UK rap star Central Cee signs to Columbia as he makes influential XXL Freshman Class for 2023

UK rap star Central Cee signs to Columbia as he makes influential XXL Freshman Class for 2023

Central Cee has signed to Columbia Records. The news was announced in a brief message on Instagram by Columbia in the US.

The UK rap star has been the biggest domestic breakthrough of the last few years. His second mixtape, 23, peaked at No.1 last year and has sales to date of 120,110 (Official Charts Company). Debut mixtape Wild West peaked at No.2 and is on 174,141 chart sales. 

In November, Central Cee played a landmark show at Alexandra Palace, which underlined his status as an arena act in his home market. He is second on the bill on the Other Stage at Glastonbury on Saturday (June 24).

Central Cee is currently at No.1 in the UK with Sprinter (Live Yours/Neighbourhood). The single is a collaboration with Dave and features on their EP, Split Decision. Sprinter, which broke a streaming record in the UK for a rap release, is Central Cee’s biggest hit since 2022’s Doja, which peaked at No.2 and has UK sales of 622,767.

The rapper from West London is on the cover of XXL magazine, alongside rising US stars, for their Freshman Class 2023 edition. ‘Cench’, as he’s known to fans, is the first ever UK male rapper to be included in the magazine’s influential annual list.

The signing to Columbia signals the US ambitions for Central Cee across recordings and live. The British star is represented by UTA’s Obi Asika and Jack Clark. He has recently made US tour and festival appearances.

Speaking to Music Week at the end of 2022, Central Cee’s manager Bello (pictured below with the rapper) said: “We’re still working towards a debut album. That needs to be a global project, because he’s got love in the UK, Europe and America. But before that we need to build a lot more because we’re looking for US chart success.”

Central Cee has become established as the biggest new rap star in the UK as a self-releasing, independent artist in partnership with Warner Music’s ADA. His global reach on Spotify now extends to 25.2 million monthly listeners.

In common with other breakthrough UK rap stars, including Stormzy (who moved from ADA to Atlantic and 0207 Def Jam), Central Cee has progressed from label services to a major label deal. Dave releases through independent label Neighbourhood – the label arm of his management – with support from Universal Music.

According to Variety, Central Cee’s joint venture agreement with Columbia is in partnership with Sony Music UK.

Central Cee has been strongly independent throughout his career to date. There’s speculation that the Sony Music partnership will enable him to retain ownership of his recordings, as he has with ADA. The deal was led by Columbia executive vice president Bu Thiam with Central Cee’s manager, Bello. 

In November, Sony Music Publishing UK’s new senior A&R manager Shauni Caballero signed Central Cee to the company.

With some major firepower in terms of industry partnerships, the ambitions from Team Cench are unmistakable.

“I’d say Central Cee is the biggest UK rapper outside of the UK, but in the UK it’s debatable who the biggest is,” Bello told Music Week last year. “It gives us something to work towards. A lot of the names in that bucket have had their first chart entry three to five years before he ever even dropped a song. He’s trying to be the biggest rapper, period.”

Click here to read our interview with Central Cee’s manager, Bello.


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