A man in his late 20s is staring directly at Zack Bia. “I know you from somewhere,” he says. “You look really familiar.”
Trying to remember how they know each other, the man makes a request: “Take off your sunglasses.” Bia politely lowers his shades to reveal his eyes, but it doesn’t help. The man is stumped.
The truth is, the two have never met before. The man had seen photos of Bia on the internet and confused the familiarity of his face for someone he actually knew. It’s an easy mistake. Bia isn’t a household name (yet), but if you’ve been on Instagram lately, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with his face, too.
He’s the Forrest Gump of the social media era, always finding himself in the middle of pop culture’s biggest moments. One minute, he’s holding the Lakers’ NBA championship trophy alongside Kyle Kuzma, YG, and Luka Sabbat. The next, he’s introducing Yung Lean to Drake at a party in LA, helping to pull the strings behind their instantly iconic photo with Kanye West, Travis Scott, and Baby Keem. He’s everywhere.
Bia has become a regular presence on his close friend Drake’s Instagram page, and you’ve probably seen him in photos with stars like Jack Harlow, Doja Cat, Kendall Jenner, and Winnie Harlow. For as inescapable as he’s become, though, the 25-year-old has maintained an air of mystery around himself. So it was only a matter of time until people started asking questions: Who is this fresh-faced kid who’s suddenly best friends with everyone in Hollywood?
Google searches for “Who is Zack Bia?” started rising back in early 2019, and every few weeks, there’s a new spike of interest from curious followers. With a little digging, you’ll learn he got his start as a club promoter, and quickly gained a reputation for throwing the coolest parties in LA. Before long, he was also one of the city’s most in-demand DJs. People from all corners of the entertainment industry—musicians, actors, models, athletes, artists, designers—flocked to his parties, and Bia was responsible for creating an environment where they could all interact with each other in a low-pressure way (no photos allowed).
Bia’s name has become synonymous with LA nightlife. One viral video even includes the punchline: “The DMV has the only line in LA where saying ‘I’m with Zach Bia’ won’t help you.” And during a recent episode of Apple Music Radio’s flagship program The Zane Lowe Show, the hosts joked, “There’s nothing more Hollywood than name-dropping Zack Bia.”
He admits that he’s had fun with the memes and played into some of the mystery by not over-explaining his backstory, but now that the initial novelty has worn off about his origins, it’s time to dig deeper and find out what’s happening under the surface. Who is the real Zack Bia? What motivates him every day? What’s his end game? That’s what I went to LA to find out.
When I meet Bia for the first time at ComplexCon 2021, it’s immediately clear there’s only one thing on his mind these days: music.
Within seconds of introducing himself, he starts telling me about all the artists he’s been listening to lately. Wide-eyed, he jumps into a story about an emerging scene of rappers he discovered recently, interrupting himself to make bold predictions about the future of the music industry.
“Music is all I’m thinking about right now,” Bia says, and there’s a reason for that. In early 2020, he founded a record label called Field Trip Recordings, which he says was a natural next step after finding success in LA nightlife. As he explains it, new artists were already being discovered at his parties, and career-changing connections were happening every night, so it only made sense to enter the record business himself and formalize the process.
Baby Keem and Sheck Wes are just two of the rappers who have benefitted from early hype at his parties. “It’s funny, because I had conversations with my friends who were working at Interscope when Sheck first got signed, and they were like, ‘Yo, you guys were doing so much of the groundwork for us,’” Bia remembers.
“People don’t realize that going to a good party where someone is DJing, you can break songs,” he points out. “A businessman, a skater, an actor, an up-and-coming musician, and a big musician are all in the same room, connected through music. And we were always finding all the best new artists, super early.”
His theory makes sense: If a room full of the most influential people in Hollywood get behind a new artist at the right time, good things are bound to happen. Bia’s strengths as a label head go beyond clout and influence, though. Even before starting Field Trip, he had a knack for connecting the right artists with each other at the right time, helping songs come to life. And whenever an up-and-coming artist needed a music video director, photographer, or designer, Bia would link them with the best in the business.
“It was this new ‘golden era’ of LA. We were at the epicenter of it, and our parties became the breeding grounds of where it was all happening.”
