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The 25 Best A&Rs in Hip-Hop History

24. Faith Newman

Title(s): A&R at Columbia Recordings, A&R at Def Jam Recordings
Artists They Worked With: Nas, Big L, 2 Chainz

Faith Newman is the woman who signed Nas to Columbia Records.

(We could stop here with a “nuff ‘said” and a salute, but there’s more to the story.)

Back in 1990, Michael “MC Serch” Berrin had the foresight to sign Nasty Nas to a production deal—on the strength of just one verse that the obscure Queens rapper performed on Main Source’s “Live At The Barbeque.” Shortly thereafter, Newman made the move from Def Jam to its parent label as Columbia’s first in-house rap specialist. Newman and Berrin’s working relationship led to Nas’s signing.

But A&R is about more than just signing artists, and Newman performed some very unsung but vital key functions that kept the project afloat. After one of Nas’s entourage threatened one of the drivers from Columbia’s livery service and the label wanted to drop him, Newman fought successfully to keep him on the label. She and Serch also arranged for the stellar roster of beat producers that powered Illmatic. Newman also had the foresight to not overdo it: When the project reached just 8 tracks, she declared it done.

The minimal but potent album was awarded a coveted and rare “five mics” in The Source. Newman, who also signed the hip-hop influenced Jamiroquai, worked with Big L, and signed her former Def Jam intern, Kurious, to a record deal, imparted credibility to Columbia in hip-hop similar to what her predecessor Clive Davis had done by pushing Columbia into rock music in the 1970s.

Newman was eventually squeezed out of her role in Nas’s project because of the ever-more chummy relationship between two men—her boss Donnie Ienner and Nas’s new manager Steve Stoute. Ienner eventually hired Stoute and Newman, feeling betrayed, left. Newman was quickly offered a new job at Jive Records by Barry Weiss, who always had a good eye for both artistic and executive talent.

Newman today works for Reservoir Media Management, where she gave 2 Chainz his first music publishing deal, and represents Danja and Scott Storch, among others.

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