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Filipino American Music Executive John Vincent Salcedo on the Life-Changing Power of Hip-Hop

John Vincent Salcedo
James Francisco

John Vincent Salcedo came to America without knowing a word of English. Like millions of Filipinos in the diaspora in search of a better life, his parents worked multiple jobs to provide for their family to keep them afloat. As a young immigrant, he obsessed over the elusive American Dream. And though he is still “getting there day by day, brick by brick,” he has certainly made a name for himself, all while paying it forward.

The 31-year-old all-around creative and digital marketing whiz is notably the youngest VP at Columbia Records and the only Filipino executive. A distinguished part of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2022 and Billboard’s 2021 Players in Music, he has worked with global superstars like  Lil Nas X, Kid Laroi, Tyler, the Creator, Coi Leray, and more.

In a tweet from the archives, John Vincent writes, “I sleep well at night knowing I’ve gotten many Filipino creatives paid and have put them on the biggest jobs of their careers…so far. Jobs that definitely changed their trajectory.” He has made it his life’s purpose to push Filipino talent forward on a global scale.

The Filipino American music executive and entrepreneur is fully embracing his roots, and he’s only just begun.

Tell us a little about your journey as a creative—from a digital marketing whiz to now the youngest VP and the only Filipino executive at Columbia Records.

First off, appreciate y’all for talking to me and congrats on the launch of Complex Philippines.

I started as an artist. That was the foundation of everything. I eventually moved to the other side of the table and started using skills I picked up as an independent artist to help other musicians out. That led me to music management and working as a creative and digital designer. I eventually found my way to Legacy Recordings of Sony Music, bounced from there to the International team at Sony Music, and then joined Columbia Records, where I became a VP in 2020.

Being named one of Billboard’s 2021 Players in Music, you shared, “Hip-Hop changed my life and I truly don’t know where I’d be without it.” Who were these artists you grew up listening to that made you become so passionate about it?

When I first got to the US, I listened to Jay-Z and Biggie religiously and that was the gateway. I was a huge Wu-Tang [Clan] and A Tribe Called Quest fan, and my literal childhood was the prime years of 50 Cent/G-Unit, Cam’Ron/Dipset, and Kanye West.

A majority of my high school and college years centered on The Blog Era of Hip-Hop listening to acts like Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, and Drake. This is the era that turned my passion into a career.

Do you recall when you had that “aha moment” and realized you just had to work in the music industry?

I was fortunate enough to have the aha moment really young. The passion kicked in super early. Two moments: [my] first performance as a teenager at a Filipino festival and my first rap battle as a freshman in high school. I won that battle by the way haha.

Becoming part of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2022, all while being presented these other accolades, what does it mean for a young Filipino American immigrant who “came to this country not knowing a word of English” chasing the American Dream?

To start, it means that my parents are heroes for real, ‘cause they found a way to keep me focused, alive, and they allowed me to flourish without worry [about] what my dreams can turn into or if it’ll even work out. They never put a ceiling on it and trusted my vision from the jump and that allowed me to get to where I’m at.

It also means that we as Filipinos, especially fresh-off-the-boat Filipinos, can think and dream bigger. We can do whatever we set our mind to, and we’ll probably succeed in it, too!

At this point in your life, do you think you’ve achieved it (the American dream)? If yes, is it all you ever thought it would be?

Not yet. I’m still in the process of living it out. Everyone has a different definition of “the American dream” though, and for me, I’m getting there day by day, brick by brick.

You are making it your life’s work to bring Filipino talent to the forefront. With the landscape of music in 2023 and the representation in media for Filipino artists in the diaspora, do you think it’s enough?

Yes, absolutely. We’re on the cusp of hitting a golden era for Filipinos globally where we’ll see more artists, creatives, and everyone in-between break through to the center and mainstream. I’m excited and I can’t wait. Filipinos everywhere gotta come out though and support the talent with passion and love from the jump and we’ll be good.

Are there any Filipino artists who have caught your attention lately?

I feel like I’m gonna leave some talented artists off so please, everyone go support your local Filipino artist wherever you are in the world. My top listens right now are Clinton Kane, Eyedress, Dylan Sinclair, Jess Connelly, RINI, Karri, and Manila Grey.[1]  And just to be very clear, Filipino or not, they’re in constant rotation for me. I think they’re going to be global superstars [who’ll] break borders and be leaders of their respective genres and sound.

With the work that you do, what do you hope is the future of music?

I hope it continues to become more global. It’s already going that way, so hopefully, it keeps expanding. I personally love seeing artists from outside the US bring their sound and culture into the mainstream. It’s refreshing and inspiring.

Images from John Vincent Salcedo

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