he had ambitions of being a lawyer, Sobande re-shifted his focus onto music in order that he may fulfill his yearbook promise. After his spring semester in 2008, he left Hartford University to the dismay of his mom in hopes of capturing his elusive dream.
"My mother had this actually massive smile on her face when she was like, ‘What are you going to high school for?’ I used to be like, ‘Uh, legislation?’ And it was lit," he says. "But my thoughts wasn’t in it and my coronary heart wasn’t in it. Also, do I wish to be a lawyer? I don’t even wish to learn shit that a lot. It’s not enjoyable for me.”
With Sobande not a pupil in faculty, he requested a woman who he was courting on the time -- an Ivy Leaguer from Harvard -- to forge a letter stating that he attended the varsity in order that he'd have a shot at nailing internships with document labels.
"I coerced her to provide me a faux letter," remembers Sobande. "I don’t even wish to say she gave it to me, as a result of I made her do it. She gave me a faux letter saying that I went to Harvard and I used to be a pupil there and that Universal [Records] and all these labels ought to give me an internship."
The letter labored: Sobande landed internships at E1 Entertainment, Columbia Records and RCA Records. It was within the A&R division at RCA the place he developed a robust ardour for locating artists. This prompted Sobande to create his personal administration firm, Sounds Music Group, together with his first artist R&B singer Anthony Flammia.
"I referred to as all my buddies and I used to be like, 'Bro, please give me all the cash y’all bought,'" says Sobande, who was trying to construct a studio at his home in Elmont. "N----s checked out me so loopy. And they gave me all the cash that they had. I took that cash and I did some unlawful issues. Going broke, doing crimes. Getting new cash to go broke once more with. Just making an attempt to determine shit out as a result of I believed in [Anthony] and by some means, a way, I bought to be within the music business and achieve success."
Though he hustled up the cash to construct a studio in his home, Sobande grew antsy. He and Flammia had issue gaining any traction. With few choices, Sobande appeared to SoundCloud to search out newer artists to assist speed up Sounds Music Group. Thanks to a neighborhood good friend from his highschool, Critter, in November 2016, Sobande realized a few boisterous 18-year-old from Florida who was searching for an opportunity to make noise of his personal.
"Critter was a hustler. He was doing all kinds of no matter to get cash," Sobande says. "He was backwards and forwards from Florida. He was like, 'There’s these children in Florida and so they’re getting mad views. I do know you had a tough time with Flammia however you need to fuck with them. Maybe you could possibly assist them.'"
Critter was particularly taken with an emo-leaning MC named XXXTentacion, however Sobande initially disregarded his good friend's recommendation. "At the time, I might by no means even take into account managing anyone else," he says. "Eventually, I used to be like, ‘let me simply take heed to them.’ I hear [XXX's single] 'Look At Me!' and I’m like, 'This shit is fireplace.'"
Though the caustic document was racking up views on SoundCloud (It ultimately debuted at No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 2017), it was 'Tentacion's "I Don't Wanna Do This Anymore" that caught the ear of Sobande. "I used to be spending lots of time together with his music," he says. "I used to be watching his interviews. Just making an attempt to essentially get to know him earlier than I actually reached out to anyone on the aspect. I spent perhaps every week residing with all this shit after which I used to be like, 'Where is that this child?'"
In October 2016, the mercurial star was arrested on prices of aggravated battery of a pregnant lady, home battery by strangulation, false imprisonment and witness tampering, associated to incidents involving a then-girlfriend. A police report famous that XXX, born Jahseh Onfroy, allegedly “punched [her] to the place each eyes turned shut and [she] couldn't see.”
Despite X's "horrendous prices," Sobande researched attorneys who would be capable of exonerate his future consumer. With solely $5,000 to his title, Sobande's probabilities of liberating Onfroy appeared bleak, till he got here throughout Florida lawyer Robert Tractman. Sobande knew his odds of cajoling Tractman had been slim to none, contemplating his retainer was $20,000, and Onfroy was in a no-bail scenario. Unfazed by these hurdles, Sobande referred to as Tractman and defined the potential Onfroy needed to develop into music's latest celebrity. Though he was skeptical, Tractman agreed to work Onfroy's case, regardless of the obstacles forward. Billboard reached out to Tractman, who was unavailable for remark.
With Tractman on-board, Sobande labored on swaying one other lawyer to assist bolster his consumer's probabilities of seeing daylight. Sobande sought out Bob Celesin, an leisure lawyer who beforehand labored with Desiigner and Pusha T, to affix Onfroy's crew. Like Tractman, Celesin had his reservations about Onfroy, particularly when he first heard "Look at Me!"
