5K Records was established in 2020, but it wasn’t until the end of 2022 that the team uncovered the artist that would change everything for the label.
An offshoot of 2K Management, the company that put J Hus on the map and helped Young T & Bugsey break through, 5K is run by co-presidents Moe Bah and Kilo Jalloh. Together with partner Jae5 - producer for J Hus, Dave and many more - and A&R Melanie Ijieh they are enjoying their most successful period yet thanks to one song in particular.
People, the debut UK hit by new 5K signing Libianca has turned into something of a phenomenon over the past few months. Snuck out before Christmas, it motored to 100,000 total streams very quickly after going viral on TikTok, where Ijieh first discovered a snippet Libianca posted last November.
“I had no clue who Libianca was, it just came up on my For You page,” said Ijieh, who came through Sony Music UK’s internship A&R Academy programme, initially working at RCA before moving across to 5K. “The caption was about being depressed and starting to drink more alcohol and the way she set out the video made me keep listening, then I heard her voice and was like, ‘Yeah, done deal!’”
Across the original version, remixes featuring Ayra Starr & Omah Lay and Cian Ducrot, plus sped up and slowed down versions, People has almost 200 million Spotify plays, where Libianca now has more than 15 million monthly listeners. On TikTok, the sound has 121 million views and Libianca has 7.7 million likes.
Slowly but surely, those numbers translated to the weekly singles chart, where People has been climbing steadily all year, reaching a peak of No.2 last week, adding to Sony Music UK’s success in 2023. The track now has 315,231 UK sales to date, according to the Official Charts Company.
“With this song in particular, a lot of people can connect with it because of the lyrical ideas of drinking alcohol for five days, but also peoople checking in on you," said Jalloh, who is also working with Zakhar at 5K. "Marketing it has been fairly easy, the song does most of the work, it’s just been about getting it a wider audience.”
Music Week spoke to Libianca for the April edition of On The Radar, now we hear from Bah, Jalloh and Ijieh about how their discovery and diligent work has led to the birth of a monster hit. The trio also talk us through what comes next for Libianca and 5K as a whole…
Going back to the first time you heard Libianca, what were your initial reactions?
Kilo Jalloh: “This was the one song that the whole team was just like, ‘Yeah, this is defo one that is going to do very well for us.’ When Mel first found it, she put it in the group chat. She always sends lots of stuff in there. I think it was the next day, I doubled back on the link she’d sent and said, ‘This is very nice by the way, please can you reach out?’ That’s when we started paying attention a bit more and wanted to hear the full song, because it wasn’t out at the time. It was a snippet that Libianca had put online. So Mel got in touch and she sent us the full version of the song. Jae5 was going to mix it and arrange it, but he also wanted to make a few alterations, so he did what Libianca wanted but also asked if he could try an arrangement and see if she was happy. He added the gang vocals that actually made the chorus become the chorus. At first, the main part of the song that everyone likes was a bridge, but Jae5 turned that into the chorus and added backing vocals. Everyone, including Libianca and her manager, loved it after that.”
Moe Bah: “We are actually very picky. It’s really rare that we all agree on something [straight away], this was the first time in a while where all of us were just gassed, all of us wanted to do it. We knew we were onto something. When we put it out, I think it hit about 100,000 streams then we said to ourselves, let’s try and get to 200,000 and we just kept working it and working it and it got to 300 and 400,000, we were just like, ‘What do we need to do next?’ It was definitely an exciting time. Especially because it was during the Christmas break when we should have been with our families, but we actually had work to do.”
Libianca means business and she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to be successful
Libianca had been a contestant on The Voice in America and was in a previous label deal. Did it surprise you to know just how much she’d already experienced in the industry?
Melanie Ijieh: “I’m still finding out stuff about her. In the studio the other day she was showing me videos on the deepest parts of the web and I was like, ‘I had no clue you ever even made music like this and she was like, ‘Yep, I tried not to tell people!’ If anything it just made me feel like she’s really ready for this. Going through The Voice is super intense and having conversations with her where she explained her journey through that period gave me confidence. Sometimes, I feel like you find artists and everyone would like to say they’re ready for everything that’s coming their way, but saying it and actually being ready are two different things. When I found out what she’d been through in the industry, it gave me more clarity to know that she means business and she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to be successful. She will tell you herself, she was close to giving up music altogether. It makes sense that this is her time.”
Can you describe the approach so far with Libianca in terms of A&R?
