The Weeknd aka Abel Tesfaye continues to have an incredible run with his chart topping album, Beauty Behind the Madness. With two number *No. 1’s on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart (“The Hills,” and “Can’t Feel My Face“), it’s no surprise that Tesfaye’s first arena headlining tour is now underway with two sold out shows in his home town of Toronto.
These achievements were made possible with the help of The Weeknd’s managers, Amir “Cash” Esmailian and Tony W. Sal. After listening to an Tesfaye’s music in 2011, Cash left his home in Miami to work with the singer in Toronto and never turned back. Sal, a native of Ottawa and founder of hip-hop label CP Records, later joined forces with Cash and now operates under XO/Sal & Co as CEO.
Billboard recently sat down with both managers who made the “40 Under 40: Music’s Young Power Players” list this year. They discussed their first big break, mentors, greatest musical accomplishment, hardest lesson learned and more. Check out the highlights below and read the interview in it’s entirety on Billboard.
What was your first paid job?
Cash: “My first paid job was making CFL cards in the basement. CFL is the Canadian football League. My older brother’s friend, his dad owned the cards. They were called Jogo. I was in the basement putting all the sets together so I could make some money for the holidays. I was 12. It was actually really cool.”
Sal: “Oh my god, that’s really funny. I was about 15 and I convinced my friend’s mom to give me the keys to the family restaurant. It had been out of business and closed for years then I reopened it cheaply and operated little high school parties for our neighborhood. And then I had my friend help me collecting door and then DJing. I was pretty successful doing it and then we got caught and we got shut down [laughs].”
Their first big break in the music business:
Cash: “Meeting Abel. I met him through my best friend. His name is Hawk. I’ve been friends with him since I was four years old. One day he sent me Abel’s music and at that point I was living in Miami. I came back to Toronto and … we’ve been together basically every day ’til now.”
Sal: “My big break happened recently when we partnered with Apple and then to see The Weeknd music and the whole recognition worldwide. That was a blessing big time.”
Cash: “My mentor was my father always because I’m originally from Iran and he left there and gave everything up, came to Canada, drove a taxi cab, so myself and my older brother could have freedom and make our own decisions on what we want to do. He is still my mentor, but he passed away two and a half years ago.”
Sal: “My mentors are Monte and Avery Lipman. Two reasons: It’s great to see Republic become where it’s at, but I love the fact that you still see that family vibe where you see them all fight together and push together. Because they’re brothers, it’s not like a huge corporation where there’s so much distance between everybody. I feel like they’re brothers, like the whole company are brothers, so I like how they’ve built their company. Solid guys too.”
Their greatest musical accomplishment this past year:
Cash: “The greatest accomplishment for the past year was that we overcame the challenge that we had with radio, which started with the record we put out, ‘Often,’ and it went from ‘Often’ to ‘Earned It’ and now with ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ and ‘the Hills.’”
Sal: “That would be seeing Abel’s song ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ hit No. 1 on the Hot 100. That was truly special.”
Their hardest business lesson:
Cash: “The hardest business lesson was following that voice inside you and believing in yourself and going with your own instincts. Sometimes you want to go with your instincts and other people might not think it’s the right decision, but you know that it’s right inside of you. Just follow that.”
Sal: “For me, it’s focus on your craft, not on numbers. Some people thing I’m crazy, but I think that’s what made us who we are. Definitely I try to apply it always in my business.”