Kevin Liles is looking for America's next hottest rapper.
"We're gonna find that rapper," the 300 Entertainment co-founder and music executive smiled confidently in a back room at Manhattan's Espace on Tuesday night for the label's new venture with Verizon, the Freestyle 50 Challenge.
The national competition will allow rising lyricists to put their bars to the test and compete for the chance to open for various 300 artists' tours. "I want to celebrate people while they're here," says Liles, sporting a puffer vest and pouring himself a glass of Acqua Panna water, sitting alongside producer London On Da Track. "I notice you. I want to go around the country and celebrate what you're creating."
Liles and London formally announced the partnership to a room comprised of press, hip-hop enthusiasts and executives for a mixer hosted by Nile "Low Key" Ivey of Beats 1 and soundtracked by Power 105's DJ Envy. Def Jam's recent signee and Harlem native Dave East walked about while indie rappers like Bronx's Don Q and Brooklyn's Casanova are spotted. The event closed with the Bronx's ascendant A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie performing a set that includes his breakout hit "My Shit" as well as "Friend Zone" and "Ransom."
To participate in the Freestyle 50 challenge, upstart rappers upload a verse over Dae Dae's "Spend It" (a track helmed by London) to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #Freestyle50Challenge and tag @verizon. Seven finalists will open for 300 artists and fly to Atlanta where one scores a deal with 300 Entertainment, along with $10,000. "We believe in technology," says Liles, underscoring the importance of social media in the activation. "Rick Rubin once said to me, 'When you make the best music, they'll find it.'"
Liles assured that his company is fully invested in launching the winner's career. "We got the whole company behind them. We got one of the best producers in the game behind them," he added. "There's no reason that one of these kids who wins is not successful in chasing their dream, freestyling their way to success."
London is a fitting partner for Liles. The 24-year-old has enjoyed a surge of popularity, thanks to producing for the likes of Drake, Gucci Mane and 21 Savage. "I just want to give the next artist the opportunity to turn up," the beatsmith says. The two share an interesting backstory. It was London's mother, a longtime friend of Liles', who introduced the two about four months ago. "He was already working with our artists and I didn't know him," laughs Liles, who subsequently signed the producer. "This is family."
300 Entertainment has steadily built its roster, which now includes Fetty Wap, Young Thug, Migos and Dae Dae, but the multimedia company has faced a significant executive shuffle recently. Earlier, Lyor Cohen announced his move to YouTube as Global Head of Music while Todd Moscowitz launched his own label at Universal Music Group. Liles sees these transitions as additional resources for 300. "We're freestyling our way through life," he jokes. "We have great partners. Lyor's still a major [partner], YouTube's my partner and Google's my partner in 300. Now, I have access to more than I've ever had before," he explains. "One thing you never have to worry about -- if I'm it, we're gonna win."