The future of major label A&R may be rooted in intense parental instincts. “I’m obsessed with my artists,” Caroline “Baroline” Diaz, Interscope’s senior director of A&R says. “They’re like my kids.”
While most A&Rs tend to take a cool-headed, hands-off approach to their artists, Diaz, a 24-year-old New York native, prefers to be in 24/7 contact with them, handling everything from their studio scheduling to ensuring that “they’re not depressed.” Diaz has only been at Interscope for a few months, but she’s already helped shepherd DaBaby from outlier North Carolina rapper to streaming behemoth charting multiple songs at a time. Diaz has also pushed for investment in R&B singers like Ann Marie, who is an outlier in the current sound of R&B — heavily auto-tuned, mush-mouthed delivery — and instead models her style off the upbeat singers of the late ’90s and early 2000s.
Diaz’s first job in music was as an assistant in the Urban department at Def Jam, where she spent all her time obsessively scouring the internet for new artists, searching for a distinct “tone.” She remembers being “horrible” at the actual job. “My boss was like, “nah, this is not the job for you,’” she says. Diaz soon befriended Def Jam artists like 2 Chainz and Dave East by taking over a temp role at the front desk, where she also met Bay Area rapper Saweetie. She told everybody that Saweetie was “going to blow up,” she recalls, and “everybody was like, ‘whatever, whatever’ — they didn’t sign her, and look at Saweetie now,” pointing to the now-at-Warner artist’s viral hits like “Icy Girl” and “My Type.” According to Diaz, the label also passed on her nudges to sign Queen Naija (now at Capitol Records) and Layton Green (Quality Control).
A chance meeting with Columbia Records’ co-head of urban music Shawn Holiday in 2018 at BET Weekend unwittingly lead to her first A&R gig after she recommended Holiday sign Roddy Ricch, she says. A couple months into the Columbia gig, she signed Polo G and gifted the label a double-platinum record “Pop Out.” This year, she ended up coming back into the Universal Music Group fold under the EVP of Urban Operations at Interscope — returning to her old stomping grounds at a premier hip-hop label, and wearing the triumphant badge of an A&R.
What distinguishes Diaz’s approach from that of other A&Rs is her need to be in control of every aspect of artists’ trajectory from radio to publicity to advertising — being more of a campaign leader than a mere talent spotter ushering new artists in.
As a woman of color in a white, male-dominated music industry, Diaz also isn’t afraid to be aggressive. “When I’m in the room, I have to be a boss,” she says. “I have to work. If I walk in a room like a studio and a guy doesn’t say hi to me, I’m like, ‘You’re not going to say hello?’” Because they may think you’re the side chick or I’m with DaBaby. It’s me being assertive.”