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How Kevin Liles Built 300 Entertainment Into A $400 Million Business In Under 10 Years

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Kevin Liles didn’t co-found 300 Entertainment just to sell it. He created it, first and foremost, to fill a void he saw in the music industry — a lack of talent development. Ten years after starting the 300 record label, it’s safe to say Kevin and company filled that void. By developing culture-shifting artists like Gunna, Megan Thee Stallion, Young Thug, among others, 300 has become one of the hottest commodities in all of hip-hop. This led to WMG buying the formerly-independent label for $400 million at the start of the new year.

 

In WMG, Kevin believes he’s found a partner with the “mindset of an independent, but the muscle of a major.” As the one-time EVP of WMG, Kevin would know this first-hand. And even with an influx of $400 million, Kevin isn’t going to change the way he makes decisions. For Kevin, it’s always been about prioritizing the cultural incentives rather than the financial ones. This mindset has followed him from Def Jam intern to its President and now as CEO of 300 & Elektra Music Group.

 

In-between running the label, Kevin has also invested resources in creating a pipeline for future music and entertainment execs with diverse backgrounds. In particular, Kevin has tapped into HBCUs, helping set up a $250 million fundraising campaign for his alma mater, Morgan State, and connecting students directly with the FBI.   

 

Kevin and I covered a lot of ground in this episode of the Trapital. Here are the show chapters:

 

[3:23] Behind 300 Entertainment’s Sale To Warner Music

[8:29] Gunna’s Meteoric Rise 

[10:29] How Phrases Like Hot Girl Summer & Pushin P Became A Thing 

[13:08] What Changes With WMG Partnership? 

[15:58] New Def Jam Video Game In The Works? 

[17:27] Launching 300 Studios 

[20:17] Kevin Thinks The Best Is Yet To Come For Hip Hop

[22:10] Hip Hop’s International Opportunity 

[24:23] Major Differences Between Running Def Jam vs. 300 

[28:10] The Power Of Diverse Execs Making Cultural, Not Financial Decisions

[30:25] How Music Industry Has Handled Diversity Issues Since George Floyd

[31:00] Kevin’s Attempt To Create Diverse Talent Pipeline

[32:14] The Rise Of Hip-Hop Media Personalities

[40:35] Young Thug’s Role As Chief Innovation Officer

[43:49] Keeping Narrative On The Future, Not Past

 

This episode is brought to you by Koji, the best “link in bio” tool. It is trusted by Grammy winners, chart-topping hitmakers, and more. Join 185,000+ creators. Check it out for free: koji.to/trapitalpodcast

 

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | SoundCloud | Stitcher | Overcast | Amazon | Google Podcasts | Pocket Casts | RSS

 

Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co

 

Guest: Kevin Liles, IG: @kevinlileskwl, Twitter: @KevinLiles1

 

 

Trapital is home for the business of hip-hop. Gain the latest insights from hip-hop’s biggest players by reading Trapital’s free weekly memo

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Transcript

Kevin Liles  00:00

When you put diverse people at the head of the company, and you allow that person to make cultural decisions and not financial decisions on something that they don’t know, so that young people run a company, they don’t know they might go to a concert, but they don’t know when a kid could come in, like I came in. And I saw Russell, I said, “Oh, he’s the boss.” So you mean if you’re the boss, you can move stuff that you want to people not only want to be an employee or work in music, no, they want to run companies. And until we as an industry, and really this is not just about the music industry, this is about the world. Until a CEO that looks like them, act like them talk like them, you know, that’s when you unleash the true power of where we are in our culture.

