By Tristin Marshall
Motown President Ethiopia Habtemariam was highlighted in a Billboard feature as the most powerful African-American woman at Universal Music Group, the parent label to Motown Records.
Habtemariam, who was raised under the influence of the Atlanta music scene and culture, skipped college to begin a career in music that has spanned nearly two decades. She began interning at Elektra Records at fourteen, and moved into publishing after her role as a part-time assistant at LaFace Records once she graduated high school. Over the next decade she moved through the ranks of publishing, which afforded her the opportunity to join Motown in 2011 as Senior Vice President, then president in 2014.
Since her appointment, she has moved Motown into the hip-hop space, which completes the vision that Berry Gordy had decades before to be “The Sound of Young America.” She has signed some of rap’s biggest names today including Migos, Lil Yachty, Rich Homie Quan, and Stefflon Don, who was just named in XXL Magazine’s 2018 Freshman Class.
Habtemariam is well aware of the role she plays as a Black woman in the music industry, and is adamant about changing the structure of the urban departments she is in charge of. “It’s on [music executives] to be vocal and active in creating opportunities,” she tells Billboard. “Real initiatives need to be put in place. If the people working on a project don’t look like the people you’re trying to touch with your records, there’s a problem.”
In September, Habtemariam spoke to a panel at Advertising Week about the importance of branding in a hip-hop world, where she spoke to how powerful artists like Lil Yachty can be to a brand as an influencer. “So much of black culture is about lifestyle, and it’s exciting to think about the opportunities,” she says. “While we have this light on our culture, my big focus is on understanding how to take the R&B/hip-hop business to another level.” She was also previously head of urban and creative affairs at Universal Music Publishing Group.
Sylvia Rhone, the President of Epic Records–whom Habtemariam wrote a letter to at age sixteen to express her interest in the music business–and Juliette Jones, Atlantic Records Executive VP, are also highlighted in the feature story alongside Habtemariam.
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