Davido Partners With UnitedMasters to Launch His Own Label

When Steve Stoute connected with Davido at his UnitedMasters SelectCon event last year, he didn’t flinch at the opportunity to build with the Afrobeats superstar; after their initial encounter, the executive visited Davido’s homeland of Lagos, Nigeria and dared the “Fall” singer to dream bigger. Stoute envisioned Davido, adept at crafting sugary melodies with a Nigerian flair, leading nothing less than a global takeover — not just as a premier artist but as a businessman.

Starting Wednesday (April 17), the three-time Grammy nominee will embark on a new chapter as a full-fledged executive, signing a deal with UnitedMasters (which recently launched in Nigeria) to start a new label, Nine+ Records. Stoute and Davido are clear that they won’t limit themselves to Afrobeats but will venture into the realms of hip-hop, R&B, Latin, country and more, casting a wide net for new talent.

“I think the music that Davido has been able to make, produce and share with the world has been amazing,” says Stoute. “For me, I think his connection between Nigeria and Atlanta, and everything he’s gone through has brought unique experiences that I can hear and feel through his lyrics and production. I didn’t even know that [at the time], I just knew there was something different about his sound and the way he structured his songs.”

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According to Stoute, it didn’t take much convincing: He sold Davido on the possibilities of building a label reminiscent of the hard-nosed rap imprints he witnessed first-hand in the ’90s and ’00s.

“There’s such a big opportunity globally and I see him as an entrepreneur that could build the next Bad Boy, the next Death Row and the next label that has significant impact like a Cash Money,” Stoute says. “[I told him to] forget everything you were doing before, let’s commit to building something in a joint venture and that’s the formation of Nine+ and UnitedMasters.”

Billboard spoke to Davido and Steve Stoute about their newly minted partnership, the importance of having a great team and more.

Davido, what made you decide to partner with UnitedMasters for your new label Nine+ Records?

Davido: Shout-out to big bro. There’s one thing that I’ll always love, which is nurturing new talent, bringing them up and helping them grow. I’ve been doing that since Afrobeats wasn’t even Afrobeats, since when you guys didn’t even know what it was. Since I came up from writing my first song, I’ve been helping my two cousins work on their music. I put them under my label, but it got to a point where I felt I needed some knowledge. I need some mentors to advise me. Some artists, all you need is one hit song and your life can change. Sometimes, when you get to that point, you don’t have anybody to advise you on how to move and get good paperwork done. I just felt like that was one thing Steve Stoute represents, and that’s helping the artists and making sure they know the best option when it comes to business. My job is obviously to bring the creatives and deliver, but I do need Steve’s vision on how I’m going to advise on these new artists.

Steve, speak to the tutelage you hope to instill in Davido from an executive lens with the years of experience you have under your belt. 

There’s a thin line between what a talent and what an executive has to do. For a lot of talent, it’s very hard to be an executive or it’s hard for them to jump that fence. I’m gonna be there to help him because he comes from a lineage of very, very tight, philosophically sound businessmen.

His father was a G. His father was very special and talented. Davido is also very creative. It takes that sort of left brain and right brain to be a talented musician who could work with talent as well as be a business person. To be able to bring that together to build one of these legacy companies, the greatest artists always had that attribute. He has that attribute.

The best thing that I can do is, you use my experience as a veteran in this business to help put up some guard rails to keep him going because I want him to become the biggest artist in the world and continue his trajectory as an artist, but then build something that’s a legacy outside of that with Nine+.

Before this, I was the president at Interscope. When Jimmy [Iovine] built Interscope, it was all about these labels. Whether it was Pharrell’s label, Organized Noize, Timbaland, or Aftermath, these were labels that were built because Jimmy built The Ruff Ryders. Jimmy believed in that model. So I came from working with talent who had labels and I understand how to build that model just from that experience. I want to pass that along to this young entrepreneur, creative genius.

What’s the best advice you’ve gotten from Steve on accelerating as an executive and building out Nine+ on what you ultimately want it to become?

Davido: First of all, you gotta have a good team. There’s one thing I learned from Steve: I didn’t know you had to get all of this to get a label because where I’m from and where you record, there’s no office. Now…with Steve, we’re getting an office, we’re getting [a lot]. I have a studio and a headquarters, but it’s different from the way I’ve worked.

Steve Stoute: If you wanna scale, you gotta bring structure. He’s a super-talented guy. He’s gonna find talented people. There’s been a lot of people who are talented, but they didn’t have the business structure around them. They never got a chance to see the effects of their talents go all the way. It’s the guys who had structure with talent that were able to actually go all the way. My job is bring that structure to him and hopefully to his team.

He has a great team around him. He has a great team of people with chemistry. Chemistry is undervalued and underrated. It’s very important who you want to work with. We’re here to bring that structure and funding so he can do what he has to do. My job isn’t to go in there and A&R records. If I can get him in the room with the producers and the artists, and I can get it out the room, that’s my job. To get in the room and to get out.

Again, my experience in doing this for a while and being able to help bring that structure, whether it’s an office or not, is what I’m bringing to the table and I’m looking forward to working with him and building something that’s an aspect of his legacy.

With Nine+, are you looking to expand beyond Afrobeats?

Davido: Oh yeah, everything. R&B, trap, etc. Obviously, I’m going to start in Africa, but definitely yeah. I can see us going all the way. I don’t see why not.

Steve Stoute: Look, I told you, my man has roots in Atlanta and Nigeria. This is not going to be limited to anything. When you have creative people who can understand melodies, beats, rhythms and songs, whether it’s country music, trap music, hip-hop music, Latin music, none of these things are off-limits. I think we look at it as global music. I think Davido is a global superstar. He’s going to sell out Madison Square Garden like he sells out London, like he sells out buildings in Africa. That’s what he does. He wants to make global music, so we’re looking for artists that have that potential and it’s not limited to genre. It is limited to great music.