 

Dan Runcie  00:56

Today’s episode is with Kevin Liles, the Chairman and CEO of 300 Entertainment and Electro Music Group. Kevin’s been one of the most influential record label executives of the past few decades. He ran Def Jam for seven years in the late 90s, early 2000s. And almost 10 years ago, he started 300 Entertainment, which he just sold to Warner for a $400 million deal. So we talked about everything that went into that decision, what it was like to sell the record label what a partnership with Warner looks like and how the record label can maintain its independent spirit under the umbrella of native record labels. We also talked about Gunner and how he’s having one of the biggest years in hip hop right now and Pusha P and everything with that. We talked about Megan Thee Stallion and we talked about Thug. Did you know that Thug is Chief Innovation Officer at 300? When we talked all about that and what that means and a whole lot more. He also gave us the latest update on Def Jam Vendetta. You know the people that ask him at Def Jam Vendetta, they want to see the video game come back through. So we talked about that. We also talked to broader about IP. If you follow me on social media, you know that I want to see the story to hip hop record labels get the same type of TV anthology breakdowns that we’re seeing now about Thera Nose and WeWork and Uber I want to see the same about Def Jam and Bad Boy and Rockefeller. And we talked a little bit about that too. It was a great conversation. I think it’s always inspiring to talk to one of the most influential execs in hip hop that I believe really helped to make this culture what it is. Here’s my chat with Kevin Liles. All right, today we got co-founder and CEO with 300. Entertainment Kevin Liles with us today. Hey, Kevin, I got to give you a shout out man, it feels like you’ve had one of the strongest starts to this year sold the record label, Gunner’s hit starting the year off strong. How does it feel?

 

Kevin Liles  02:43

It feels like another day at the office. People ask me all the time, Kevin, what’s new, every day is new. Every day is a new opportunity. God woke me up and I feel there’s a bigger purpose. And I feel the steps that we take, I don’t look for number one albums, I don’t look for to be, accolades or to be the best this or anything. I really just strive on doing this work that day. And I joke with somebody I said no with me, I’m never gonna be up too upset, they’ll never be too sad. I will flow like water. And water is a very powerful thing because it helps grow. It changes direction with the most people around the world. So I feel like what is great about me.

 

Dan Runcie  03:23

I hear that. So talk to me a bit about the sale because that made big news, there was rumors about it happening towards the end of 2021. But walk me through that process. When did you first think about selling 300 and what went into the decision for you?

 

Kevin Liles  03:39

I never thought about selling. I don’t build things to sell. I’m a serial entrepreneur, but I build things to change the world. And I find a void. And the void was the creation of 300 co-founders, the void was there was no true artist about it. When we talk about our students. I’m not just talking about developing a sound or developing of a person I’m saying we’re raising young kids, young men, and women into the world. And so they need to have some have dads and we have moms and we had by my dad, but some have not, you know around them. So we need to be of service to their growth. So when people say what are you thinking about selling, I always was thinking about who was my best partner that I could have the independent of my mindset of independent, but the muscle of a major who’s the best partner that independence will be in their DNA, who’s the best partner that I could actually administer around the world, the good, the bad, the right the wrong and treat the body want to be treated. And so I’m not for sale. 300 as an entity I sold because I wanted entrepreneurs to learn what intrapreneurship was to add what tools in a toolboxes around the world, but you know, people can’t be sold a company what I did was sold an asset that I felt could be a bigger asset to the world. I’d say do you think Steve, isn’t a Jeff Bezos is still sitting in his garage. No. Do you think that guys are still in a dorm room? Yeah, I mean, Zuckerberg in a dorm room? No, no, we actually have a great idea, a great business, we’re acquiring things, starting different things. So I believe the sale is something that people put too much emphasis on. Now, with that being said, I wanted also to create history. So if you think about Motown selling for 61 million, if you think about Def Jam, selling for 140 million on the face, on 425 million getting sold for 325, or even a man selling for 500 million in 27 years, eight years, we sold a company for $400 million. And so to me, I also think about legacy and history and what that means. So if people want to talk about the sale, talk about it in a way, that is historic for an African American, historic for a company, but it’s also profitable for shareholders. And as a CEO, you know, we got to make sure the shareholders and the board a great, but I think the culture needed to see that it is a possibility to build something, sell something, become a bigger brand by doing it, but never lose the mindset of an independent.