“We were always behind the scenes, helping records get made out of a love for it,” he says of his pre-Field Trip days. “I started becoming a guy who was throwing parties that became a safe space for artists to come and be themselves, test out new music, meet other artists, and meet new cool people. That turned into artists being like, ‘Let me pick your brain on this. What do you think of this brand? What do you think of this new artist? Come to the studio.’ We started having this really intimate relationship with a ton of artists.”
Then, an epiphany: “And we were like, ‘Wait, we can do this with our own artists.’ That’s when we started the company.”
With the encouragement of a mentor figure, Bia started Field Trip Recordings with his right-hand man, James Canton, and a small team. After signing Mallory Merck, a talented young singer he found through close friend Julian Swirsky, Bia inked a deal with a teenage rapper named SSGKobe, who opened his new eyes to something he can’t stop thinking about: an emerging new rap scene he’s calling “SoundCloud 2.0.”
As Bia describes it, SoundCloud 2.0 is a new wave of artists who are making some of the most urgent, forward-thinking music in rap. Whereas the first SoundCloud rap boom of the mid-2010s took shape in places like South Florida, this new iteration is coming together on the internet through Discord servers and group chats, and a tight-knit community is forming. Rapping over synthy “rage beats,” these artists are making raw and frenetic music, pulling influences from OG SoundCloud stars like Playboi Carti, and pushing the sound in wild new directions.
Breakout records like “Knock Knock,” “Thrax,” and “Antisocial” are starting to reach mainstream audiences, and momentum within the scene is exploding from the underground, in a way that’s reminiscent of what happened in 2016 with artists like XXXTentacion and Ski Mask the Slump God. And similar to what happened six years ago, the major labels have been slow to catch on.
“The industry almost wasn’t even taking notice,” Bia says. “They weren’t realizing it’s a whole new movement. It’s related to SoundCloud 1.0, but there’s a whole new fan base, and a whole new crop of artists. That first cycle has passed, and now it’s almost like there’s a new freshman class.”
That’s where Bia comes in. Since being exposed to the scene through SSGKobe, he’s signed other artists, like HVN, Slump6s, and OnlyBino. While major labels were looking elsewhere, Bia suddenly became one of the biggest supporters of the SoundCloud 2.0 wave. And with momentum at his back, he took his biggest swing yet, signing one of the most buzzed-about new rappers on the planet: Yeat.
To really understand Bia’s strengths as a label boss, the rise of Yeat is a good place to start. Bia discovered the Portland rapper’s music early, and started meeting with him months before actually inking a deal. They formed a tight bond, so when Yeat was offered a one-album distribution deal with Interscope in early 2021, he took it, but made a promise to Bia that he’d sign with Field Trip as soon as it was over.
In the meantime, Bia kept putting in work, playing Yeat’s music for everyone from Lil Yachty to Cole Bennett. He even introduced Yeat to Drake, taking the now-infamous photo of them standing together, which stirred up an unfathomable amount of hype around the 21-year-old artist.
Bia admits that all this legwork “ran the price up” by the time the Interscope distribution deal expired, and new offers started flying in from other labels, but Yeat stuck to his word and signed with Field Trip anyway, in partnership with Geffen Records. He saw how much Bia had already helped his career, so the decision was an easy one.
Since then, hype around Yeat has only grown. Established stars like Gunna and Young Thug are already collaborating with him, his music is showing up on hit shows like Euphoria (executive produced by Drake), and he’s joining Bia at events like Paris Fashion Week. Most recently, he connected with Bia’s close friend Bennett, who shot a Lyrical Lemonade video for his first Field Trip single “Still Countin.” Shortly before the video dropped, Bennett tweeted, “Yeat is the breakout artist of the year.”
Bia is quick to downplay his role in Yeat’s success, making it clear that the young artist has done all the heavy lifting himself.
“Yeat is such a visionary artist, in terms of creating a whole lingo, having a very unique style of music, and building a whole world around it,” he says. “He’s created something so unique that people can really buy into, so I don’t want to take credit for any of it. It’s all Yeat, and I’m just here to plug in the plays behind the scenes, and help facilitate all the relationships. I’m here to make sure the music is packaged right and handle all the things that a label executive should.”
