Billboard has named icon Sylvia Rhone as Women in Music’s 2023 Executive of the Year for her work as the standing executive CEO and chairwoman of Epic Records on February 23. Rhone sat in for a brief interview to highlight her trailblazing path for women of color in the industry and some challenges she faced while boosting the hip-hop and rap genre to mainstream popularity in the 90s.
As Billboard reports, Rhone was the first ever Black woman to preside over a significant label at Atlantic Records’ East West U.K and her career as such was marked with successes like Missy Elliott, MC Lyte, and En Vogue before continuing to be appointed as CEO of Electra Records. Rhone admitted she was met with “pushback from the overall community.”
“There was some pushback from radio, of course, and from the overall community. They didn’t understand hip-hop music. We had to attend board meetings at Time Warner to justify why we had hip-hop, and shareholders protested having hip-hop. So we fought, and we stood up a lot during that time.”
She described that overcoming those initial challenges led her to her current position of chairwoman and CEO of Epic Records in 2019, where she’s been cemented in legacy with the Executive of the Year award from Billboard this year.
As the first Black industry executive and woman to hold the dual title of chairman/CEO of a major label, @Epic_Records chair/CEO Sylvia Rhone is #BBWomenInMusic‘s 2023 Executive of the Year. ✅ https://t.co/5YiQJUXUtn
— billboard (@billboard) February 23, 2023
Despite her slew of impressive accomplishments, Rhone hailed her proudest being all the work she’s been able to do in paving the way for more women, especially women of color, in her line of work. She cited that over half the employees at her record company, Epic, are women, and half are people of color.
“When I was first appointed chairman in 1994, I was very focused on opening doors for people like me, whether they were women or people of color, by giving them an opportunity they may not have received before. Now that we have better representation,” Rhone began. “Epic’s staff is close to 54% female and 57% people of color — I am focused on creating power by creating a culture where the creativity of artists on our roster can flourish, and there is an exchange of ideas, culture and information from a diverse group of creatives and executives.”
Sylvia Rhone wrapped up her interview with an exciting announcement to Billboard. While citing some of the studio’s biggest successes in the past year- “Future delivered the biggest album of his 10-year career at the company. How many hip-hop artists can do that and still be relevant? And 21 Savage is probably the hottest hip-hop artist on the street right now. He’s got music out with Metro [Boomin] and with Drake,” – she said that Travis Scott has a record coming out in June, BIA and Giveon have upcoming work, and Epic Records has been developing new artists.
“We have a new Travis Scott record, expected to come in June. BIA and Giveon are in the second stage of development right now. And then we have new artists from all over. We signed Tyla from South Africa. We’re breaking a young lady from London named Mimi Webb. We took the time during COVID-19 to really develop new artists, so we have in the chamber a lot of great new talent, and you’ll see them become household names in this next year.”
She left all the women of color reading with a piece of personal advice, “Be true to thyself. Not compromising your beliefs leads to success. And listen, there’s no utopia. So if you’re going to struggle to succeed at something, struggle to succeed at something you love — something that will result in a happy ending. I’ve had a lot of happy endings.”