When tickets for BadBunny’s El Último Tour del Mundo arena tour went on presale in April 2021, his manager, Noah Assad, was cautiously optimistic.
“I thought we would do well, because it was post-pandemic and everyone wanted to go out, but we went on sale without really knowing — and we did it a year out for that very reason,” says Assad.
For Assad, “doing well” has become synonymous with breaking some sort of record. But even he wasn’t expecting Bad Bunny to have one of the most historic, record-setting runs for an artist in the history of the Billboard charts. El Último Tour del Mundo’s presale date became the top sales day for any tour on Ticketmaster since Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s On the RunII tour went on sale in 2018, and the run sold out 480,000 tickets in less than a week.
Four months after El Último Tour del Mundo wrapped in April 2022, Bad Bunny embarked on his World’s Hottest Tour stadium run, becoming the first artist to ever mount separate $100million-plus tours in the same calendar year. Ultimately, his 81 concerts in 2022 grossed $434.9million, the highest calendar-year total for an artist since Billboard Boxscore launched in the late 1980s. The tour broke local revenue records in 13 North American markets en route to becoming the biggest Latin tour ever.
Bad Bunny’s chart dominance made him Billboard’s top artist of the year, by the numbers, the first Latin act and the first artist who records in a language other than English to earn the distinction. His album Un Verano Sin Ti, released in May on Assad’s independent label, Rimas Entertainment, and distributed by The Orchard, became the first non-English set to ever top the year-end Billboard200 Albums ranking and the first all-Spanish release nominated for album of the year at the Grammy Awards, one of Bad Bunny’s three nods.
“I was very proud about that one, especially because it was 100% a Spanish-language album,” says Assad. “It doesn’t have even a verse in English.”
On top of that, in April, Bad Bunny will become the first Latin act to headline Coachella. And, Assad, 32, is realizing some milestones of his own, including being named Billboard’s youngest-ever Executive of the Year and the first Latino to secure the honor.
His achievement underscores not only the growing worldwide popularity and profitability of Latin music, but also shines a light on what an upstart independent can do — regardless of genre or the backing of a legacy company — when armed with guts, hustle, deep musical knowledge, loyalty and the confidence to break rules and create new ones.
Bad Bunny is signed to Assad’s label, Rimas Entertainment, which originated in 2014 as a digital marketing and distribution company. It has evolved to become a 100-plus-person operation with distribution from The Orchard, with a roster ranging from veterans (Arcángel, Jowell& Randy) to promising newcomers (Mora, Eladio Carrión), many of whom are signed to 360 deals. Rimas ended 2022 at No.7 on Billboard’s year-end Top Labels chart and at No.1 on the year-end Top Latin Labels chart, with 23 charting albums by seven artists besides Bad Bunny.
Assad also launched RSM Publishing, which is administered by Universal Music Publishing Group and was No.1 on Billboard’s year-end Hot Latin Songs Publishers list. And while Bad Bunny is his most visible management client, Assad also started managing KarolG 18 months ago with his new management firm, Habibi, with stellar results. Her 2022 $trip Love tour, promoted by AEG Presents, grossed $69.9million with 410,000 tickets sold across 33 arena shows in North America — the highest-earning U.S tour ever by a female Latin act, according to Billboard Boxscore.
“Noah has an unmatched understanding of his artists,” says Jody Gerson, chairman/CEO of UMPG. “His instincts about how to market and promote them, as he has done so well with Bad Bunny and KarolG, are among the best I’ve ever seen in the business. As an executive, Noah is loyal, honest, innovative and smart, and these are just some of the many traits that make him a fantastic partner.”