 

Dan Runcie  06:13

I think that’s an interesting good point, because so many of the big, whether it’s the catalog sales, or the record label sales that we’ve seen over the past two years that we’ve seen this run happen, a lot of them haven’t been with executives that are black, or executives that, you know, are just non-white men in general. So I think that the fact that you were able to do that shows and signals not just what you’re capable of, but also what your artists are capable of, too. And I think as well on the partnership side, it’s interesting because I think that 300, maybe, you know, relative to a lot of the other labels that were independent before people may have thought that “Oh, well. 300 is just as powerful as some of the majors or you know, definitely has the same firepower behind it.” But it sounds like what you’re saying is that, yeah, even with all that we’ve accomplished, there’s still more that we can have, you know, with the backing and with the further partnership of a company like a Warner.

 

Kevin Liles  07:11

We shocked the world where we had more Grammys than the majors but magazine three Grammys, you know, we shot the world that we put out and we’re up against a major and had the number one album in the first week out as this little independent thing, you got to realize all the stuff that’s happening now is still stuff we’ve set up last year. And so as we go into this year, just look for us to be doing hashtag bigger family business, not just family business, but bigger family business.

 

Dan Runcie  07:37

Yeah, I hear that. And I think too, talking about the artists that were able to do things, I mean, Ghana has been the poster child so far this year, at least when it comes to hip hop, I mean, not just him getting the number one single but him being the weekend, but then had everything surrounding around Pusha P and everything there. I mean, I assume that has to feel pretty good. Because I think it’s so tough, especially in this era, to have superstars and people that are on the verge of superstar status to kind of grow in get there with so much noise and so much other artists that are coming through whether it’s independence or others. So the fact that he’s able to, you know, not show to he compete, but outsell other superstars, I think shows a lot of not just the potential, but also that this is still possible in this era, we can still have the biggest stars continue to reach further heights.

 

Kevin Liles  08:29

Yeah, I think you’d want to talk about true artist development and from the dropping of drip Season One, two, and three, and one. And all those things, you got to realize that young kid was just sitting by bug in the studio learning and he never stopped learning, we never stopped evolving. And when you saw him perform with commitment to balance, open up the brands, you know, one year, he’s all things that became attainable to him and through by us the work that went into ds for the thoughtfulness of how it started, ebb and flows of it, of how many girl records should I have on it? What am I trying to say? I can’t say I’m dripping. And I’m not really drip. So I have to be in every fashion show or it just you know, the thoughtfulness. We’re not just putting out records, if you want to do that, that’s not 300. 300 is thoughtful. 300 is taking the time to understand where an artist is in their career. Where is it a mixtape time isn’t an album time? Is it collab time? These are all things that because people don’t have the relationships with the artists, then if the artists house or going on vacation, they can’t really communicate. You know, obviously, you can’t hand me something without an owner’s name. I have to know everything about it so I can assist. You know, Gunner is more than an RC you can, he’s a human being but he’s also a very good friend. You know, Evany his manager is not just a manager. She’s a system that could be a daughter to me, and I have a responsibility to develop another young woman in our industry. So to me, what are we Pusha P whenever we have Hot Girl Summer, well we attract cooling it or you know, Savage in it, whatever you whatever one you want to a week bad and bougie in it. But everyone you want to pick up. We don’t just, you know have moments we make movies.

 

Dan Runcie  10:15

I like that you mentioned that because you have had so many I feel like every year every other year, there’s some moment that 300 is able to capture some term that they’re able to introduce something in the water like power, y’all always the ones that have the terms on lock. 

 

Kevin Liles  10:29

You know, I think it’s a great commentary to the great artists and the great creators and the great executives that we have run if we don’t make this shit up. We didn’t go to FedWatch and say, Yo, do trap boo. We didn’t go to mag and say have a hot girl summer. We don’t go to yo, guess what the Gunner we go, Pusha P, that’s not how it happens. It happens because we provide a safe place for ideation, creativity, and opportunities for people to fail. But failure is a learning experience. You know, when Marvin Gaye wanted to do what’s going on, and it was an appointment, and what his biggest-selling album, it was just where he was in life. ps4 is where Gunner is in life. Punk was where thug was in life. You can’t go through manufacture in the ship. And it’s not cultural. And if it’s not cultural, then it really can’t be 300 to me, and that’s really the message and one of the great things about being able to take over the electrode of entertainers we’ve also it’s in their ethos, we have great labels like FBI, FDR, Roadrunner, iconic labels that started with founders that had a point of view. And so to me, as long as I have a point of view, as long as it be cultural, as long as I could have the independent mindset, I’m good. And I’m doing it all, again to raise great young men and women, web executives or artists. But I really believe God wakes me up to change the world. I really believe it is not even a question in my mind. And so I want to get better. I want to be a better father, a better operator, a better friend. And if you always challenge yourself that there is more, that there is more to do. If you reimagine and rethink and things you will see God will answer you in so many great way. Do you think that the VR sold a company eight months ago now months ago, Mary Jane, you connected? Did you think she was performing at the Superbowl? Do you think that the Super Bowl, who would be it they’d be run by Jay Z? Do you think that like, we don’t make this up? This is I can’t tell you, I can just thank God, and thank the people around me for believing that they do have a bigger mission.

