Human Re Sources Founder J. Erving Explains His Climb Up The Ladder Of The Music Biz To Become A Top Executive

January 18, 2021

Read the full interview on AllHipHop.com!

Nowadays, the music industry is filled with endless major labels, independent labels, distribution labels… and in a sea of many, Human Re Sources stands out. Created in 2017 by founder and CEO J. Erving, the black-owned, digital-distribution company — ranked Top 10 independent distributors in the industry — is widely recognized for being an independent powerhouse of talent development.

Driving home the notion of turning rising stars into superstars, their accolades to date include their work with YBN Nahmir (two Platinum single certifications), Pink Sweat$ whose single “Honesty” was certified Platinum in July 2020, and Gold singles with both Brent Faiyaz and YBN Cordae. 

J. Erving is the definition of hard work pays off. When it comes to his day to day, the Philly native is the guy who’s going to be in the studio, who’s going to be at the first show in front of 15 people, who’s going to take calls at 3 in the morning — “that’s the world I come from,” he states. 

Most recently, Sony Music Entertainment announced the acquisition of Human Re Sources as part of The Orchard, Sony’s global independent music distribution and artist and label services company. Beyond running his own company, J was appointed into the newly created role, Executive Vice President, Creative Development for Sony Music Entertainment. 

AllHipHop: How was your New Year?

J. Erving: It went good, jumping back into it. Had a good break: ate a bunch of junk food, watched movies, listened to music and what not. It’s all good. 

AllHipHop: How would you describe J. Erving?

J. Erving: I’m a father. I’m a friend. I’m a brother. I’m a music first guy. I like to think that discovery and artist development is something I specialize in and have become good at over the years. I’m now an employee, which I’ve never been before in my life. [laughs] I’ve never had a job before. So yeah, that’s me.

AllHipHop: How was it growing up in Philly?

J. Erving: I’m from Philly, I always loved music. Growing up, my parents always had music going around the house. My dad is a big Earth, Wind & Fire fan. My mom is a big Luther Vandross fan. I grew up in Philly so Teddy Pendergrass was friends with my parents. My best friend since I was 5 or 6 years old happens to be Patti Labelle’s son. I was around my music very early on, I’m blessed to be around great musicians. I never knew music was actually a career choice. I really didn’t know it was an option to be honest with you. I wasn’t an artist, I wasn’t a songwriter or producer. I tried to DJ when I was in college, I wasn’t very great.

I never really thought about other jobs in the music business really being an option. Nearing the end of my college career, I had a friend who was a senior executive over at Universal Records. I was talking to him about not really knowing what I wanted to do, but knowing what I didn’t want to do, which is a traditional 9 to 5. He talked to me about being a manager and using management as a way to learn the business. Because as a manager, you have to deal with every aspect of an artist’s career. He felt that’d be a really good way to learn the business, so that’s where I started. I got blessed and lucky early in my career to sign some decent acts and then partner with a guy named Troy Carter who’s also from Philly, we’ve managed some superstars over the years.

AllHipHop: What superstars?

J. Erving: It started with a group called Floetry, a producer named Rodney Jerkins, Eve, Nelly, Fat Joe, The Lox, Kelis, a bunch of others. In ’06, Troy signed Lady Gaga. We signed Tyga, John Legend, Megan Trainor, Charlie Puth. 

AllHipHop: Bring us back to 2017 when you guys launched Human Re Sources. What was your mindset?

J. Erving: We shut down our own management company and Troy went to Spotify. I had a minute to think about what I wanted to do next. To be honest, because I was development and more behind-the-scenes has always been my thing, there wasn’t a ton of opportunity that presented itself to me. Troy got all the looks for all the major label roles. The Spotify role, ultimately which he took. For me, I wasn’t getting all of those offers. I was figuring out entrepreneurially what I wanted to do next. There was an opportunity for disruption in the distribution space. A lot of the distribution companies were super transactional and vanilla as far as what they offer to artists in terms of artist development and services. There was a real opportunity for me to try and take a crack at changing the face of distribution a bit, and I launched Human Re Sources.

AllHipHop: Talk about the significance in the name.

