For two years, SZA and her fans publicly chided Top Dawg for not releasing her debut. Still, while the label was working behind-the-scenes with the St. Louis-born, New Jersey-raised artist to craft what would become the acclaimed Ctrl, they were also building up her buzz and creating a bidding war among several major labels.
The result of that bidding war was a joint deal between Top Dawg Entertainment and RCA Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment. According to veteran record executive Jimmy Iovine, the label played it perfectly.
"Five years ago, she gets 15 percent, 12 percent," Iovine explained in an interview with Pharrell Williams and Scott Vener on OTHERtone on Beats 1. "[Now], they own everything and got a 70/30 split the other way. Cause they were able to build a buzz in technology on their own."
What. A. Deal.
According to a source at TDE, Iovine's account of the specifics of SZA's record deal are, in fact, accurate—though, he wasn't supposed to say anything publicly.
For years, record companies have grabbed artists by the balls, forcing them into signing 360 deals favorable for the record label but didn't provide much long-term gain for the artist. As Iovine notes throughout his conversation with Williams and Vener, though, times have changed. "You have all of these artists that are creating buzz, getting action on their music, and then what happens is all the labels bid," Iovine added.
Although no details were provided, Iovine also noted Toronto R&B singer Jessie Reyez, who inked a deal with Republic sister label Island Records, who signed a favorable contract because of the leverage she was able to bring to the negotiating table as a result of building up her following online. Similarly, Russ signed a 50/50 profit split deal with Columbia in 2016, after showing the label the type of numbers he could generate independently.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Jessie Reyez is signed to RCA Records.