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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

James McMillan knows the hip-hop music industry. He got his start in the early 1990s, launching his first record label. Two years later, the Cleveland native headed to law school where he studied entertainment law. Upon graduating in 1997, James went on to practice for the next 20 years. Still interested in the music biz, he eventually dabbled in management, overseeing the careers of 8Ball and later, Machine Gun Kelly. In 2017, James, now 50, put law to the side to immerse himself fully in music. He signed a deal with Atlantic Records for his own label, Art@War, and signed his first acts, YBN Nahmir, YBN Almighty Jay and Cordae. Here, the label head talks about the importance of relationships in the music industry, what he looks for when signing new artists and more.

On The Importance of Relationships

Relationships are everything in this business. It’s extremely important to have a network of people that have been through those experiences before. We all, at some point in time, go through similar situations and need that guidance and those people that we can tap into that are going to pour into us.

On Characteristics to Look for in New Artists

It’s more than just the raw talent. A lot of people think, Well, so and so can rap or sing, therefore they are a viable candidate. But, it’s also their mindset. Can you grow with this person? Do they have a personality that other people are going to find engaging? Can they sell the product? I’ve been involved with different acts where they had amazing music. But over time, we realized that there’s, they’re probably better suited to be songwriters and producers. So, it’s a number of different factors.

On Advice for Aspiring Label Execs

Put your ego aside. Keep your relationships sharp. Stay in contact with people that you think can help you. Try to add value to any situation that you’re in. Maintain your integrity. Like, let’s say, you introduce somebody to a situation and then all of a sudden, they’re trying to figure out how to make it their own situation and cut you out… People like that generally don’t last.

Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2021 issue including Cardi B's cover story, how rappers are legally making money from the cannabis boom and the social justice that comes with itSnowfall's Damson Idris on how hip-hop impacted his life, A$AP Ferg reflects on the making of his Always Strive and Prosper album, Shelley F.K.A. DRAM talks about his comebackTrippie Redd speaks on how Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert helped change hip-hop, Waka Flocka Flame checks in with us and gives an update on his Flockaveli 2 album in What's Happenin', Show & Prove interviews with 42 DuggBlxstLakeyah and Rubi RoseErica Banks discusses the making of hit song "Buss It," the Internet Money takeover with producers Taz Taylor and Nick Mira, the artists that are up next on rapper-run record labels and more.

See Cardi B's XXL Magazine Spring 2021 Cover Story Photo Shoot

Cardi B covers the spring 2021 issue of XXL magazine.

Gallery Credit: AB + DM

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