Lena Waithe Launches A New Label, Hillman Grad Records, With Def Jam

Queen & Slim creator Lena Waithe is making the jump from film and TV into music, announcing the creation of a new label with Def Jam, Hillman Grad Records (named for Waithe’s production company, which itself is named for the fictional HBCU in A Different World). Waithe will be joined by Tebs Maqubela and Albert Cooke to “identify and develop underrepresented artists in hopes of priming them for long-term success,” according to a press release. Maquebela previously helped develop Brockhampton, while Cooke worked in Artist Development at Island Def Jam and Artist Relations at SoundCloud.

Waithe detailed the importance of storytelling in music in a statement, saying, “Music and storytelling have always gone hand in hand. And I think that’s because musicians are the storytellers we love the most. They can take complex emotions and simplify it in four minutes, the same artist can sing about the revolution and falling in love. Music is a part of us. It’s so often connected to our fondest and sometimes our darkest memories. Musicians tell our story. At Hillman Grad Productions we believe in identifying and amplifying new talent, and we want to continue to do that in the music industry. Jeff Harleston and his phenomenal team at Def Jam have given us their trust and their resources to help develop artists that not only have potential but staying power. We look forward to the journey ahead.” Interestingly enough, Waithe isn’t the only film talent getting into the music business.

In 2020, Atlantic Records partnered with television and film creator Issa Rae for Raedio, a new record label that has since been the launching pad for a number of successful emerging artists like Pink Sweats, Teamarr, and Yung Baby Tate, as well as the Insecure soundtrack. If this sort of thing really does become a trend, it’ll go a long way toward reversing a dire lack of Black and female executives in the recording industry, bringing new voices to the fore, which we’re all the way here for. Someone get Quinta Brunson on the phone.