In Bia’s mind, it was only a matter of time until an artist like Yeat emerged from the new underground and carried the torch of boundary-pushing rappers who came before. “Artists like Young Thug and Carti have already broken down a lot of doors, the internet’s completely changed with TikTok, and the way the world is set up now, there’s a perfect storm for someone new and unique to come,” he explains. “It’s time for a new generation. I feel like there’s been artists that have dominated the last decade, and now as we usher in this new era of music, it was primed for someone new to come in, and I think Yeat is that artist.”
Any new scene needs a transcendent star to truly push it into the mainstream, and Bia is placing his bets on Yeat (and the rest of the Field Trip roster) to do exactly that. “By the way, Yeat breaking into the mainstream only helps all the other kids in the scene as well,” he says.
Throughout all my conversations with Bia, he never looks more excited than when he’s talking about his artists on Field Trip. He has a way of nonchalantly telling stories about partying with megastars like The Weeknd and Drake as if he were describing an ordinary day at the office, but when speaking about artists like Yeat, he talks faster and gets more animated, noticeably charged up by the possibilities that lay ahead.
“I’m just trying to build the coolest record company I can,” he reminds me. “It’s all I care about right now.”
Walking the floor with Zack Bia at ComplexCon is a disorienting experience. Every few minutes, he’s mobbed by kids who ask for photos or give him samples from their fledgling clothing companies. Everyone is here looking for their big break, and Bia represents a window to an oftentimes unreachable world. (To his credit, he makes time to interact with each person he comes across, patiently hearing what they have to say.)
As the afternoon unfolds, I get a firsthand look at his diverse network of friends. First, we come across Lil Yachty, who daps Bia up with one hand while holding a slice of pizza with the other. Moments later, we run into the guy who runs the @aplasticplant Instagram account, and Bia greets him with just as much enthusiasm as he did Yachty. The two reminisce about seeing each other at a party the night before, which was also attended by the person who runs the @welcome.jpeg page. With a laugh, Bia says, “You guys needed to meet!”
One of Bia’s biggest gifts is his ability to pick up on subtle compatibilities between people, and then make introductions in a way where they’ll actually find common ground. Even as a journalist following him around for an interview, I see this play out for myself. He makes a point to introduce me to everyone he knows, calling out shared interests and starting each conversation on the right foot. I can confidently say I’ve never had an easier time meeting new people than I do this afternoon.
In conversation, Bia comes across as an intensely curious person. (“The only thing I’ve learned in the past few years is that I know nothing,” he tells me. “I’m in a constant state of learning.”) Before I get a chance to start asking him interview questions, he turns the tables and starts asking me questions. How did you get into music journalism? What do you want to do next? At first, I’m wary this might just be a tactic to shift the interview power dynamic in his favor, but as the day goes on, I learn he does this with everyone he meets. And that curiosity seems to have a lot to do with why he’s been able to form close relationships with so many people.
“As we usher in this new era of music, it was primed for someone new to come in, and I think Yeat is that artist.”
As he told GQ, his friendship with Drake commenced with a nine-hour conversation “about life, music, movies, and fashion” after they had become familiar with each other at events Bia would help put on. Telling me about a recent interaction he had with The Weeknd, he describes the international popstar as “a deeply artistic, deeply intelligent, deeply sentient guy.” They had a long talk about life, too, something I get the feeling Bia does quite often.
I ask why he thinks he’s able to connect with people so easily, and he says, “I have a genuine love for finding out how someone grew up: ‘What do they like?’ Oh, shit, we like the same things! I love piquing genuine interests, building those friendships, and introducing friends to friends. It only gets reciprocated.”
Bia is known for his relationships with famous friends, but his interests extend beyond celebrity culture. When I ask who he’s been inspired by recently, he surprises me by bringing up a real estate professional. “One of my closest friends essentially digitized the entire mortgage industry,” he says. “I’m always motivated by seeing people that find solutions to problems that people didn’t even know existed.”
This way of thinking has led to a ridiculously diverse collection of friends, ranging from NBA stars to web designers. “I am in complete admiration of anyone that’s doing amazing special things, regardless of if it’s in my specific interests,” he explains. “I came from being a fan of streetwear, skate culture, ‘80s rock, ‘90s rap, whatever. To me, being able to bring all these people together that didn’t realize they could interact, is really special. I’m lucky to have my foot in streetwear culture as much as I have my foot in other things, and I love being able to be around all these people, whether it be business people or athletes.”
