When Chris Brown released his 10th studio album, Breezy, the R&B icon entered some exclusive territory: with nine songs from the album debuting on the Hot R&B Songs chart, he passed The Weeknd as the artist with the most entries on that chart in its 10-year history, taking his tally up to 79 — a number that could improve next week following the release of a deluxe edition of that album. It’s an impressive feat for the singer — even moreso when considering that his career is actually seven years older than the chart itself, making the true accounting of his domination of the format much higher.
It’s also another piece of evidence indicating that his label, RCA Records, is a dominant force in the R&B genre right now. Of the top five artists with the most Hot R&B Songs entries, three are signed to RCA — Khalid and Bryson Tiller being the others — while in March, the likes of SZA, Doja Cat, Latto and Brown filled the top four spots on the Rhythmic Airplay chart, the first time a label had held the top four slots simultaneously in a decade, and at the 2022 Grammy Awards RCA artists won for best R&B performance (Jazmine Sullivan in a tie), best traditional R&B performance (H.E.R.), best progressive R&B album (Lucky Daye) and best R&B album (Sullivan). And all that success to this point helps RCA president Mark Pitts earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Pitts — who originally signed Chris Brown nearly two decades ago — talks about the singer’s latest historic success, the evolution of R&B through the years and how their artists are starting to cross over and see significant success in the pop fields as well. “These artists transcend genre and are constantly on the cutting edge of what’s next,” he says. “In terms of how we have adapted, we have continued to grow with it — as the artists create their art, we actively work to support their visions and get creative with them to help expose their music to as many people as possible.”
This week, Chris Brown passed The Weeknd as the artist with the most entries on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart, with 79. What key decision did you make to help make that happen?
It’s amazing — Chris is a global superstar and it’s well-deserved. It all comes down to the music. Chris has an incredible work ethic and has wanted to release a huge body of work since his second studio album. The hard work starts in the studio and that’s where it all began with this. Chris brought together a top-notch lineup of features, which only enhanced his artistic vision. And then the entire team — Chris, his management and the whole RCA gang — really rallied together to come up with some incredible ideas to build anticipation for the project.
That record could be extended even further, with a deluxe version of the album having been released on Friday. Why come with the deluxe on the heels of the original?
Chris likes to go against the grain, and he always wants to do something different. Plus, there was so much music Chris had that once he started putting together the album, we realized there were more tracks to be shared. Chris wanted to give his fans as much music as he could before he went off on tour. His fan base was hungry for more music, and he wanted to keep feeding them.
With Chris Brown (79), Khalid (43) and Bryson Tiller (41), RCA has three of the top five artists with the most entries of all time on Hot R&B Songs since the chart’s launch in 2012. How have you guys become so dominant in that genre?
That’s an amazing achievement. Have to give major props to the entire team here — the label continues to rise to the occasion to help bring our artists’ visions and music to their fans. We work actively to help enhance their successes. It all starts with passion, and that we have in droves. We really dive all in on artist development — working with artists both in and out of the studio to help nurture their creativity and dial in on their respective visions. Peter [Edge, RCA’s CEO] has always been a champion of R&B music and our A&R team is simply the best out there. Have to shout out my guy Tunji [Balogun] as well for Khalid and Bryson.
How has R&B changed over the past several years, and how have you guys adapted to help support it?
R&B music continues to thrive and to evolve as new generations of artists get into the game. We are seeing so much collaboration happening and that is one of the most exciting things to see. There are young artists pulling sounds from generations ago, there are artists across genres collaborating and popping up in unexpected places, and then there are just really incredible, more traditional R&B records still getting their shine. It’s exciting how R&B continues to evolve and make room for new superstars within the genre. So many global superstars are R&B artists — on our end, in addition to Chris, we have SZA, H.E.R., Jazmine Sullivan, Doja Cat, Khalid, Lucky Daye — the list goes on. These artists transcend genre and are constantly on the cutting edge of what’s next. In terms of how we have adapted, we have continued to grow with it — as the artists create their art, we actively work to support their visions and get creative with them to help expose their music to as many people as possible.
Chris Brown has long been a mainstay on R&B/Hip-Hop radio, with the two longest-running No. 1s on that airplay chart in history, and RCA has also changed its radio promo strategy in recent years. How has the company been able to maintain that airplay momentum?
We have the best promo team in the business. [Co-head of promotion] Sam “The Hypebeast” Selolwane holds it down and has also been working with Chris for years. She is always working strategically with her team to position our records in the best way. Have to shout out [co-head of promotion] Keith Rothschild and Lori Giamela and Kevin Valentini on the Rhythm side, as well as their teams. There is very careful and specific setup that takes place when introducing the records and building momentum and excitement. And of course, having a non-stop train of incredible music to share always helps the excitement.
RCA has had a lot of success lately with artists such as Doja Cat and Latto crossing over into pop and dominating in multiple areas. What has been your strategy there?
First and foremost, shout out to the ladies who are doing their thing in the rap space, not just at RCA but in the music game. I’m very happy to see them get their shine — and this is just the beginning. Outside of just having these really incredible artists and music to work with, I think teamwork is really at the crux of the success. Our promo team works together incredibly well, dialing in the right strategies collectively to dominate across all formats. All of that is then bolstered by marketing, publicity, digital, sales, licensing, etc. Teams who are all syncing up to enhance the overall campaign and propel everything forward. And, as always — it all starts with the artists and the music, dammit!