The management spotlight offers a small insight into the heads of incredible management. This week in the spotlight is NQ!
Can you tell us when and how NQ was established? And who are the key members of the NQ team?
Having been raised in Manchester’s rich musical culture, Michael Adex (CEO) recognised the need for more music infrastructure in the north. With a plethora of artists pouring from Manchester’s venues yet struggling to emerge nationally, Adex pulled together a small team with vision and a plan to change that. Whilst scouting local clubs and rap nights, he discovered a young, fiery Moston rapper called Aitch performing at an open mic night at Stage & Radio. In 2017, Adex signed on to be his manager with their eyes set on breaking him to the national stage and beyond. The following year, Aitch dropped his breakthrough single ‘Straight Rhymez’, plunging him into stardom. There was no better time to start building the infrastructure that Manchester’s creative scene so desperately needed. In July 2018, Adex founded the then named ‘Northern Quarterz’, a 360 talent management and entertainment company.
Since then, NQ has grown into a significant component of the musical landscape in Manchester. Equally the team has grown with industry native and COO Louis Brown, formerly of Island Records & Metropolis, Via Culpan, Day to Day Manager of Aitch & MIST, and David O’Sullivan, NQ’s Head of A&R who make up key members of NQ’s management team.
Could you share some information about the artists and creative talent currently on your roster?
The Moston, Manchester multi-platinum-selling rapper and now BRIT award-winning artist, Aitch cemented his status as one of the most exciting young British artists with the release of his #2 debut album, Close to Home.
Following the release of platinum-selling hit single ‘Baby’, one of the biggest-selling British records of the year, plus a string of top 10 smashes and brilliant collaborations (Ed Sheeran, Anne-Marie, Giggs, AJ Tracey, Tion Wayne), Aitch is at the very top of his game, a Forbes list 30 Under 30 recipient who has added depth and meaning to his loveable rap persona. Northern roots, global influence? Aitch defines it.
The most exhilarating debut to come out of Manchester since Definitely Maybe (released five years before Aitch was born), Close to Home brims full of cocksure swagger and confidence – the undeniable, inspirational and infectious soundtrack to the young life of a Northern star who’s already achieved so much. It’s the sound of a teenage kickboxer from a rough North Manchester estate who became a rapper, blew up, and went around the world, putting his hometown back on the global music map. Berry Gordy used to boast Motown was ‘the sound of young America’. Aitch was nurtured at NQ, a musical powerhouse on a slip road out of Manchester city centre, now undeniably the sound of young Britain. “The whole album is about growing up in Manchester, then leaving, then finally coming home after going around the world,” says Aitch. Close to Home captures a young artist at the top of his game, flexing his wings and ever-growing songwriting skills.
After a short hiatus, MIST is back — and more focused than he’s ever been. Since his “Rollin’” hit with Burna Boy in 2021, the Birmingham rapper has launched a motor show called Gassed Up on BBC Three and featured on countless tracks with everyone from Nathan Dawe to Bugzy Malone to fellow Brummie spitter Mowgs. Even so, fans have been crying out for a follow-up to his 9-track Diamond In The Dirt EP, which came out in 2018. Now ready with his long-awaited debut album, Redemption, he still feels as if he owes his fans. Redemption is a nod to the transformative time since Diamond…, his newfound faith, the mistakes he made in his younger years and his ongoing journey to becoming a better man.
The MIST who stands before us now, in 2023, is “new and improved”, he says, a MIST 2.0, if you like. “MIST is grown now. I don’t feel like I’ve ever touched on the grown side of me in my music like that. I’ve got two kids: a 12-year-old daughter and a son. Man’s a real dad! I go to parents’ evening and have to talk to teachers about stuff. I’m a family man and I want to show my growth as a person with Redemption.”