These days, “networking” has become an increasingly dirty word. It’s no secret that Los Angeles is full of people who seek out relationships with their own best interests in mind, so when our conversation veers this direction, I can’t help but ask for his take on it.
“Networking to get ahead or networking to finesse is exactly the opposite of what I preach,” he says. As Bia puts it, he’s been fortunate enough to develop close friendships with some of the world’s most talented people, but he’s very careful not to lean on them and ask for favors. He’d prefer to act as a dot connector, helping to spread ideas around his network of friends, and he knows this will only come back to benefit him in the long run.
A funny thing happens when you find yourself at the center of a group of friends who happen to be some of the most influential people on Earth. A seemingly inconsequential late-night talk with one friend bleeds over to a conversation with someone from a completely different walk of life the next day, and interesting new ideas start flowing from one person to the next.
“I’ve sat down with some of my favorite graphic designers, and they’ll put me on to a book, and they’ll be like, ‘You have to read this book. This is how I got inspiration for this logo,’” he says, citing the first example that comes to mind. “Then I’ll send it to one of my friends who might be a massive artist, and I’ll be like, ‘You should use this.’ Then, the next thing you know, they’ll collab with fucking Adidas or whatever, and use the font I told them to use. It’s not about me getting credit for it, though. It’s about the fact that I was able to piece together information from one thing, and feed it to another. That beautiful exchange of information and energy constantly comes back around. You don’t do it so that you get it back, but in mysterious ways, it does.”
Bia says his wide range of interests stems back to his childhood. After his parents split when he was 9 years old, he was raised in New York City by his mom, and she did everything she could to expose him to all kinds of culture.
“My mom’s the coolest,” he says. “From an early age, she encouraged me to consume music, buy magazines, go skate. She was putting me on to all kinds of stuff, whether it’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Tupac or Eminem or the Rolling Stones.”
Even back then, he had a nose for the music business. “When I was like 8 or 9 years old, my first hustle was filling people’s iPods with music, and they paid me for it,” he remembers. “I was the guy who was on the Hype Machine and all the blogs. I was always that kid. I’ve always been able to search and discover new stuff from all genres.”
Not long after the divorce, Bia’s mom got a job in LA, so he moved to the West Coast with her and he hasn’t looked back since. “My formative years were spent in LA, but I have this New York foundation, and I think it’s the best thing that could have ever happened,” he says.
Los Angeles is where he got his first big break in the entertainment world. As the story goes, he went to a nightclub with his friends for the very first time on his 19th birthday. Fetty Wap happened to be at the same club, and spontaneously invited Bia and his friends over to his table for drinks, where they partied all night.
For most teenagers, a flukey moment like this would have been a fun story to brag about to friends at college the next day, and the tale would have ended there. For Bia, though, he saw it as an opportunity to change the course of the rest of his life.
On his way out of the club that night, a promoter asked for his number, mistakenly assuming Bia was a part of Fetty’s crew, and from that point on, he would get regular invites to come back and hang at the club. He brought a crew of friends from USC each time, which impressed another promoter, and before he knew it, he was getting paid $100 to promote the club one night a week.
“Once I got the opportunity to do things like that, I was like, ‘I can’t ever let this go,’” he says now. “It really was as simple as, I had no other choice. I had to turn nothing into something.”
“I want Field Trip to be known as this place that’s connecting things in a way that you didn’t think they could. That’s kind of like my whole existence.”
Bia’s work ethic impressed John Terzian, founder of the H.Wood Group, an LA hospitality and lifestyle company. Working alongside Terzian, Bia started throwing parties and hosting dinners at places like celebrity hotspot Delilah, which is where he first met Drake and countless other entertainers.
“I always say it was this new ‘golden era’ of LA,” he remembers. “Up until COVID, for three or four years, it was this golden moment where everyone had moved to LA and it felt like it was becoming this new mecca of culture. Because of social media and all these industries changing, LA became the new hub. All these up-and-coming people were moving to the city, and all the established artists were already living in LA. It was just like, ‘Shit, it’s happening.’ We were at the epicenter of it, and our parties became the breeding grounds of where it was all happening.”
Bia’s quick ascent in the entertainment world took a lot of people by surprise, including skeptics who assumed he must be a spoiled kid with wealthy parents. Soon, rumors started flying around on the internet that Bia’s dad had a prestigious job at Dior, which led to his connections.
