USC Thornton alumna Isa Klar works in marketing for some of hip-hop’s biggest stars at record label Top Dawg Entertainment.

USC Thornton alumna Isa Klar works in marketing for some of hip-hop’s biggest stars at record label Top Dawg Entertainment. (Photo/Courtesy of Isa Klar)


USC Thornton alumna finds success in hip-hop marketing

Isa Klar, a graduate of the USC Thornton Music Industry program, works with some of hip-hop’s biggest stars at one of the genre’s most storied record labels. She landed the gig before she even graduated.

April 17, 2024 By Rachel B. Levin

A few months into her internship at the independent record label Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) in 2022, Isa Klar ’23 received an important assignment.

Then a junior music industry major in the USC Thornton School of Music, Klar was tasked with creating a “deck,” or brand bible, for a forthcoming album by Doechii, one of TDE’s new hip-hop artists. The deck would be used to help Doechii secure a joint-venture deal to release her music with both TDE and Capitol Records, a major label.

“We needed to give the Capitol team an overview of what her album was and who she was as an artist,” Klar recalls.

Klar knew the stakes were high. Los Angeles-based TDE is known for discovering and promoting some of the most highly regarded artists in hip-hop and R&B. It was the first label of Pulitzer Prize-winning Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar, and it now represents Grammy Award winners SZA, Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q and more.

Embracing the challenge, Klar worked closely with Doechii to translate her vision and hone every detail of the deck, from the album’s look and typography to the aesthetic of the press photos. The TDE team invited Klar to sit in on the meeting with Capitol, where they presented the deck — and Doechii secured the deal.

“That got me noticed by the CEO and president of TDE,” Klar says. “They learned my name.”

Doechii’s major-label debut catapulted the rapper into the mainstream: her single “What It Is (Block Boy)” hit the Billboard Hot 100, and last fall she went on her first arena tour with megastar Doja Cat. Klar’s knack for musician branding landed her a full-time job offer from TDE — before she had even finished her bachelor’s degree.

“I started like a fly on the wall,” says Klar. “Now I’m incorporated into their full fold.”

When I got to USC, I fell in love with West Coast rap. USC’s location and especially my peers influenced my exposure to new hip-hop artists.

— Isa Klar

A love of hip-hop

Klar’s experience is one example of how USC Thornton’s music industry major has been a launching pad for Trojans who go on to work at top record labels and in artist management. In fact, Keaton Smith ’16 — the general manager of TDE — is also a graduate of the program.

He’s the one who posted the TDE internship that Klar spotted on the Trojan Alumni Network. “It was one of 42 internships I applied for,” Klar says. “I ended up getting it. Then I said, ‘Well, I don’t need to go on the rest of the interviews. This is the one for me.’”

Klar was attracted to TDE because of her burgeoning interest in hip-hop — which had grown after she moved from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Los Angeles to attend USC.

“When I got to USC, I fell in love with West Coast rap,” Klar says. “USC’s location and especially my peers influenced my exposure to new hip-hop artists. Having classmates and co-workers from all over the U.S. and world opened my eyes to more than just the East Coast music I grew up listening to.”

A fork in the road

Klar had worked as an intern at TDE for only seven months before the company offered her a staff position in the marketing department. “Right before I started my senior year, they tried to convince me to quit school and go full time,” she says.

Torn between seizing the opportunity and finishing her bachelor’s degree, Klar decided she couldn’t let go of either path. She resolved to take the job and stay in school.

“I blocked out my schedule so that I would go to class from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and then I would go to work from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.,” Klar says. “On Fridays, I had a full day of school. That was my schedule for a year.”

Taking on such a demanding schedule wasn’t unprecedented for Klar. As a child entertainer, she had danced professionally at half-time shows for the Florida Panthers, Miami Heat and Harlem Globetrotters, all while in school.

“I graduated in the top 10% of my high school class the same year I performed on Royal Caribbean’s special holiday cruise as a vocalist and dancer,” she says.

Klar didn’t have time to attend commencement when she graduated in 2023, finishing her bachelor’s degree in just two and a half years. “I was at the office at a companywide meeting,” she recalls.

“It came as no surprise that Isa was hired by TDE before she graduated from Thornton,” says Michael Garcia, chair of USC Thornton’s music industry program. “As a student, she always had many things going at the same time. She displayed impeccable time-management skills to reach her goals, whether presenting a show, managing an artist or turning in a project. She’s a problem solver and a talented professional. We’re proud to watch her career continue to flourish.”



The value of a degree

Today, Klar wears multiple hats at the company. In addition to making decks for every single artist on the TDE roster, she serves as day-to-day manager for the artist Zacari, produces events and does digital marketing. Her sales and marketing work has been credited on four TDE albums: ScHoolboy Q’s Blue Lips, SiR’s HEAVY, Ab-Soul’s Herbert and REASON’s Porches.

“Isa is an incredibly intuitive person who knows how to see projects through to completion,” Smith, the general manager of TDE, says. “She brings a good attitude and is eager to learn. It’s a joy to see someone so passionate about music and artists be able to contribute in meaningful and increasingly essential ways.”

Klar herself credits the USC Thornton music industry program with preparing her to make significant contributions to the company from day one. One of her favorite classes was a data analysis class she took with Michael Kaminsky, adjunct instructor. “He taught us not only to look at what’s currently happening [in the music industry] but to predict what’s going to happen,” Klar says.

During the class, he predicted that HyperCard, a music production software application, would be the next big thing. “And now I sit in studios, and all they do is play me HyperCard,” she says.

Klar notes that her music law class, taught by Mark Goldstein, professor of practice who retired in June, 2023, helped her master the vocabulary of the industry. Even the classes she struggled with — in audio engineering — ended up being some of the most useful to her success at TDE.

Her audio engineering background allows her to speak the artists’ language in the recording studio, helping her build a rapport with them.

“It just makes them more comfortable when I talk to them about their marketing,” Klar says. “They go, ‘Oh, this is Isa. She was in the studio with me. She knows what she’s talking about.’”

Klar particularly enjoys the relationships she’s able to build. “I really like this environment of hip-hop artists,” says Klar, adding that getting to know the people involved in the culture has expanded her regard for the music.

Looking back, Klar is glad she decided to finish her degree instead of quitting school at a critical juncture.

“I think I’ve been very lucky to get the opportunities in my life, including going to USC,” Klar says. “And I think it’s wrong not to capitalize on them. I am honestly one of those people that had said yes too much. I need to learn how to say no. But at this age and where I’m at with my career, where I’m at in life in general, I think it’s always better to keep saying yes.”