 

Dan Runcie  12:37

And I think with this too, you build something so special, you talked a lot about that independent spirit that I think carry through with artists development with how your artists became the culture-makers that they are. And I gotta wonder, though, with the partnership with Warner now, of course, you’re giving up a little bit of control in exchange for the power, it helps you put behind the artists. But is there any concern or any thought about okay, what will that look like? Or how may that potentially shift if we’re seeding some of that control or some of that power?

 

Kevin Liles  13:08

Then, you see, I’m the wrong guy to accept because I never felt like I worked in the back. I always feel like give me the mission, give me assignment. And let me do that.  Again, great thing about this opportunity, Julie Greenwald. And I ran Def Jam together along with Leah, Julie was an assistant I was starting to enter. So she knows everything about me. She knows where the bodies buried, she knows the good, the bad, the ugly, maximum side I work with as a concrete colleague for 9, 10 years, you know, he knows the good, the bad. And so I’m a position player. So if I need to be the coach to quarterback, the running back, then I have enough tools in my toolbox to play whatever position and so I never give up control. Because nobody does what I do can’t keep that and so I never look at it. But we can you know, you have a boss now. Okay, what does that mean? They have a great employee. Oh, Kevin, Kevin, for your artists. They can’t know we do what we do. But now we do it. It’s hashtag bigger family business that it’s just again, I’m not the guy that when you take on additional investment that you change, I believe the thing about 300, thing about Def Jam, these were things that were built out of necessity, and we curated them in a cultural way, not in a financial way. Not we saw a need to do Def Comedy Jam. We saw a need to have fat farm and baby fat. We saw a need to make Def Jam Vendetta and Fight For New York. You know, we saw a need to be heavily involved in political races and important countries. We saw a need that the State’s Attorneys in every city can help us change the narrative around who’s going while going and why they’re in jail and they should be out of jail. We just saw see things because we’re out in the streets without it every single day. That doesn’t mean everybody has to be Mona, what it means is you have to be in touch with who you are, why you are, what your purpose is. And that is what I challenge. But listen, I don’t deal with coke cans and cigars and shit talk back to me. These are real people in, my people know they have the freedom, the freedom to disagree, the freedom to try. And when you have a bunch of risk-takers, like we have in Max and we have and Julie and we have and the rest of the team and I have two great kids and rating Celine that most people wouldn’t give them the power that I’ve given them. But remember, they may be president and CEO of Def Jam at age 30. So, to me, this is just a great opportunity for us to do what we do never change who we are.

 

Dan Runcie  15:42

I hear that. And you mentioned Def Jam Vendetta. So we got to talk about that. Because I think it was last year, you put out a little teaser. You said hey, do you all want another sequel? You want another one? So where’s that ad? What are you thinking about for the future of the Def Jam video game?

 

Kevin Liles  15:58

I don’t know if you saw the tweet about it yesterday. But he said, Man, we need another one. Because back and Snoop it oh my god, it’s timing. For me. It’s working with the right partner. At that time, Electronic Arts was the right partner, they allowed me to curate it without the limitations of “Oh, but we’re Electronic Arts. Oh, and you know,” so when I find the right gaming button, and if you’re out there, let me know, when I find the right gaming partner that wants to experience gaming in a way that I see it culturally, it’ll come back out. But until then, I’ll keep having the conversations until I find the right one.