For a while, Bia didn’t bother commenting on these rumors, but when I ask if people have any misconceptions about him, he brings it up himself. Clearing the air, he explains that the theories about his father are false.
“Anytime I do anything cool or accomplish something, it will always get knocked as, like, ‘Of course he was able to do this, his dad does this,’” he says. “But the reason I haven’t even really talked about my dad is because I have such a bad relationship with him that I didn’t want to even talk about him. My dad is a photographer. I don’t even really know where he lives.”
Considering the reality of Bia’s backstory—growing up with a single mother and breaking into the entertainment industry on his own—the misinformation is even more frustrating. “I’m cool to talk about it now, but it’s been so funny because the biggest thing in my life has been my single mom raising me, and then me trying to accomplish things to help her out,” he says. “She taught me everything and she’s such a beast, and the biggest knock on me is ‘his dad gave him everything,’ but it’s actually the exact opposite.”
So, how did the rumor start in the first place? Well, Bia says his last name is Bialobos (he shortened it to Bia for Instagram) and when people started digging into his background, they misconstrued information. “Someone found out my real last name, Googled it, and saw there was someone who worked at Dior who was distantly related to my dad—like two cousins removed from my dad’s side—and was not even the head of it,” he says. “But it turned into, ‘Zack’s dad worked at Dior. Or Zack’s dad runs Dior.’”
He’s at peace with it now, but he does hope the rumors stop getting in the way of kids being inspired to chase their own dreams.
“It became people’s cop-out as to why I was able to do things, but I wish it was the opposite,” he explains. “If people realized that I was just putting hours of work in, it might actually make them realize that these ‘crazy’ situations I get myself in, they could do it, too. But at the end of the day, I’m still here to just keep doing what I’m doing. I think kids are catching on.”
As Zack Bia watches Lil Yachty’s first-ever DJ set at ComplexCon, an idea pops into his head: “We’ve got to get Yeat up there!”
Before I realize what’s going on, he slips into the crowd, disappears backstage, and materializes right behind Yachty. I can’t see what’s happening onstage from my vantage point, but about 20 minutes later, Bia finds me in the crowd, proudly holds up his phone, and shows me his prize: a photo of Yeat and Yachty, posing next to each other in the DJ booth.
Within hours, the image is all over rap social media pages, stirring up even more hype for Bia’s new signee. In 2022, little moments like these are crucial if you want to break new artists, and Bia is already better equipped to pull them off than most traditional record label executives.
The music industry has changed a lot in recent years, and many of the legacy labels haven’t been able to keep up, which opens the door for more nimble executives like Bia. “Technology and culture has progressed more quickly than labels have,” he says. “The barrier to entry for making music now is lower than it’s ever been, in a good way. In the ‘90s, an A&R would find a really talented singer, get them in the studio, and take years to develop them. If you weren’t in that system, you weren’t getting on late-night TV shows or whatever. Now, any kid can buy a mic on Amazon, record a song in their bedroom, put it out, and things are happening in real time. Things are going viral every day. Kids are meeting on the internet, performing at shows, making music together.”
As a small label with a young, forward-thinking team, Field Trip is able to navigate this fast-paced landscape better than most. “I think the fact that we’re just so in it, in real time, gives us an advantage,” Bia explains. “We’re not only reactive—we’re also a part of creating that moment. I’m seeing this whole SoundCloud 2.0 thing happen, and I’m helping bring them all together. The more they collaborate, the more people are going to catch on, like, ‘Oh, there’s a whole thing happening over here.’ Being in the middle of it allows me to amplify what they want to do, and we can be a lot more active in real time than a major label can, which is why I think we’ve had success creating these partnerships.”
Instead of working in opposition to major labels, Bia has figured out a way to align with them and put his artists in a better position to succeed. Each of Field Trip’s artists are signed in partnership with different major labels: Mallory Merck (Warner), SSGKobe (Columbia), Slump6s (Republic), HVN (Interscope), OnlyBino (Columbia), and Yeat (Geffen). And the wheels are in motion for more label partnerships in the future, including one with Love Renaissance.
