Meet the Man Who Turned Amazon Music Into a Global R&B/Hip-Hop Force
As job applications go, Tim Hinshaw’s wasn’t quite traditional.
While angling for a position in the hip-hop & R&B division of Amazon Music in 2018, Hinshaw recruited a few old friends to record themselves hyping him up. “Oh, hey. This is Donald Glover/Childish Gambino saying you should probably hire Tim,” the multihyphenate star says, winking at the camera. Cut to Anderson .Paak: “I’m telling you, he’s the one. You need him on your squad.” “Tim is a good dude, and he knows what he’s doing!” Scarface adds before noting that he himself is an Amazon Prime member. The video closes with the late Mac Miller playing a white grand piano, then turning to the camera to implore: “Hire Tim. I know I would.”
Hinshaw edited the clips together, then passed the supercut to Amazon — an effort, he says, “to show the breadth of my relationships, from the current generation to the legends.” The promo worked: Within a few weeks, Hinshaw was hired as Amazon Music’s senior manager of hip-hop artist relations and within a year, he was promoted to head of hip-hop & R&B. But it was also an apt advertisement for the talents that would help Hinshaw succeed long term at the company. The close relationships and credibility he has within the artist community — developed over the course of 13 years working in management and artist relations roles — along with a penchant for innovation and a personality that Amazon Music vp Steve Boom calls “super smart, genuine and incredibly humble” have all allowed Hinshaw and the team he has built to elevate Amazon Music’s hip-hop & R&B division into a global leader in the genre.
“Tim has put Amazon Music into the conversation in the hip-hop and R&B community in a massive way,” says Boom, “and in a way, frankly speaking, we were not.”
“When I thought about the landscape, it was like, ‘Amazon is already in everybody’s homes,’ ” says Hinshaw of his initial strategy. “I knew if I could authentically bridge the gap between company and artist and tell that story to consumers in an authentic way, I could help Amazon be a major player in this entertainment space.”
Thanks to his efforts, in the past year hip-hop and R&B have become the leading genres for Amazon Music livestreams, with the platform’s three most-viewed livestream events featuring Kanye “Ye” West, Drake and Tyler, The Creator. “Tim’s trajectory is so amazing to watch,” says Tyler. “I love him so much.”
Last December, Drake and Ye’s #FreeLarryHoover benefit concert at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum streamed in 240 countries on Amazon Music’s Twitch channel and the Amazon Music app. Just weeks later, Amazon Music partnered with The Weeknd for a livestream event promoting his new album, Dawn FM, and the platform livestreamed J. Cole’s Dreamville festival in April.
Hinshaw has also been instrumental in securing talent for the just-launched Amazon Music Live. Airing after Thursday Night Football, the weekly livestream program, which launched Oct. 27, is hosted by 2 Chainz and has already featured performances from Lil Baby, Megan Thee Stallion and Kane Brown. In late October, Hinshaw and his 12-person team — “a bunch of young, hungry Black and brown executives,” as he describes them — touched down in Paris to produce a livestream of the second of Kendrick Lamar’s two shows in the city on his current The Big Steppers Tour. That 65-date run is sponsored by Amazon Music’s flagship hip-hop and R&B Rotation playlists — an idea Hinshaw originated and oversaw. (Hinshaw also led the 2019 development and launch of Rotation itself, which encompasses the R&B Rotation and Rap Rotation brands.)
“For me to be on a business-class flight to Paris with arguably the world’s biggest hip-hop artist,” says Hinshaw, “it was like, ‘Wow, we’ve come a long way from Compton.’ ”
Like Lamar, Hinshaw, 32, was raised in the South Los Angeles neighborhood where so many of hip-hop’s legends started out. With his father serving a 20-year prison sentence for nonviolent drug-trafficking charges while he was young, Hinshaw was raised by his mother. Once he was a teenager, she enrolled him 30 miles away at the tony Palisades High School, driving her son 60 miles round trip so he could experience life outside the three blocks in which he had grown up.
After graduation, Hinshaw nearly joined the U.S. Coast Guard, but was talked out of it by his brother, the singer-songwriter Prince Charlez, who encouraged him to pursue music instead. Hinshaw co-managed his brother to a joint-venture label deal with Island Def Jam before landing management jobs in the artist relations and music marketing divisions at Fender and Vans, respectively, and through them forging the relationships that have proved invaluable in his current role.
“I can’t tell you the number of meetings I’ve been to with Tim and an artist or manager where the level of respect and love they have for him is transparent,” says Boom. “It leads to very different, more productive and more collaborative meetings that benefit the artist and Amazon Music.”
In genres where authenticity is paramount, the trust Hinshaw has developed in the hip-hop and R&B community has also helped bridge the gap between a massive corporation and the artists it hopes to work with. Most crucial are honest conversations about “getting what we want out of said deal without making the artist feel like they’re a walking commercial,” says Hinshaw. “You’re not going to put a logo on Kendrick Lamar’s forehead.”
That straightforward approach has led to collaborations with A-list figures like H.E.R. and Kid Cudi; Summer Walker; Chance the Rapper; Tyler, The Creator; DJ Khaled; LeBron James and Mav Carter, co-founder/CEO of James’ entertainment company, SpringHill. But Hinshaw’s team’s cred also extends to emerging acts, which it supports with Rap Rotation. Since its 2019 launch, hip-hop and R&B streams on Amazon Music have doubled overall — just one indication of overall demand for the genre exploding on the platform since Hinshaw’s arrival. Global customers asked Alexa to play hip-hop and R&B tracks over a billion times in 2021 alone.
The ripple effect of Hinshaw’s work extends across Amazon Music. Boom calls his artist merchandise collaborations “instrumental” in the growth of fashion initiatives like The Showroom, a collection from Amazon Music and Hypebeast creative agency Hypemaker that paired rising artists like Flo Milli, Lucky Daye and Fousheé with rising streetwear designers. Philanthropy initiatives Hinshaw and his team have carried out — like sponsoring 21 Savage’s 2021 and 2022 back-to-school drives in Atlanta — build different kinds of bridges, Hinshaw says, “open[ing] doors for kids in communities like the one I grew up in.” And his team’s work with Prime Video through livestreams has, Boom adds, “allowed us to expand our ambitions as a company.”
Those successes are the product of 11-hour workdays that begin after Hinshaw and his wife drop off their two kids (Sadie, 5, and Tim Jr., 4) at school. If he’s not in back-to-back meetings, he’s cold-calling managers to follow leads about forthcoming projects he wants to get involved with — efforts Hinshaw says are still crucial in determining next steps for his already accomplished team.
As Hinshaw’s sphere of influence keeps expanding, however, its core remains the same as when he wrangled his superstar pals to help him land the job. He’s still in close and constant contact with artists and their teams (his email alert dings roughly 30 times during our interview), knowing that, as details can get lost in translation, the ability to get an artist or manager on the phone is essential to keep things in motion. And as always, he knows those relationships aren’t just about business: Hanging with artist friends for birthday parties and casual dinners, or just sending a text to check in, could be the key to making the next big project happen.
“Continuing our artist-first vision,” he says, “is always going to put us in the place we need to be.”