Victor Victor Worldwide’s founder joined Rich Kleiman’s “Out of Office” to discuss racing Ferraris, the late Pop Smoke, and his journey to becoming one of the most heralded names in music.
Steven Victor is on auto-pilot as he walks into his office at Universal Music Group’s Symphony House Tower headquarters.
Victor — headphones in, rearranging the space slightly — is surrounded by multi-platinum plaques, a blown-up poster from his Billboard shoot alongside Pusha T, Pharrell Williams, and Nigo, and a diamond-encrusted dog sitting in a glass — the go-to symbol of his label imprint, Victor Victor Worldwide.
But none of that gets a jolt out of Victor as much as when Boardroom and 35V co-founder and CEO Rich Kleiman asks him about his summer spent racing Ferraris.
“There’s two things: This summer, I went to race Ferraris in Italy. I did this event with Monza,” Victor clarified, leaning forward on the couch. “Ferrari does these courses where you go and learn how to drive on a track and then you complete a set of schools. Once you complete the schools, you can race Challenge cars. There’s about 10 races a year and you compete against other Ferrari members in your group.”
On the latest edition of Boardroom’s “Out Of Office,” Kleiman then poses the we’re-all-wondering question: How does one even become a “Ferrari member?”
“You gotta pay,” Victor says with a laugh. “You get invited, but then you have to buy a whole lot of Ferraris and you have to buy a race car.”
Kleiman asks the natural follow-up: “You have your own race car?”
“No, but I got one coming next year,” Victor smirks.
Kleiman and Victor notably go way back, having worked in this very building before — Kleiman during his time at Roc Nation, Victor while working as Pusha T’s manager. Since then, Victor has gone on to become the COO of G.O.O.D. Music, help break Grammy-nominated artists, and create his own imprint, Victor Victor Worldwide.
In a wide-ranging “Out of Office” conversation, the pair reunited to discuss Victor’s rubber-burning hobby, the importance of his relationship with the late Pop Smoke, and his journey to becoming one of the most heralded names in music.
Growing up in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn amid the golden era of hip-hop in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Victor was fairly sheltered. The second of two children to Haitian immigrant parents — his older sister, Melissa Victor, is the Head of Publicity at Epic Records — Steven recalled his imagination running increasingly wild as he’d listen to his father play country music, his mom play reggae, and Melissa play Mobb Deep around the house.
After some adolescent boundary-pushing, Victor’s family sent him to Hargrave Military Academy, a private boarding school in Chatham, Virginia. There, he locked in on his academics and avoided trouble, securing admission to the prestigious Morehouse College. He quickly realized it was not what he wanted, but despite the challenges, Victor stuck it out for four years and graduated with degrees in English and psychology.
All the while, he had inclinations toward music. But making inroads in the recording industry itself felt unattainable.
“I always had this opinion of the music industry that you had to have musical ability to work in it. Whether it was [that] you could sing, rap, produce, write, or direct,” Victor said. “I always thought you had to have some sort of talent like that until my friend got an internship with Bad Boy — he wasn’t doing anything creative, but he was in the room.”
During his junior year at Morehouse, Victor had a roommate whose father ran an imprint label called University under the Interscope and Universal umbrella that was home to popular acts like Dru Hill and Mýa. Victor saw his opportunity. He asked his roommate for an intro to his dad, Haqq Islam, who would give Victor his first shot as an intern.
The seed had been planted, and it would grow when Victor met a member of the label’s PR department named Junior Suriel.
“Where I was interning, I was down the hall from [Junior’s] office and he’d have a bunch of artists going in and out,” Victor said. “I’d see DJ Clue. I’d see Jay-Z. So, I just walked into his office one day and I’m like, ‘yo, let me get an internship.’ And he was just, like, ‘cool.’”
Victor would do all he could for the opportunity — coordinating schedules, assisting on photo shoots, and doing just about whatever was necessary to keep things rolling.
“I was a huge Clipse and Pharrell fan, and I became friendly with Pharrell’s assistant — one day I was just like, ‘yo, introduce me to Pharrell. I want to work with him, do PR for Star Trak.’ And she’s like, ‘Pharrell’s not going to speak to you,'” he recalled with a laugh.
But as fate would have it, the young lady would tell Victor that Clipse was in need of a publicist and that she could get him on the phone with one half of Clipse: Pusha T.
“He called me the next day and I just got on the phone with him and I was like, ‘this is what you should be doing,’ and I just went off on, like, a 20-minute rant. At the end of the rant, I was like, ‘yo, just hire me and I’ll work for free,” he said, “and if you like what I’m doing, then you can figure out some sort of pay structure.'”
Pusha T bought it and hired Victor as the Clipse’s publicist, and later offered him the opportunity to become the duo’s co-manager alongside Suave House founder Tony Draper, whom Victor credits for much of the development of his own business acumen.