MI: “Firstly I had a really long conversation with her about her musical goals and people she’d like to work with, but also how she likes to work in terms of studio sessions, what type of artist she wants to be and how she makes music. After having chats like that, we realised it’s a game of finding who are the producers we can build relationships with and consistently develop new sounds. She’s an incredibly talented writer and I don’t really worry about her being able to write, I think it’s about finding those people she’s comfortable to really unlock those parts of herself. I’ve put her in a few sessions with people who 5K and 2K have worked with, who we can trust and vouch for, allowing her to get comfortable and make music when she sees fit. It worked really well, we got a lot of demos cut and that was because we took our time and didn't put her in 10,000 sessions with people she doesn’t know or who we may not know. We were confident she would vibe and gel with the people we sent her in with and it is turning out pretty decent.
We’re just trying to build great artists that can have worldwide appeal
Generally speaking, what defines 5K’s approach to A&R? What are you looking for and where?
MI: “I do a lot of discovery on TikTok and social media. There are lower barriers to entry and anyone can make music there, which is quite nice because it shouldn’t be super difficult to make music and put it out. I have in my head the things I would like to work on, there are some genres I listen to more [at any given time] then I get a feeling of whether I like something or not and then I reach out.”
MB: “It’s not like we’re fixed on one genre or sound. We’re trying to build a team that’s diverse in what they like. For us it’s just about exceptional talent, if we can identify an artist where they stand out and there’s something different about them… There’s a lot of artists that are super talented, but especially with the industry and the market the way it is now, there’s got to be something different [about them], something that we like. It might be their writing capability, their flow, their style, how they are as a person, there’s just so much. We’re just trying to build great artists that can have worldwide appeal. With TikTok you can come across people from literally anywhere in the world. It’s not just like, ‘Let’s just sign someone from the UK because we’re from the UKl.’ For example, Libianca is from the States. We are looking, but we’re looking for great artists that are going to have long careers. We’ve been doing this three years now, we’re still trying to build a stable roster. Next year, we want to be able to have two or three established artists on the roster. We don’t sign too much, we’re not just trying to sign and hope for the best. We’re really trying to focus on developing and building great artists.”
You’re a UK label, working with a US act who also has African heritage. How do you approach the different markets?
MB: “It’s very ambitious. We’re speaking to different partners and people and learning a lot. We’re talking about a potential Latin remix and speaking to the Latin team [at Sony] and figuring out how all those different markets work and collaborating across the world. It’s really exciting.”
There are certain ways where the label operates more like a management company
You’re label bosses now, how are you finding the shift?
KJ: “I wouldn't pretend as if it’s been smooth sailing. It took a lot of learning, a few mistakes, because when you’re a manager your first thought is, ‘My artist needs this no matter what the cost is,’ but when you’re a manager and the cost is yours it’s a bit like, ‘Okay cool, let’s find something that’s a bit more feasible that makes sense for everybody.’ We still want the artist to be happy but we need to worry about the P&L a bit more. People came out at the right time, we’ve made the mistakes we needed to get out of our system and we’re building a team that is structured more like how we operate. There’s certain traits where the label operates more like a management company which is working to our benefit.”
Finally, Melanie, having come up through Sony’s internship scheme, have you found a home at 5K?
MI: “I was put in one of the biggest frontline labels in Sony Music UK [RCA]. It was good because I learnt a lot about the big systems. How to navigate not speaking to everybody at the label, you’re speaking to a select few who work on stuff you work on. How to figure out by yourself how to push things and get things heard. Moving over to 5K, which is the opposite end of the spectrum in size at a major label, it’s been beneficial to me because I tend to work better in more informal settings. I will run around when I think of something and disturb everyone because my brain is working fast. 5K has allowed me to work with people who can tolerate me being absolutely mad but also give me space to do really cool stuff. Sometimes you don’t feel comfortable nagging people, 5K I don’t feel any type of way about that. It’s a good home, I’m working with people who get the voice I’m trying to put out there. At 5K we’ve all made mistakes, but you’re just learning, you have to do that to work out how to function. It’s dynamic, we all work across everything, I never feel like someone could ask me a question about one of our artists and I won’t know what’s going on. It’s really nice, tight knit and we’re able to work a lot more fluidly. With the way the industry is changing, that’s what’s needed.”
Pictured above (L-R): Kilo Jalloh, Melanie Ijieh, Moe Bah