“This way, the artists get the best of both worlds,” he says. “They get the advantage of the machine, but they don’t get lost in it. They’re not dealing with people who only work for a label and don’t know them personally. We still get to run point and collaborate on all the rollouts, but now we have an extra staff of 30 people or whatever. who are dedicated to this artist. We can help curate the whole plan, and we’re still in it day to day—I’m still in all the sessions and still A&R—but now we have an extra support system. We can do stuff on the ground that they can’t do, and they can do things on a massive corporate level that we can’t do either.”
And, of course, he can provide connections that even the biggest labels in the world can’t. “We have this network of creatives that’s unparalleled,” he points out. “We know so many kids who shoot videos and make beats, book festivals, DJ, whatever. Plugging into this network allows so much stuff to get made.”
Bia is spending a lot less time promoting parties with H.Wood Group these days, but he says one thing will always help him keep his finger on the pulse: DJing.
“Every week, I’m DJing somewhere,” he says. “To me, the whole thing is about mixing it up: playing for 4,000 people in Vegas one day, and then playing D33J’s party in Silver Lake at a sweaty dance party the next. A lesson I learned from being around Virgil [Abloh] for so many years is, like, he’d go play this festival and then he’d play this underground secret Miami backdoor subway station party or whatever. Being able to be at the ground level and interact with things you like is so important.”
After studying under the best—Pedro Cavaliere, Virgil Abloh, and Future the Prince, among others—DJing became a passion for Bia. It’s where he tests out which songs are connecting with people, discovers new music, and plays his own favorites. If you ever end up at a party where Bia is DJing, expect the unexpected—he’ll play everything from Yung Lean deep cuts to “We Are Young” in the same set.
“All my natural interests and skills from other things translate into this,” he says. “I’m not a painter. I’m not an artist. I don’t get to pour myself out into a record. DJing is my only form of creative expression in that sense. That’s what I like to do. I like to sprinkle moments of laughter.”
Bia doesn’t just DJ anywhere, of course. Just a few weeks ago, he got a call from the notoriously reclusive Abel Tesfaye, who invited him over to his home before dropping Dawn FM. “He told me, ‘I made this album in quarantine with thoughts of what partying used to be like, and what a party album should sound like. We should throw a party, and you should DJ,’” Bia recalls. Before he knew it, he was DJing a private party at Delilah with one of the biggest stars in the world.
Field Trip is always in the back of Bia’s mind, even in moments like this, so he brought along some of his artists, knowing it would be an invaluable learning experience for them to be in the same room as a superstar like The Weeknd. “Bino just turned 19 and he’s making some of his first trips to LA. He’s just now understanding how big the world is, and for him to be there, it was inspiring to see the kind of heights that an artist can reach.”
As he maps out his plans for 2022, Bia is excited about the future of Field Trip. He just finished setting up a studio space on Sunset Boulevard, which used to be Frank Sinatra’s old office. (“There’s some magical little energy in there,” he says.) And he’s having fun building up a tight-knit company culture, proudly showing me limited edition Field Trip jackets designed by Verdy. (They’re reserved for a very exclusive group of friends and family, including his artists, his employees, his mom, Cole Bennett, and Drake.)
This year, Bia plans to start releasing music that he executive produced himself, and he has ambitious long-term projects in mind, like a Field Trip music festival. And he tells me he’ll be signing more pop artists in an effort to expand the label’s roster to new genres. It all feeds into his ultimate goal: “I want Field Trip to be the next Interscope. But I want to figure out a new way of doing things, because we have new tools and resources that people didn’t have before, and we get to start from scratch. We don’t have to conform to any model.”
Bia says he’s driven by a desire to build a company that has permanence. “I want Field Trip to be known as this place that’s connecting things in a way that you didn’t think they could,” he reveals. “That’s kind of like my whole existence. I want to make sure that we’re constantly empowering and amplifying artists of all genres and tying in all these worlds, so that when it’s all said and done, Field Trip lives on after me. When I die, I still want Field Trip to be a company that someone else takes over.”
Fortunately, there’s a whole lot more living to do for Bia. Ever since that fateful day in the club with Fetty Wap six years ago, he’s been on a mission to make every opportunity count.
“You won’t believe the type of amazing things that start to happen when you just go for it,” he reminds me. “I still remember that 16-year-old who would’ve freaked out about all of this. I feel like I’ve already lived 50 lives, but I constantly want to live more.”