 

Dan Runcie  16:34

That makes sense, because I think what we’re talking about at the end of the day is just how valuable the IP and the brand is, and everything that you all had created, whether it’s what you had done at Def Jam, or what you’ve now done this past decade with 300 and one of the things I’ve started to take notice to now is we’re this way right now with media TV, where we’re seeing all of these TV anthology series about the rise and fall of these tech companies. Right, we got the Theranos one, we got the WeWork one, we got the Uber one. And I want to see the same for the Def Jams and the Bad Boys. And I want to see all of that. And I feel like if we’re having the conversations about the video games, it’s only going to be a matter of time before we’re going to see those as well. We want to get back to the early 2000s Def Jam or the Rockefeller run and see who would all play you all I feel like that’s it has to be happening in at least a couple of years.

 

Kevin Liles  17:27

So one of the reasons why I created 300 Studios is because I haven’t told full stories in a long time. And so you can check the credits for whether it was how high the show ended things that we did back in the day rush hour. And those things that we’ve been able to be a part of why did I get married a Tyler Perry was daddy’s little girl and go down to this though, things that we’ve been able to help curate. There was a reason why I wanted him studios to not only tell the audio stories around 300, but I wanted to tell digital stories. And I had the great pleasure of finding Kelly Nolan. And they believe in the vision. And you know, within two years, we had our first doc on February 26 called Race, Bubba Wallace. And it was the only African American Cup Series driver and his trials and tribulations of not having any sponsorship to now winning races and changing the current federal flag and mascot. I didn’t say hey, here’s the script. But here’s what’s gonna happen NASCAR, here’s what you’re gonna have a guy come in and actually curate and trust in the brands of 2311 racing, you know, with Jordan, and Denny, Toyota, McDonald’s DoorDash, all these things with the background of raising a young kid in a sport that you can’t even afford to be in. You know, I mean, you just 20, $30 million, you have to have caused the crash. I know that. So again, I wanted to educate people on the sport but also wanted to take them on a journey that a lot of people have never taken with NASCAR. So I appreciate everything. And yes, there will be a story, there will be more Word docs. And I do plan because I’m going for decades in the business now telling the true stories of all of these iconic brands and iconic people and friends and people who shaped the world and conversation. I do plan on telling the story. 

 

Dan Runcie  19:14

Yeah, I think people would love to hear that. I feel like that is where things are obviously heading with all of the IP that’s being created. And I feel like especially for you all I mean, it’s interesting now because we just see the histology of how everything is, you know, we’re looking back and people are talking fondly about that late 90s, early 2000s run and it’s only going to be a matter of time before people look back at this particular era. Not even just with hip hop, but music more broadly. And just seeing how many shifts this music industry has had. And I feel like the past few years, we’re on the verge of another one as well. The revenue has been, you know, the highest that it’s been at least since the CD era, and that I think has influenced a lot of these deals that we’ve seen and we’re now seeing all This activity with web three NFTs and everything else. I mean, as someone who has seen it, you know the highs and the lows of it as you said, you know, you’re definitely have the you know, be like water mentality. When that said, it must be really exciting to also see all the possibilities of where you could tap into.

 

Kevin Liles  20:17

Listen, all I can tell you, I was at the Super Bowl, the biggest stage in the world with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige at the Super Bowl. So if you don’t know the possibilities, we have the number one music in the world when they used to tell us, you’ll be a fad. They used to say we play more music and less rap. Now everybody’s saying we’re just stationary hip hop, and Baba, Baba. And everybody when people didn’t realize, and I’m sure they’re not sure how old you are. But when I was in the car growing up, I was listening to the Temptations, and Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin because that’s my Mom, listen to. But now, as adults, what we listen, I listen to hip hop. So that that’s been for the last 30 years. So now you have hip hop parents, you have a President of the United States, in Iraq, who knows hip hop, you have mayors and governors and lordships and keep losing, that grew up on hip hop. So you have not seen the greatness of our culture, yet, you’re starting to see the seeds being planted. I truly believe that with the continent coming into play with India, coming into play, these underdeveloped nations, oh, man, this will be so many stories to be told, in a way through a hip hop lens. So I’m just excited more say, I just hope they’ll still let me be around. As long as God keeps giving these gifts, I’ll stay with the rope.

