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Def Jam Exec VP Steven Victor on the Future of A&R: ‘We Need to Be Young and Nimble’

The executive also shares news on Alessia Cara's second album.

Steven Victor
Colin Young Wolff

Def Jam executive vice president and head of A&R Steven Victor is fortifying his department with new hires and a key promotion. Noah Preston, who signed Logic in 2012, has been upped from VP to senior VP of A&R, the label announced today. Also arriving at the company as VP is Alexander “AE” Edwards, a frequent collaborator of Tyga’s and the rapper’s Last Kings Records, whose first signing is 18 year-old YK Osiris, newly known for the track “Valentines” which has gone viral in a month’s time. In addition, Victor has brought in 25-year-old producer Ronny J (XXXtentacion, Lil Pump, and Smokepurpp) and his his Listen Up Forever Records for an exclusive joint venture deal.

“We need to be young and nimble,” says the New York-based Victor, who oversees a staff of 20. “We need gut-based A&R where we’re signing an artist not a product. I don’t want to hear the [research] numbers. I want to see someone who can have a career and impact culture. I want to build an artist not a collection of songs.”

Certainly the 34-year-old revered label that’s home to Kanye West, Rihanna and Justin Bieber — and in its nascent years, Run-DMC and LL Cool J — has seen its share of all of the above, but maintaining not only a legacy but continued relevance is a tall order for any executive, never mind success in both hip-hop and pop.

Victor, who arrived from a cross-label post at parent company Universal Music Group after running GOOD Music, the collective launched by Kanye West and featuring releases by rappers including Desiigner and Pusha T, says he “welcomes the pressure.” And with guidance from new chairman and CEO Paul Rosenberg, who took the reins in January, the two share a vision for Def Jam’s future. Says Victor: “Look at Kanye, Eminem… I like polarizing artists. I have to be awed.”

Rosenberg, Eminem’s longtime manager, has instituted certain rules for Def Jam, Victor shares. “That an artist should be authentic, unique, have edge and a strong sense of identity — and I agree 100%,” says the executive, adding that today’s hip-hop, the most popular genre on streaming platforms, “is accessible to all.”

As for the label’s pop acts, Victor reveals that a new Alessia Cara album is pretty much in the can and eyeing a fall street date. Coming off a Grammy win for Best New Artist, the Canadian singer’s second release, on which she wrote every song, is “honest” and will speak to her audience. “It’s about her life,” he says, circling back to the notion of trusting your instincts and wanting to “take a bet on her.” Adds Victor: “You’ll be right more than wrong by following your gut.”