Grade A Productions made international stars out of rap artists like Juice WRLD and The Kid LAROI. The U.S. production company’s next big name could be one of UF’s own.
Sam Zelaya, an 18-year-old UF business administration freshman — better known by his artist name Zzz — was signed last week to Grade A Productions. Zelaya’s style of music is a fusion of rap, pop and R&B, with his work being streamed exclusively on SoundCloud.
After only a week of meeting, 27-year-old co-founder of Grade A Productions, Brandon Dickinson, also known as “Lil Bibby” Dickinson signed Zelaya to Grade A Productions. Already on the come-up, Dickinson recently shared that an unreleased song of Zelaya’s made the Top 25 on the SoundCloud charts.
“He’s about to be one of the biggest artists in the world,” Dickinson said.
Zelaya said it’s crazy to be a part of a team that he was always interested in working with. Working under Grade A Productions has been a long time goal.
“Two years ago, my sister asked me: ‘Where do you see yourself in two years?’ And I said, ‘I just want to sign with Grade A,’” Zelaya said.
Dickinson came across the young singer's work in March when someone on his Instagram Live stream was listening to Zelaya. Impressed by Zelaya’s musical talent, Dickinson was determined to look into the Miami native’s work to begin working with him.
After getting into contact with Zelaya and listening to his songs like his unreleased track “5 minutes” and newer release “demo,” Dickinson was instantly reaffirmed in his mission to work with Zelaya. Dickinson flew Zelaya out to Los Angeles to begin recording songs.
Dickinson said Zelaya’s music is unlike anything he’s heard before, and his R&B sound in his music is what really made him stand out.
Zelaya had offers from other management companies, but he never signed with them because it didn’t feel like the right time until now.
“I was waiting for that time to get something I was really confident in,” he said. “This is that time for sure.”
Since going to Los Angeles, Zelaya said he’s been going to the studio everyday. He said he recorded about 15 songs in three days. Dickinson plans to bring Zelaya to New York City soon to meet more people in the music business.
Although Zelaya’s time is filling up with recordings and meetings, he is still making school a priority.
“I'm still going to get my degree,” he said. “I'm going to finish college.”
Xavier Smith, a 17-year-old Canadian in eleventh grade and fan of Zelaya’s, discovered him on social media through the Rap by RapTV Instagram account.
Smith said he instantly became a fan, listening to all of his songs after he heard that Zelaya had been signed to Grade A Productions.
Smith describes Zelaya’s music as being “unique” and noted that his voice flows well in every song.
“It’s like Juice level,” he said. “It just touches your soul.”
Zelaya’s brother, Benjamin Zelaya, believes the recent signing with Grade A Productions is his younger brother’s success coming full circle. For the first year of the pandemic, the brothers didn't leave the house. They used their time making music. Now, that time spent working on music is paying off.
“That's pretty much like when he really tapped into his craft and he's always been a very humble, hard worker,” he said.
Over the past few years, Benjamin’s role in Sam’s music has shifted from assisting him to produce beats to serving as a figure in his life to give advice. Benjamin went on to say how proud he was of his younger brother.
“It shows that hard work really does pay off,” he said. “I’m very excited because I know that he’s going to take this super far.”
Contact Alexis at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Alexis_Carson99.
Alexis Carson is a third-year journalism major and staff writer with the Avenue. In her free time, she loves watching horror movies and going to concerts.