After Clipse broke up in 2010, Push eventually landed at G.O.O.D. Music, Kanye West’s joint venture with Universal Music Group; Victor himself later joined as an A&R executive. The two would later take over the management of G.O.O.D. Music’s catalog entirely as President and COO, respectively, in 2015. They would go on to sign acts like Desiigner and help push songs like “Panda” to RIAA-certified triple-platinum heights, but all the while Victor was steadily fleshing out his own management roster at the time, signing a series of producers and beginning to work with artists like The-Dream and Tyga full-time under the William Victor Management Group banner.
As his initial contract was soon to expire and it became time to negotiate, a fateful call came from Michelle Anthony, Executive VP at UMG. She said five unforgettable words: “Lucian wants to meet you.”
When the most powerful man in music — at the time and still — comes calling, there’s only one answer, so Victor met with UMG chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge.
“I want you to work for me,” he recalled the exec saying. “We’re going to create a position for you and I’m going to give you your own company.”
Welcome to Victor Victor Worldwide.
His Universal deal would be one of the first under “The Center,” a collection of labels, executives, and partnerships that operated within the core of UMG that reported directly to Grainge. He could sign any artist with his own budget and decide what to do with them within the UMG family tree. It wasn’t long before it became all about Victor Victor Worldwide (which was originally called “Victor Records” until RCA, the sole proprietor of that trademark, sent a cease-and-desist).
Along the road of signing acts and establishing the new label, Victor was then met with yet another opportunity in 2017: working as a label head at Def Jam under Paul Rosenberg. It wasn’t ultimately the right fit, but on his way out of Def Jam, longtime friend and producer Rico Beats in the office right next door was aggressively pushing the music of an unknown kid from Victor’s old neighborhood, Canarsie.
His name was Bashar Barakah Jackson, also known as Pop Smoke. At the time, Pop was still developing his sound and hadn’t begun gravitating toward drill music. “In 12 months, this kid will change your life,” Rico insisted in a text message to Victor.
Victor signed Pop Smoke to Victor Victor Worldwide and took him to market, shopping him to UMG’s family of labels first before settling in with Republic Records. Not even six months later, following a couple of well-received singles and mixtapes, Pop Smoke was already being touted as the next “King of New York.” All the trust paid off as two of the smoky-voiced rapper’s anthems, “Welcome To The Party” and “Dior,” took over the city streets in the summer of 2019. Soon, Pop Smoke would become the face of the Chicago-born, UK-influenced Brooklyn drill scene.
But on Feb. 19, 2020, months before the release of his debut album, Victor awoke in the middle of the night in an LA hotel room to a call from his wife. “You need to call [Victor Victor Director of Artist Management] Shivam [Pandya] right now, because everybody is trying to get in touch with you,” she said.
As Victor recollects, “I called and he was just hysterical. ‘You gotta get to the hospital, you gotta get to the hospital, Pop’s been shot.‘”
Pop Smoke was declared dead shortly after arriving at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after being shot in a home invasion in Hollywood Hills, California. He was 20 years old.
It was a shocking loss. A distraught Victor was left not knowing which way was up.
“You’re being selfish. You can’t let your emotions and this depressed state stop you from executing the plans you had, because just three weeks ago, you guys were in my office talking about taking over the world,” Victor recalled the Queens rapper saying. “Who’s gonna keep his legacy going? Who’s gonna make sure his music comes out so that he takes care of his family?”
Victor was a man of his word, delivering Pop Smoke’s debut studio LP, Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon, in July 2020. It would go on to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, go double-Platinum, become the first posthumous debut album to top the Billboard charts, and lead to a 2021 Grammy nomination for “Dior” as Best Rap Song.
He’d helped Pop across the finish line.
Even if the man himself wasn’t here to see it.
As of August 2022, Victor Victor’s roster features a mix of veterans (Pusha T, Ski Mask the Slump God, Pop Smoke’s estate), up-and-comers (Weiland, Autumn and Reyanna Marie), and producers (CashMoneyAP, YoungKio), and a man Victor jokingly calls his “son,” 16yrold, the first artist signed under VVW.
His most recent signing, however, doesn’t fit into any of those categories. Rather, he’s one of the most storied and influential Japanese designers in popular culture today: Nigo, who co-produced an album for the label earlier this year entitled I Know Nigo!
A longtime creative who’s responsible for founding streetwear giant BAPE and more recently becoming KENZO’s Artistic Director, Victor convinced Nigo to design VVW’s official logo.
As Victor said in summation of his vision: “Everything I’m doing, there has to be some of me in it creatively.”
And while this whole operation is officially worldwide, there’s no need to wonder whether Steven Victor is pure New York. When posed with the age-old question about naming the top-five rappers of all time, Victor kept things local:
Pop Smoke, Biggie Smalls, 2Pac, Fabolous, Jay-Z, and Jadakiss.
You can take him all the way to Tokyo. But the hitmaker’s heart stays in Canarsie.
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