Breland is not yet a household name, but he and his recently assembled Atlantic Records team are confident that will change quickly. Earlier this month, “My Truck,” the singer-rapper’s country-trap ode to the titular vehicle, reached Number One on Spotify’s Viral 50 chart. His Spotify profile has more than 1.2 million monthly listeners off one song, with “My Truck” garnering more than 15 million streams across all digital platforms worldwide.
The song seemed to materialize from utter obscurity when it hit the top of Spotify’s global and U.S. charts, but it’s not witchcraft. The Atlanta-based, New Jersey-raised son of two gospel-singing ministers came from humble beginnings on TikTok, where user-generated videos featuring the song led to intense label interest. According to Breland, multiple record labels reached out on the same day in December. Two days later, the 24-year-old flew to Los Angeles, met with the entire executive team at Atlantic – the label he had his first meeting with – and signed a deal within a week.
Radio didn’t get him here, and the major-label push hasn’t come until now. In 2020, approximately 280,000 songs are uploaded to Spotify each week – up from around 140,000 the year before – and people like Breland stand out because of their work ethic and ingenuity.
Breland takes full advantage of social media in the age of information. When he was preparing to leave college, he hit up every music-industry contact he could get his hands on through Instagram posts, tweets, texts, emails, and cold calls. A response from Grammy winner Troy Taylor incited a mentorship, which led to the honing of songwriting skills that eventually landed credits on R&B songs for artists like YK Osiris. When everyone has access to the same pipes, a business mindset is necessary to cut through the noise and succeed, which is why Breland’s double-biz major in management and marketing from Georgetown is key. For a while, he was his own A&R, posting snippets of songs to Instagram and asking followers to tag the artists they wanted to hear on it.
With “My Truck,” he found the artist within. The sound was so unique that followers struggled to come up with an appropriate artist to cut it. Breland agreed to drop the song himself if the post got 500 comments. “And I’ve never gotten 500 comments so quickly,” he says. “Everyone was like, ‘Drop it! Drop it! Drop it! Drop it!’ They called my bluff. At that point, I decided I was gonna put it out there and see what happens. It very quickly became a thing where it was just me as the only possible artist who could pull it off.”
He spoke to Rolling Stone on the phone from Miami, where he has been working on the score for a new Netflix movie. A week later, he was already in Nashville to record at the iconic Blackbird Studios, which has served as a creative oasis for Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Beastie Boys, and Johnny Cash, among many others.
“Lil Nas X clearly showed that there’s a demand for this sound,” Atlantic VP of A&R Ian Hunter says. “But almost immediately [after ‘Old Town Road’], [Lil Nas X] put out a rap record. I don’t believe that Breland is like him at all. This isn’t a gimmick. I asked him right off the bat, ‘Is this what you’re doing, or do you think you’re gonna switch to some other genre?’ And he was like, ‘No, this is what I love. I’m influenced by country music, R&B, and hip-hop, and this is the lane I want to be in.’”
“I want to be able to show them that I have a vision and that I’m a real artist – not just someone with a song on the Internet.”
Breland is the first artist to join Bad Realm Records – a joint venture between Atlantic and Antonio Chavez, a savvy digital marketer with a strong knowledge of youth culture. “It hasn’t really been done before, where you just give joint ventures to people who aren’t producers or artists themselves,” Hunter says. “I had him come in to meet with [co-Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman], who loves self-starters and entrepreneurs, so we did a JV with Antonio because we thought it brought something completely different to Atlantic.” Kallman and co-Chairman/CEO Julie Greenwald signed off on the idea, and the joint venture was finalized last November. Within a month, Breland appeared.
Chavez’s brother Austin was the first to flag “My Truck” after finding it on TikTok.“I DM’d him that same day, and within five minutes, Breland and I get on the phone,” says Antonio Chavez. Antonio immediately urged Hunter, who listens to portions of 300 to 400 songs a day, to schedule a meeting.
“He’s getting a lot of random DMs from great people,” Atlantic West Coast President Kevin Weaver says with a laugh. “Besides the fact that the music is so dope, he’s got such a cool energy and vibe. He’s so smart, so articulate, so well put together, has such a clear POV – these are all major reasons why I felt it was super important to be in business with him. It was 1,000 percent the whole package, and not just because the guy has a song that we all think is a hit.”