J. Erving: Part of what I felt was missing in distribution was the human element. There’s 2 things: one was that human connection. As a manager, I had artists in distribution deals at companies and when something went wrong or I needed to get in touch with them, I wouldn’t even know who to call. I’d been around the music space for over 20 years and pretty much had 6 degrees of separation from anybody. At a lot of distribution companies, I didn’t really know who the players were. That played a role in it.

Because I never had a job, I never truly understood the role of a Human Resources department. When I started to dig into it and started to understand, “human” was the word that was sticking with me. I was researching and thinking about plays on “human,” I came across “human resources” and the definition of it. As someone who was oblivious to how these major corporations work, I wasn’t very clear about how human resources departments worked. I thought they’re put in place to protect the owner’s of the company, I found out they’re put in place to protect the employees of the company. That was a cool approach to protecting artists, being a protector for new artists coming into the business. Being able to give them favorable deals, deals that allowed them to maintain ownership. Taking more of an artist-friendly approach to these types of deals and relationships.

AllHipHop: How was it working with YBN Nahmir and Pink $weats? What were you able to do for them?

J. Erving: When we met Nahmir, he had a record out on YouTube for a couple days. We were able to really push for high level playlisting support from the DSPs, started to do some digital marketing around it. Ultimately was able to break a couple of records on it. Pink $weats very similarly, when we met him he was a songwriter. He hadn’t put out any music yet. We’re able to help with his visuals on the digital marketing front. His manager’s really good at third party placing, is super helpful there. Everybody’s trajectory has been different. We distribute an artist named Brent Faiyaz. 

AllHipHop: I love Brent Faiyaz, you still do?

J. Erving: We didn’t do the last project, we did the one before that. It was light lifting for us because his management team is so good that there wasn’t a ton for us to do. We were supportive and able to allocate some resources to it, but they did a lot of the heavy lifting. Every situation is different. Every scenario is different in terms of the artists that we work with, how we’re able to work alongside them and support them.

AllHipHop: What does it mean to be black-owned in the music industry?

J. Erving: It means a lot. It means more now that ever, especially given my new role at Sony and at The Orchard. Now, I’m a black executive on the inside. I have to do right by the culture. I have to do right by other black executives that come after me. It’s a testament to black executives. Because I bootstrapped Human Re Sources initially, I financed it myself and really bet on myself. It’s not easy. It’s not a route that I’d necessarily encourage my kids to take, but black ownership is important. Black executives being able to really make a change and make a difference. I hope Sony and The Orchard know what they signed up for because they’re very genuine about advocating for black executives and the right black executives. This is my first job, my mindset is very entrepreneurial. It’s very disruptive. My hope is that I can be that at Sony and at The Orchard. 

AllHipHop: Your title is Executive Vice President, Creative Development for Sony Music Entertainment, what does that position entail?

J. Erving: Having the ability to be able to sit with the global leaders of the company, really learning from them. Learning where and how I can plug in, really trying to bridge the gap with some of the frontline labels in The Orchard. The social justice piece, definitely taking the opportunity super seriously because I want to make sure I do right but the opportunity for other people that are coming behind me – other black executives. 

AllHipHop: What does a day in the life look like for you?

J. Erving: I’m a manager first, that’s in my DNA. Being in it, at those shows where it’s 30 people there, being in the studio developing… especially pre-COVID. I’m very hands-on with my partner. We have a couple studios in North Hollywood, which is primarily where I work out of. The beauty of what we do is no 2 days are the same, based on the challenges we’re facing and the artist we’re dealing with at the time during that particular day. 

AllHipHop: What artists or projects are you really excited for?

J. Erving: I’m excited for all of the stuff that we got coming. We only sign stuff that we really love, we’re not like a volume based distribution company that will take anything. We have a guy named Ant Clemons who’s Grammy-nominated. A young lady named Baby Rose that we signed from Atlanta who’s slowly growing, but is going to be a generational talent. A young lady named Jensen McRae we signed I’m really excited about… we got some good stuff lined up.

AllHipHop: Any goals for yourself?

J. Erving: The goal for this coming year is to break a few artists. There’s a couple of acts we signed that we did a deeper dive on, did traditional record deals with. Obviously we want to break those, but the goal for this year is to try to move the culture.

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