Though only 32, Assad considers himself a “semi-vet. I may be ‘new’ to a lot of people, but I’ve been at this for 12 years,” he says with a laugh. A self-professed reggaetón nerd with long blonde hair that matches his laid-back surfer vibe, Assad — born to a Lebanese father and a mother from St.Croix — grew up in Puerto Rico, and since seventh grade has been “consumed with reggaetón culture.” By 16, he was promoting house parties, booking the likes of Farruko before he became a big name and cultivating relationships with already established acts like PlanB’s Chencho Corleone. “Chencho was the first established artist to simply say yes to me,” says Assad, a favor that has paid dividends for Corleone; “Me Porto Bonito,” his smash collaboration on Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti, became the first all-Spanish song to top Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart. That full-circle moment highlights Assad’s reputation for cultivating relationships with contacts to whom he stays loyal. “We work with everybody; we are always coexisting,” he told Billboard last year. Witness his deals with opposing teams at The Orchard and Universal, while his top touring acts — Bad Bunny and KarolG — work with Live Nation and AEG, respectively.
“Noah is similar to Bad Bunny in that he’s also a unicorn,” says Henry Cárdenas, the veteran promoter and founder of CMN, which produced and promoted Bad Bunny’s last two tours, including the stadium tour in partnership with Live Nation. “The guy’s going to create an empire, and he’s a man of his word. I compare him to the old managers, where we closed business with a handshake, and he’s appreciative. Where I’m concerned, he has continued to take me into account, and it harks back to the fact that I worked with him from the very beginning.”
While Assad’s success feels very of the moment — in keeping with his young acts, the relatively recent mainstream success of reggaetón and Bad Bunny’s fondness for releasing music with little or no notice — he’s actually a planner; like his famous client, he takes a long view on success. It wasn’t always this way. As a young promoter, Assad recalls struggling mightily to make a buck (and often getting “hustled”) in what he half-jokingly refers to as “the reggaetón depression era” of 2009-2016, when the music was largely consumed for free and money came almost solely from live shows.
“YouTube was the outlet that turned it into a commercial business,” says Assad, who says he struck an early deal with the platform to monetize the millions of views the music generated for many independent artists and eventually for his own — including a 22-year-old who called himself Bad Bunny. “I didn’t have the privilege to work with an artist who was already established, but I was very fortunate to have Bunny trust me and work with me. Bunny makes me look good,” he says. Alongside his artist, Assad began thinking long term, and even when his actions seem improvised, they are anything but. Take the one-two punch of back-to-back tours with a hit album in between, conceived after ticket prices to Bad Bunny’s arena tour started soaring just after they went on sale in 2021.
“We started getting the heat, but we didn’t think of stadiums until the summer,” says Assad, pointing out that Bad Bunny already had plans to release a new album when the arena tour wrapped. By October, a plan had been made: arenas in February, an album in May and a stadium tour in June to be announced in January with a series of humorous videos featuring Bad Bunny’s girlfriend, Gabriela Berlingari, and Spanish actor Mario Casas. “There’s a lot of pivoting along the way, but we still follow the plan,” says Assad. “And everything we do has to make sense. If it doesn’t make sense, even if it’s beautiful, we pass.”
“Noah is singular in his sense of the moment, commitment to a vision and fearlessness,” says UTA agent Jbeau Lewis, who books Bad Bunny and KarolG. “Noah understands his artists, he always plays the long game, and he’s unafraid to say no.”
Bad Bunny has said repeatedly that he plans to take a break after Coachella, from both recording and touring. But for Assad, the work of growing his business never slows. Last year, in partnership with The Orchard, he launched Sonar, a label for developing acts that already has deals with over 50 artists from around the world, including non-Latin acts. Assad also began a strategic alliance with Live Nation to develop new businesses outside of touring, including Gekko, the restaurant Bad Bunny opened in Miami in August with hospitality entrepreneur David Grutman. Most recently, he announced the launch of Rimas Sports, a stand-alone management company (name notwithstanding, it is not a division of Rimas Entertainment) whose client list already includes the Toronto Blue Jays’ Santiago Espinal and Diego Cartaya, a top prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Assad says his biggest goal for 2023 has nothing to do with business, however. “I want to fly less, enjoy more and spend as much time as I can in Puerto Rico,” he says. “That’s my goal. People look at me and think that because of the hair I’m from Mississippi or something. But I’m just a kid from Carolina, Puerto Rico, who loves reggaetón.”
This story will appear in the Feb. 4, 2023, issue of Billboard.