On the day before his flight to L.A., Breland woke up early, gathered a bunch of his friends – including his “My Truck” collaborators – and wrote, produced, and recorded five songs to have more material to play for execs. “I was like, ‘This is the opportunity of a lifetime,’” Breland says. “I’m not about to take these meetings and only have one song to talk about. I want to be able to show them that I have a vision and that I’m a real artist – not just someone with a song on the Internet … We worked for 18 hours, and then I hopped on a plane.”
“I walked in, played a song for Antonio and Ian at Atlantic,” Breland says. “They were like, ‘Hold up. We need to call in the big dogs. We love this music.’ And literally moments later, I was in Kevin Weaver’s office. After the second song, he bangs his fists on his desk and goes, ‘I wanna do this deal!’ … I was like, ‘What? I’ve been in L.A. for an hour. This is my first meeting, and I have the West Coast president of Atlantic telling me that he wants to do this deal? What is going on?’ I genuinely thought this cannot be real life. You [only] see that type of stuff happening in movies.”
Weaver wasn’t quite sure how that first meeting was going to go. “I was like, ‘Look, this record is very cool, but we’re not really in the business of chasing “research records” [current singles with strong statistical growth that might not lead to a long-term career and are at risk of becoming “one-hit wonders”]. We’re in the business of signing and developing artists,’” he says.
Word spread quickly that Breland had put together his demo EP within 24 hours. “I was just astounded by that,” says Weaver. “Every song was better than the last song … I told him on the spot – this is a very genuine and honest statement, and I do not say this in many meetings – ‘I’m gonna sign you, man. I’m doing this deal, man. I cannot tell you how much I am impressed by you as a human being, the stuff you’re talking about, your process, the fact that you are such a lover of music and you understand music.’ I became compelled to do whatever I needed to do to bring him into the Atlantic family.”
“The less we feel the need to put labels on music, the less we feel the need to put labels on people. That’s how we move forward in culture.”
His ability to turn around demos that quickly is a testament to his mentor, Taylor. “Every record has to be a great record,” Breland says. “He would have me rewriting songs six or seven times to the same track without repeating any of the same concepts, melodies, or lyrics, and it was a maddening process … but it helped bring me up to the industry standard.”
“We want to sign artists with reasonable deals that are good business, but we also will have the time and the ability for this artist to get sunlight and water and to grow,” Hunter says. “That’s instead of a situation wherein, once you sign, it’s like, ‘This doesn’t work at radio,’ or, ‘We didn’t get Today’s Top Hits,’ or this thing falls off a cliff and the artist gets dropped.
“It always has to be about the gut,” Hunter adds. “There could be data that points you in the right direction, but you have to ask, ‘Is this person a hard worker? Is this person an incredible writer? Does he have this star quality where, when you walk into a room, are you attracted to this person? Do you want to speak with them?’ … He was walking over to the interns and assistants, talking to them and befriending them right away.”
Breland’s inner businessman has also been focused on putting together a team of specialists from both of the worlds he represents: urban and country. His plan from the beginning was to lock down two managers and two agents to collaborate together in the hopes of guaranteeing a career that goes past an explosive first impression. This is not a normal situation, but it seems to be working, with members of different sides of the industry agreeing to partner up for the chance to work with the new kid on the block.
For the most part, though, Breland’s just thrilled to mash together his favorite musical styles – elements of country, hip-hop, R&B, gospel, and pop – in a way that many have not experienced before. Even his vocal ability keeps listeners questioning which box they could put the music in. On “My Truck,” he makes it sound like there are featured guests present. There’s the illusion of two main vocalists from opposite worlds, plus the excellent R&B-style delivery at the end.
Breland clearly sees musical categorization based on genre as a thing of the past. “People often like to categorize things,” Breland says with a pause. “It’s an easier way for our brains to process them. But, at the same time, it can get in the way of our ability to actually enjoy certain things. The categorization of music is really something that stems from the way that we used to consume music, which was by genre and by category. If you went into the record store, everything was broken up by genre and style, so chances are you weren’t gonna veer too far from whatever style of music you came up listening to.
“There are certain songs of mine that may make you say, ‘This is a country song.’ You may say, ‘This is a hip-hop song.’ Ultimately, I think that’s a good thing. It’s progress. I think the less we feel the need to put labels on music, the less we feel the need to put labels on people. That’s how we move forward in culture.”