Ebonie Ward is used to being the only woman in the room. This was the case long before she gained prominence as the manager to hip-hop stars Future, Gunna and Flo Milli. Ward got her start in the business running her own men’s clothing boutique, Fly Kix ATL, which catered to local rap stars in Atlanta. From there, Ward used her connections in the high-end retail space to segue into music, joining Anthony Saleh’s Emagen Entertainment Group, longtime management home to Future, and working her way up to become the artist’s primary representative.
“It has been a very delicate situation at times,” Ward says of being a female manager. “Anthony Saleh has been my ace and an anchor in my career. We would walk into a room, and they wouldn’t acknowledge me; they would just shake his hand. So he would stop and say, ‘Let me introduce you to my business partner — this is Ebonie Ward.’”
That vote of confidence was enough to motivate Ward to become a force of her own, culminating in a banner year for her roster. Albums, from Future and Gunna, both debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 in their first weeks, while breakout singles such as Future’s “Wait For U” and Gunna’s “Pushin P” have amassed commercial and viral success. The former has been certified triple-platinum and sits at No. 3 for the year, while the latter lands at No. 17 as a double-platinum record.
“ ‘Pushin P’ was for the culture, and it was undeniable,” Ward says. “It also was a testament to Gunna being a real innovator, for him to create a word that people really were able to identify with. It’s about pushing peace, prosperity and positivity — pushing people toward doing great things.”
The message of being “P” has taken on a different meaning in light of the 29-year-old rapper’s current incarceration on racketeering charges. Still, Ward is committed to bringing Gunna’s musical accomplishments to the forefront. Indeed, Grammy campaigns that she spearheaded for “Pushin P” helped the track notch nominations.
“That’s my role as his manager,” Ward says. “I don’t want people to get so caught up in a temporary circumstance that they lose sight of who he is, what he represents, and what he was able to create. I don’t want the history of Gunna to be him being incarcerated. I want it to be a victorious moment — for him to come out of this and continue to come out on top, where he belongs.”
It would be immensely difficult to gloss over Ward in a conference room today. Moving forward, she hopes to bring more women into the management side of entertainment.
“I just want to continue to be a good example for other young women to follow,” Ward says, “while also helping to uplift and build people in the business.”
A Letter From Gunna
Atlanta rapper Gunna, 29, has been incarcerated since May on RICO charges stemming, in no small part, from his lyrics. Fellow 300 artist Young Thug is also entangled in the charges, which, according to prosecutors, deem his Young Stoner Life record label a gang operation. Both have had to watch from afar as their collaborative hit single, “Pushin P,” surges up the charts. But active efforts from music industry heavyweights like 300’s Kevin Liles gives hope for their release, as legislation in California and New York puts strong restrictions on art as evidence. From a Georgia prison, Gunna wrote this letter to his manager, Ebonie Ward, praising her tireless efforts to keep the record alive while he’s away.