Aubrey Drake is one of music’s biggest names, popularising Toronto sound in the 2000s and selling over 170 million records since. But who is Drake’s manager?
Drake’s manager is Lebanese-Canadian Oliver El-Khatib. Alongside producer Noah “40” Shebib, El-Khatib is credited with building Drake into a multi-billion artist. The three of them founded OVO Media in 2012 which El-Khatib manages alongside Drakes’s personal brand.
El-Khatib is famous for his elusive nature. He rarely gives interviews and prefers to work behind the scenes. Anyone wanting to understand Drake’s massive success should learn more about this mysterious genius.
Finding his way to the Music Bizz
As a young guy in Toronto, El-Khatib started out more interested in skateboarding and fashion than the music industry. He hustled his way into a volunteer position at the downtown clothing store “Lounge”.
He quickly proved himself as a guy with bright ideas and was promoted to being the store’s manager and buyer. Pretty quickly the small store became a happening place in Toronto.
With up and coming brands, and interesting music, El-Khatib attracted an array of fascinating people who came to the store to hang out. This is where he met Drake.
At the same time as he was working for Lounge, El-Khatib got involved in a crew of Lebanese DJ’s called the “Lebanon Dons”. Hanging out with Drake and the Dons got him in contact with the third part of their trio: producer and artist Noah “40” Shebib.
Getting tight with Drake and Shebib at the Lounge was the seed of their business relationship. Eventually, this would blossom into Octobers Very Own (OVO).
El-Khatib is the sort of person who attracts creative and talented people. During his time at the Lounge, he rubbed shoulders with dozens of young songwriters, photographers, and fashion designers.
All these contacts were vital in getting to the top of Toronto’s creative scene, and eventually in creating an international name for Drake.
When Drake was starting out El-Khatib became the designated blogger for OVO. He says that no matter how big Drake got they wanted to have a space for real talk that wasn’t for sale.
His blog became a serious hit. Able to feature upcoming local artists and identify trends before anyone else gave him a unique style that attracted attention and made him an invaluable part of Drake’s team.
By 2012 Drake had jumped from the buzzing Toronto scene to an international icon. His team decided to formalize their relationship by founding OVO sound, with El-Khatib as its manager.
What makes him so successful?
His brilliance as a manager comes down to being able to spot things that other people miss, even if that means going against the grain. El-Khatib summarises this approach by saying he likes to “zig while everyone else zags.”
This is how he gained a partnership with the Jordan Brand when everyone else went for Adidas, and how he got Apple Music while everyone else obsessed over TIDAL.
Ultimately being able to cut through the static of advertisements and hype to see genuine value is vital to any successful manager. Being able to stand up against the current when millions of dollars are at stake requires a certain courage.
El-Khatib claims that his courage comes from the “blind faith” that he has in himself and in the team that he works with. In particular, he praises the consistency with which Drake performs.
A big part of El-Khatib’s success has been the continuing links he has with his hometown. OVO has played a huge role in transforming the image of Toronto from a downbeat Canadian city into the music capital of the north.
From his base in Toronto El-Khatib has worked with Drake to build a powerful music business in their own community. By resisting the pull of more established music centers like LA they’ve been able to find more natural talent that otherwise was being overlooked.
The team at OVO have been able to channel Drake’s success into the Toronto through educational grants and the huge OVO Fest.
El-Khatib has been behind OVO’s affiliation with the Remix Project. This is an organization that provides on the ground education for young people in working-class communities to build skills in recording, film, business, and the arts.
Their work has been recognized by Toronto’s Mayor, who gave Drake the Keys to the City in 2016. Investing in the community has paid off financially for El-Khatib because their positive brand image was vital in securing OVO’s massive new deal with the Royal Bank of Canada.