One of the most successful agents in hip-hop could soon be out of a job in what sources are describing as a management clash at one of the biggest agencies in music.
Brent Smith, who represents Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Tyler the Creator and John Legend has been suspended and is not expected to return to his post at WME. While little is known about his reason for leaving, sources tell Billboard the split is tied to differences between Smith and the current management team at the agency — Scott Clayton, Lucy Dickins and Kirk Sommer — following the exit of music co-head Marc Geiger in June and the reassignment of co-head Sara Newkirk Simon.
Smith, age 55, is a powerhouse at WME who has also represented Frank Ocean; the reunited Soundgarden/Pearl Jam supergroup Temple of the Dog and critically acclaimed singer James Blake alongside rap icons like Wiz Khalifa, ASAP Rocky, Big Sean and Cat Stevens.
Smith got his start in the business thanks to a chance foosball game with Frontier Booking International head Ian Copeland (also brother of The Police drummer Stewart Copeland and manager Miles Copeland). Copeland gave Smith his first agenting job, where he worked with a slew of top-tier acts including Iggy Pop, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Morrissey, R.E.M. and, most significantly, Sting. When Smith was profiled by Billboard in 2016, the married father of two described the gig as a “grad school” education.
Smith was known for being detail oriented, intense and sometimes caustic with promoters he worked with, but was also respected as the ultimate hip-hop insider whose A-list clients often opened the door to new signings and opportunities for him. Other relationships didn’t work out: Smith repped Snoop Dogg for 20 years until the two had a falling out in 2019.
Smith’s suspension comes as the agency business struggles to find its footing in the wake of COVID-19 — prior to the pandemic, WME had canceled a long-planned IPO, frustrating agents and department heads at the agency who had agreed to take less pay in past years in exchange for stock in the company. Agencies like Paradigm and APA have also struggled to stay afloat, laying off hundreds of employees and turning to billionaires like Tom Gores and Ron Burkle for financial help.
“Whatever Brent decides he wants to do, he will land on his feet,” one source tells Billboard. “His artists love and respect him and he does a good job for his clients.”