Cristela Rodriguez loves being behind the scenes of the music industry. She started working with talent in 2014, even before she graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz, and hasn’t slowed down since. Today, she’s the manager for Saba Pivot Management, the company that oversees the career of rapper and record producer Tahj Malik Chandler, best known by his stage name Saba.
In a partnership between Remezcla and Cheetos’ Deja tu Huella program, talented Latines like Rodriguez are being celebrated through Culture Credits, an editorial series that amplifies established voices of Latine creators across diverse industries like music, fashion, and art.
Rodriguez’s role as Saba’s manager, however, doesn’t end there. She has blazed a path for her career by building a profitable music business with him, ranging from a touring and merchandise department, operations in music publishing and a music label.
“At the end of the day, I want to help my artist,” Rodriguez, 29, said. “[Saba] pushes me to my full ability. He’s helped me realize that I’m not just a manager. Before anything, you have to go in knowing that you work with the greatest artist in the world. Every manager should feel that in their heart.”
Rodriguez joined Saba’s team eight years ago. She met him while she was working with a management company and music venue in Santa Cruz. During a conversation with him, Saba mentioned he was going to have to take a bus eight hours to Los Angeles for his next gig. Rodriguez stepped in and volunteered to drive him there herself in only five.
“This was the first time we ever met, and the next day, we got into a car and drove to L.A. together,” Rodriguez said. “It was a risky move because you never know if you’re going to get along or if it’s going to be awkward. But it was amazing.”
Soon after, Saba asked Rodriguez if she would be interested in managing him after she graduated. Rodriguez, however, had a better idea. She wanted to start co-managing him right away – at least until after she finished school.
“I had an entire year of college left, so it was really helpful to have someone else [co-managing] when I wasn’t available or if I had finals,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been finessing like that this whole time.”
When she started college, Rodriguez wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she graduated. She was earning a degree in cultural anthropology, but didn’t know where that would ultimately lead her. When the music industry came across her radar, she knew she had found her calling.
Rodriguez has always loved music ever since she was a little girl. She remembers some of the music her parents would play in the house would range in genre, from rock en Español to rap. She was also “obsessed” with music awards shows. “At that age, I didn’t see the possibility of actually working in the business, but it gave me a glimpse into the music industry,” Rodriguez said of award shows. “I would watch everything… whatever was televised.”
As a kid, Rodriguez might not have realized it yet, but her eclectic musical upbringing would put her on a path to her true creative passion and help her leave an indelible mark for other generations to follow.
As Saba’s manager, Rodriguez is in charge of his day-to-day activities, his tour production and schedule and his personal finances, just to name a few of her responsibilities. She said they both have a great working relationship.
“I’ve always been about amplifying the artists I work with and not myself,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of managers like to become brands themselves. At the end of the day, management is a business. Fortunately, I work with an artist who really champions me. We’ve been through a lot as a team. So, at this point, we’re family.”
Through everything, Saba has supported her as she sets her future plans and begins to branch out into other projects.
“I can only hope that my legacy as a manager will be that I always remained someone who was always as artist-friendly as possible,” she said. “If you love what you’re doing, and you know that it has a greater purpose in this world, that’s what is going to motivate you and keep you going.”
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