Billboard magazine recently named Imran Majid—the first Pakistani American and the first Muslim American to lead a major U.S. recording label—to its 2023 Power 100 List.
By Fredda Sacharow
Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, Imran Majid—whose father, a Pakistani immigrant, came to this country with $100 in his pocket—rarely saw anyone wielding power in the music industry who made him feel like he could belong.
“The truth is, I didn’t look like anyone in the industry,” says Majid, who got his start through an undergraduate internship during his time at Rutgers and now serves as co-president and co-CEO of Island Records. “I didn’t look like anything that existed.”
He is the first Pakistani American and the first Muslim American to lead a major U.S. recording label. His company has launched some of the biggest artists across musical genres, including Shawn Mendes, Demi Lovato, Keshi, The Killers, Lauren Spencer Smith, Bon Jovi, Sabrina Carpenter, SleazyWorld Go, and more.
Billboard magazine recently included Majid on its 2023 Power 100 List, which features the music industry’s top players.
Majid will tell you he’s neither a musician nor an artist. But music is the force that moves him most powerfully, particularly the thrill of playing matchmaker to musicians and songwriters and discovering new talent.
“At one point, hip-hop was the genre of music that very much spoke to me, since I was living so close to New York City with all of its radio stations,” says the New Brunswick native, who shares his co-executive duties with Justin Eshak, a longtime colleague and friend. “Hip-hop felt like a genre of music I could be accepted in.”
Before assuming their titles at Island Records, the two jointly ran the artists and repertoire (A&R) division at Columbia Records, where they were responsible for scouting talent and overseeing the development of recording artists.
“Early ‘90s hip-hop was so prolific, almost like a golden era,” says Majid, who continues to live in New Jersey. “It really spoke to a first-generation kid like me.”
He found his way into the music business with assistance from a counselor at Rutgers during his search for an internship through the co-op program at Cook College (before it was renamed the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences), where he majored in environmental and business economics, graduating in 2005.
At the time, many options focused on farming or agriculture. But a former assistant director of cooperative education at Rutgers was a drummer for a cover band on the side and was able to find Majid a position that tapped into his unique interests. He cold-called Universal Music Group, which led to an internship for Majid—a position Majid now calls his “gateway into the music business.”
These days, Majid works with artists of every genre—hip-hop, pop, Latin, alternative. What appeals to him is the opportunity to promote artists with what he calls “an amazing presence and vision.”
Majid says, “I can see what they don’t have yet and apply my years of experience to help them take it to the next level.”
Artists like Lil Tjay, for example, whom he cites as one of the most rewarding “discoveries” of his already prolific career.
The young hip-hop artist and singer-songwriter born Tione Jayden Merritt landed a 15-minute meeting with Majid back at Columbia Records, so impressing the A&R exec that Majid knew he had a boundless future ahead.
“I felt I could be an important presence in his life,” Majid says. “He was obscure then, and now he has tons and tons of gold and platinum records to his credit. I watched him develop from a 17-year-old child to a mature performer. This is very much what I put a lot of effort into.”
Lil TJay’s hit “Calling My Phone” debuted at the No. 3 slot on the Hot 100 in 2021.
On the home front, Majid and his wife—a graduate of Rutgers’ Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy—are the parents of daughters, 8 and 6, and a newborn son. His family has deep ties to Rutgers: He is one of four siblings to graduate from the university.
Today, scouting talent at performances that can run until 2 a.m. and huddling with lawyers to arrange deals limit Majid’s free time, but he does cherish visits to Rutgers’ golf course in Piscataway.
He’s proud of the opportunity to bring wider diversity to a world he once thought was beyond his reach.
“Now kids from my background have someone to point to who is having success in this field—representation matters,” Majid says. “I can open the doors for other people. I started to realize the importance and the magnitude of this when I began running a record label.”