"The document wasn't even blended, however I preferred the depth of it," Celesin tells Billboard. "It was a really male-oriented, alpha-male, testosterone-driven document. It reminded of Onyx again within the day. Solomon saved telling me, 'Oh, that is the only and it's blowing up.' He was so insistent. Then, he lastly beat me down."
With Tractman and Celesin in tow, Sobande lastly pulled collectively a sturdy crew of respected attorneys with the aim of exonerating Onfroy. Sobande maintained contact with 'Tentacion day by day via a sequence of jail calls, which had been linked via one in every of his buddies. He would meet with the rapper as soon as every week, whereas talking with him on the cellphone commonly on three-way calls with Celesin additionally on the road. With his eyes set on X, Sobande organized a flight to Florida to fulfill the troubled artist and promote him on being one in every of his shoppers.
"I advised him the reality and I stated I’ve finished lots of interning. I’ve been learning the sport for mad lengthy and I do know all these managers are coming after you and making an attempt to give you issues. But A., these n----s shouldn't be going that will help you get out of jail and B., I’ll do it for half. That’s how I bought him. He was like, ‘Fuck it, come via. We’ll do a brief deal memo.’”
After listening to that, Sobande drafted a one-page contract on the request of Onfroy and flew again to Florida to get his signature."I actually booked a roundtrip ticket and didn’t get a lodge or something. I used to be going to sleep within the airport. I went down there with a neck pillow and my one-page settlement. I went to the jail and waited for mad lengthy. I used to be like, 'Can you signal this settlement?' He was like, 'How am I going to signal this via the glass?'”
With solely $100 in his pocket, Sobande handed his final bit of cash to the jail guard so as to enable Onfroy to signal the contract. "I gave the $100 to the guard, he took the contract to X, X signed it and gave it to me. I appeared on the signature, and this shit stated, 'J.O.,' laughs Sobande. "I used to be so excited. I gave him a pound via the glass and left."
Not solely did Sobande get X to signal his administration deal, he and Celesin had been in a position to get the rapper to comply with a distribution cope with EMPIRE after fielding presents from a number of main labels, together with RCA and Atlantic. Because he was in jail, Onfroy's mom, Cleopatra Bernard -- who had his energy of lawyer -- signed the deal for him.
In March 2017, XXXTentacion was launched on probation. With Onfroy free, Sobande eyed his good friend, Ski Mask The Slump God, as an extra consumer. Before 'Tentacion was launched from jail, Sobande visited Ski Mask after discovering his music on SoundCloud. Following a jail go to with Onfroy, Sobande and Celesin discovered Ski Mask The Slump God hanging out at a "porno home" in Florida and defined to the burgeoning rapper the potential he noticed in him.
"I'm taking a look at Ski and I used to be like, 'You're a celebrity bro,'" says Sobande. "We’re saving a person’s life. [X] wants assist. He may very well be in an entire new place. We may do the identical factor for you."
In May 2017, 'Tentacion and Ski Mask joined forces for The Revenge Tour, which was organized by Onfroy and famend agent, Cara Lewis. The Florida twosome handled a myriad of violent points whereas on their multi-city jaunt, together with Onfroy punching a fan throughout a efficiency and him later being thrown right into a barricade.
"The tour was actually essentially the most tumultuous, craziest experiences of our lives," remembers Sobande. "Lots of loopy nights. Between women to issues of safety [and] lives being in danger. But the vitality of two,000-Three,000 folks each single night time, clinging onto his each single phrase, repeating each single phrase again, nearly being like drones to him the best way he would management the gang, was so wonderful to observe each single night time."
Following the tour, X launched his debut album, 17, underneath Bad Vibes Forever/EMPIRE Recordings in August 2017. The album reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200, had seven songs debut on the Hot 100 and garnered reward from music luminaries comparable to Kendrick Lamar & Erykah Badu. Despite its splashy influence, 17 was overshadowed by Onfroy's authorized woes.
In September 2017, Pitchfork revealed an affidavit from January of that yr by Onfroy's alleged sufferer, courting again to his October 2016 home violence arrest. Onfroy vehemently denied her allegations via numerous movies posted on social media, whereas Sobande selected to not touch upon his consumer’s prices. Onfroy’s authorized troubles continued when he was arrested for eight extra witness tampering prices in December 2017, stemming from his 2016 home violence case. He was launched on home arrest two weeks later.