Signing with Warner soon after he dropped his 2016 EP, M I S to the T, the rapper has since had a number of Top 40 singles, as well as a Top 5 project in Diamond In The Dirt, with over 500,000,000 total streams to his name. He also has an imprint called SickMade Entertainment — which, up to now, has been a platform solely for his own music and maintaining control over his artistic direction. With Warner, however, he’s found a mutual trust and respect that he says will help him build an empire. “For me, it’s all about opening doors for people who never get the chance,” he says. “I really want to make a platform for Northerners as there’s so much talent up here. I want to make something that can showcase talent without forcing it.”
whYjay is the multi-platinum selling record producer instrumental in some of the UK’s chart toppers. You’ve heard his production in certified Platinum bangers ‘Taste (Make It Shake)’ by Aitch, ArrDee’s ‘Flowers’, and Tion Wayne & La Roux’s ‘IFTK’ and infectious tunes like Central Cee’s ‘Doja’ (certified Gold in UK & US). He executive produced Aitch’s debut album ‘Close To Home’ which peaked at Number 2 in the UK album charts, including the top ten single ‘My G’ featuring superstar Ed Sheeran. He also bagged two Silvers from his work on DigDat’s ‘Ei8ht Mile’ and ArrDee & Aitch’s ‘War’. His undeniable success in UK rap hasn’t stopped him from continuing to grow and expand sonically. whYjay is showcasing his talent across the UK’s most exciting pop prospects like Flo’s ‘Fly Girl’ and Caity Baser’s ‘Pretty Boys’, both charting in Top 40.
LiTek is the multi platinum-selling record producer behind some of the UK’s biggest hits like ArrDee’s ‘Flowers’ & Tion Wayne’s ‘IFTK’ which certified Platinum and Central Cee’s ‘Doja’ which certified Gold in the UK & US. LiTek also produced the lion’s share of records on ArrDee’s debut project ‘Pier Pressure’ which is now certified Gold in the UK. LiTek scored a Silver with ‘Je M’appelle’ by West London rhymer Benzz and another two Silvers with Aitch & Arrdee’s ‘War’ and ‘My G’ from Aitch’s debut full-length album Close to Home.
Having swept the UK Rap scene, Litek demonstrates his versatility through his production of the UK’s most exciting rising pop acts. From Flo’s iconic team up with Missy Elliot on ‘Fly Girl’, to Caity Baser’s infectious ‘Pretty Boys’, both charting in Top 40, this is only just a taste of what’s to come for the young prodigy.
What criteria or factors do you consider when making decisions on which artists and talents to sign?
One is obviously the talent, it’s difficult to be discerning in just that regard! There’s so much talent coming from the North. More importantly, we would say hardwork & dedication. If there is talent and growth potential, alongside a willingness to listen and grind, then that is a winning combination to us. We are always seeking to add value — we would never sign somebody that we don’t feel like we can help grow them as an artist and grow their business. Equally, they need to be as committed about their own music as we are.
In your opinion, what are the major challenges that music management companies are facing in 2023?
One challenge is just the amount of data that exists now due to streaming and the internet. It’s great to have access to all the streaming, sales, and fan data, but as a small team working with established artists – how do you actually process and analyse all that data? It almost feels like you need a subdivision of the company dedicated to analysing and tracking trends. While it provides guidance and can evidence what works and what doesn’t, there is also the argument that you will see less bold, innovative decisions from artists and the industry simply because it doesn’t align with what the data suggests.
What market developments or technologies most excite you about the future?
Artists are becoming a lot more self-sufficient, which is great. Due to the proliferation of your Distrokid’s and Ditto’s alongside improvements in home recording tech, that’s shifted the power in the industry towards the artists in a really positive way. You can see this reflected in the record deals offered – more opportunities to licence music rather than have labels own it, profit shares, generally more favourable terms for artists. We’ve even noticed some interesting business models where companies strictly offer advances to artists based on their streaming data. Labels will still be important for artists looking to break internationally, they have a lot of resources and connections, but it’s great to see the power being put back into the hands of artists.
Can you provide any insights into the future plans or upcoming projects of NQ?
We’re excited to launch our first ever annual NQ Challenge Cup – a celebrity football tournament all in the name of funding some charities close to our hearts – NQ Legacy, Down Syndrome Association, Black Minds Matter UK, and Manchester Central Foodbank. We have a fantastic lineup of teams with Aitch, MIST, Tion Wayne, Harry Pinero, Nemzzz, and Drama Call. Keep an eye on our socials for more information about that and to see who will take home the trophy!
Other than that, we have some huge ambitions for 2024 with our artists and as a company. The key phrase being ‘expansion of the NQ empire’. We can’t say much more about that now but keep your eyes peeled!
What music is the team currently listening to?
You can check out our staff curated playlist at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0VS4HFgq8IJGlYqaOvDDNp
For more information on NQ, visit their website here.