When Eesean Bolden first met Saweetie, he was impressed with her work ethic as the Bay Area rapper cut short a dinner at Boa to go to the studio. The senior vice president of A&R for Warner Records was sold on her star power, and has spent the last couple years working her three biggest records: the platinum-certified “ICY GRL,” two-times-platinum “My Type” and the still building — but already gold-certified — “Tap In.” Already outpacing “My Type” at radio, “Tap In” has registered more than 101,000 spins, the bulk at the urban, where it hit No. 1, and rhythmic formats.
Growing up in Sacramento to parents who were independent recording artists, music and sports was all Bolden knew. But while he was a talented basketball player, he traded hoop dreams for the studio once he realized he wasn’t going to the NBA. It was familiar terrain thanks to his mom and dad, who would record their own music and shoot music videos, and where he first became familiar with the concept of A&R.
At 18, Bolden landed an internship at Interscope Records after which he got a job working for at UME’s legal department. That experience “was one of the best things that could’ve happened to me,” says Bolden, Variety‘s Hitmaker of the Month for September. “I had a chance to look at everybody’s contracts and started to learn what types of deals were being done.”
From there, he went on to join Capitol Records as an A&R assistant and soon became an expert in research. Promoted to A&R manager, Bolden discovered Silento just as “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” first went viral. After taking notice of the dance craze, Bolden flew to Atlanta to close the deal and saw the record go seven-times platinum and hit a billion views on YouTube.
Since joining Warner in 2016, Bolden has signed YFN Lucci and Lil Pump, and also recently released, even even co-produced, IV’s new single “Swimming” featuring Trippie Redd. With Saweetie being the industry darling du jour, even receiving a standout remix with Post Malone, DaBaby, and Jack Harlow, Bolden looks back at his own journey in the music industry.
You landed an internship at Interscope at 18 years old. What did you learn from that experience?
I went in with the idea that people were going to teach my things when in reality, I needed to do the tasks asked of me. Because I’m in the building, I should soak up all the information around me. Not be scared to meet people, go create friendships and network.
What did you see in Saweetie that made you want to sign her?
You could tell she was a star. She’s articulate, she has a vision. She knows what she wants to do. I saw an artist who knows exactly who she is and who she wanted to be. She had the work ethic and the vision to bring it home.
“Tap In” was Saweetie’s third consecutive hit. What is it about this song that clicks with listeners?
Saweetie’s very authentic, that’s what resonates in her music. A lot of people can see themselves in her. She makes those female anthems at the end of the day — records females can relate to. “ICY GRL,” “My Type,” “Tap In,” it’s that same feeling you get when you hear those records. It’s real.
How did you guys plan the rollout for “Tap In”? Was there anything you learned from “My Type” that you applied here?
As you can see, Saweetie’s very good with socials. She knows her audience, so the social rollout was the biggest thing. We have a great marketing team with Chris [Atlas]. One of the main things we wanted to do was have a great social media rollout: Instagram, TikTok, Triller, platforms where she’s done really well on in the past. We wanted to stay the course and make sure “Tap In” was rolled out the same way.
“My Type” wasn’t the initial single off the “Icy” EP. How did you decide to switch focus?
We initially went with a record called “Emotional” and shot a video with her and Quavo. But when we put that out with the EP, we instantly saw people were gravitating to “My Type.” “My Type” was raising its hand, and Warner Records was able to pivot to that. Our sync team got a really great placement in Claws, which lined up right at the same time, and it caught on from there.
Now that “Tap In” is No. 1 at urban, will it be crossing over to other formats? Which ones?
We’re approaching Top 30 at pop radio, top 5 at rhythmic and No. 1 at urban. We’re doing really well.
How did the “Tap In” remix with Post Malone, Jack Harlow, and DaBaby come about?
That was everybody hands-on, really coming together to make that happen. Saweetie had a vision to do a guys version of the record. All her favorite artists are it: Post Malone, DaBaby, Jack Harlow. A collective effort from the team to pull that together. It actually happened in a couple weeks, so that’s a testament of the team.
How easy or difficult was it to get these features?
It’s usually never easy to get features. [Laughs] In this particular case, the guys were aware of the original and showed a lot of love. The stars aligned, we were able to get it done.
Talk about the significance of having so many female rappers on the charts right now? Why did it take this long?
It’s huge, long overdue. This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to females. It’s always been a male-dominated industry, you see one female pop up here and there, but times have completely changed. The females on the charts are super talented and can go toe-to-toe with the guys. It’s time honestly.
How has A&R changed in the internet age and in recent years?
You have to understand analytics — analytics keep you current. You have to understand the basics, how to close deals in a timely manner especially if something’s taking off rapidly. You need to know how to make records; know who the hottest producers are; know who the writers are. After you have that viral success, you have to be able to do it again and again. A lot of times, you’ll see label heads pair up straight analytic people with the grown-ups that can make a record, a lot of times that works. I can do both. I’m a hybrid. I’m young enough to understand analytics but I’m old enough to know how to get the right people in the room, make a record, and bring it home.
How have you adapted to COVID?
Lots of Zoom calls. [Laughs] Everything’s been business as usual, just from home. Very minimal interaction with people and my artists. It’s been tough to adapt but at the same time, we’re finding more creative ways to figure out how to break an artist.
What’s your take on the Black Lives Matters movement?
Growing up in the inner city and having to deal with the same injustice my whole life, the attention the #BLM movement is very important to me. It’s long overdue, something I hope we can keep the spotlight on. It’s trickled into the music industry I’m in. Systemic racism within the companies and how that’s being highlighted is really important. We have these conversations of having a seat at the table, making decisions about the culture we’re brought up in. The #BLM movement is the best thing that’s ever happened to people like me.
And your thoughts on gender and race inequality among the executive ranks?
As a company, it’s important to be as diverse as possible. Everybody brings a different skillset, a different background that can be beneficial to a company. I’m glad to see more females in higher titles and people of different races in higher positions.