With X shortly on the ascent, Sobande started entertaining the thought of operating his personal label after a number of conferences with Republic Records with reference to Ski Mask. While he was engaged on getting Ski Mask a touchdown spot, Republic’s CEO Monte Lipman, had different concepts in thoughts with the budding supervisor.
“I fucking cherished [Monte’s] vitality and every part about him,” says Sobande. “Bob [Celestin] got here with me to the assembly. Bob and Monte began off within the promotions division collectively. It appeared like household already. I used to be like, 'He bought me.'”
In April, Sobande launched a joint label cope with Republic Records for Sounds Music Group and signed his first artist, Flammia, restoring the partnership the 2 first began again in 2010. “At the time, proper when X and Ski Mask had been blowing up, I bought Flammia a deal at E1 simply because I felt like I wanted to do one thing for him,” remembers Sobande. “But it wasn’t the correct deal. I ended up giving them again their cash, and mainly simply shopping for him out of the deal. As quickly as I may, I signed him to Sounds Music Group.”
With Flammia signed, Sobande continued racking up wins for his resume. After aligning himself with EMPIRE on 17, Sobande shifted X to Capitol Records/Caroline, the place Onfroy’s new distribution deal was reportedly price $6 million. In March, XXXTentacion notched his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with ? transferring 131,000 album equal models.
“They needed to run that deal via Caroline as a result of it might be too loopy to run via Capitol,” says Sobande. "But Capitol paid for it and we had Capitol workers and Caroline workers and we labored collectively. Shout-out to [Caroline president] Jacqueline Saturn, as a result of I like Jacqueline and Elliot [Grainge]. Elliot fucking believed. Elliot was good sufficient to come back via and put an aggressive supply on the desk. He went via hell and fucking excessive water to verify every part was nice. He knew that even with all of the controversy, with all of the every part, he was in a position to see X’s stardom."
With ?, XXXTentacion additionally earned his highest charting single with “Sad!,” which debuted at No. 17 on the Hot 100 and later peaked at No. 7. Though Onfroy reached the apex of his profession together with his sophomore album topping the charts, in May, he returned to EMPIRE for a deal reportedly price $10 million due to his sturdy relationship with founder, Ghazi Shami.
“We went to Capitol and did the Capitol deal, which was enormous. I suppose the largest deal at the moment. We put out the Capitol album, that shit went nice. He realized that he constructed a sure rapport with Ghazi and he needed to return with Ghazi and end his breakfast. We went again with Ghazi,” says Sobande.
But earlier than Onfroy would launch his third album, he was shot and killed on June 18 exterior of a motor sports activities retailer in Deerfield Beach in Florida. He was 20. Videos of Onfroy laying slumped inside his Black BMW had been shared throughout social media. According to the county sheriff’s workplace, Onfroy was approached by two armed suspects who had been making an attempt to rob him. One of the suspects fired a gun, which struck Onfroy and later killed him.
Artists all through the hip-hop neighborhood mourned Onfroy’s passing, together with J. Cole and Kanye West. Fans confirmed their help and helped “Sad!” rocket to No. 1 on the Hot 100, every week after his taking pictures. Onfroy’s milestone made him the primary rapper since The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo’ Money, Mo Problems” in 1997 to prime the Hot 100 posthumously. Sobande and X’s mom -- who's in charge of his property -- launched movies for “Sad!” and most just lately, his prime 20 single “Moonlight.”
“It’s simply been about conserving his reminiscence alive and preserving it the correct approach. Getting the remainder of his concepts out, his music out, and his garments,” says Sobande, whose artist has been posthumously featured on Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V and Lil Peep’s “Falling Down.” According to Sobande, XXXTentacion has greater than “two albums price” of music and might be releasing his new challenge underneath EMPIRE "very quickly."
As for his label Sounds Music Group, Sobande nabbed two extra artists. First, he signed Bronx lyricist Kemba, who gained underground approval for his 2016 launch Negus. Then, he acquired 21-year-old Bandopop, whose music "Jammed Up" at the moment sits at over 250,000 views on YouTube.
Though the ache of Onfroy continues to linger, Sobande is conscious of the trail he should journey so as to assist his artists attain increased heights.
“I’m positively wealthy already,” says Sobande. “That’s out the door now. Now, what’s subsequent? Since monetary shit shouldn't be a factor, what actually issues? What actually issues is being nice. What actually issues is having a dope legacy. What actually issues is saving lives. That’s what’s essential to me and that’s what I wish to challenge with my label. I’m not signing no bullshit. Anything I signal is actually going to talk volumes and speak to the tradition and be one thing."