 

Dan Runcie  21:44

I hear that, and I think the international expansion is just being so key to so many record labels, moving Making Moves, whether it’s in India, in East Asia, in Africa, as well. And I know that you all have, you know, made moves in that perspective as well. What do you see is that opportunity, especially in the next few years? I mean, I know that having Warner behind can definitely help from an international push from that perspective. But what do you see as an opportunity.

 

Kevin Liles  22:10 

One of the biggest issues that I was having is I didn’t have my Rolodex is 40,000 people, but I only had 75 people working for me, couldn’t reach those, I got the calls from the biggest artists in France and the biggest artists in Germany and the biggest artist in London, and I couldn’t serve them in a way that they need to be served. Remember, early on, I knew where hip hop was going, Leon Russell, we thought about your Def Jam UK, Def Jam Germany, Def Jam France, Def Jam Japan, we were just too early. And those countries did not have the voice. They didn’t have their own voice. They were emulating what we were doing, because we were starting the creation of it. But now you go to any of those major territories, they have their own voice, the biggest artists in that territory is from that territory. It’s not us coming there. And so as a proud steward of our culture, I think the opportunity is on steroids right now, because I’m going to be able to not only help artists, but also help creators and executives realize that set up their own iPhones in their own territories, because they can say shit 300 to do that. The guy was this is his third time. Oh, if they can do it, look what we could do. And so we’re starting that also. So I can only thank again, you know, Max and Julie for believing in what we’re creating, loving, independent spirit, but also remembering that Do It Yourself, DIY thing, nobody does it themselves. You know, that’s like saying you gonna have a baby by yourself. No! You will get married by yourself. No, you don’t do, you don’t do anything by yourself. And there’s not one global artists around the world that did it ourselves. So I believe in collaboration, I believe in partnership. But again, the mindset has to be independent.

 

Dan Runcie  23:50

I think the piece that you mentioned on the differences of when you’re running Def Jam 20 years ago, versus now especially on the international front is key because as you mentioned, a lot of those regions didn’t have the developed music ecosystem that they do. So it was often, forget your artists there as opposed to now they have their own superstars. What are some of the other major differences that you’ve experienced from now being a major label executive in this decade as opposed to what it was like for you Def Jam 20 years ago?

 

Kevin Liles  24:23

People didn’t notice them. What the fuck was talking about? They didn’t understand the cultural thing. They understood the numbers, but they didn’t understand what I was somewhere why I would say no, I don’t want to pay, when I want to go play a tape in London to small club that I will do that 10 times before I do it. They didn’t understand why. I mean, even inside the company, he said, Well, we shouldn’t take Trey Songz to London, because he doesn’t have the big radio record there. And I’m like, people stream their people buy music. They’re people and I know when I go there, and I’m doing 500,000 to 2000 or 5000 people in shows that they just do. He’s not developed enough to understand that shit moves without all the triggers sometimes. And so it was funny. We went there, and somebody said, boot camp, you know, I know you want to play, you know, 5,000 seaters, but we sold out two nights on it. So maybe we should start playing arenas? And my answer was no because we’re not ready for it yet. Let me keep curating keep going through the process. And seeing and I’ve seen bands that haven’t had one hit, but they can sell out in a real way. And that that to me, I’m so excited. There’s a young lady from the UK named Pink Patras that I’m so excited about where she’s going her aesthetic who shipped to the capital labor, there’s no label you can put on I’m excited that if you take a look at Megan Thee Stallion schedule for the next year, she’s paying every major festival around the world. So think about what that what’s that gonna do for her development, allow her to become a product of her experiences, not just her limited environment, think about what she’s going to write. I remember a long time ago, Lulu, Chris and I went to Africa. And then I hate the song, the best women for Africa. Oh, yeah. Jay Z, and I took our first private plane. And then you start talking about the airport, you don’t mean your first trip to the South of France, you don’t mean? These are the experiences that allow for great storytelling that allow for evolution, not just of an artist, but also the narrative of the employees and executives that take those journeys with. 

 

Dan Runcie  26:30

That makes me think too, about snooping around with the music and the beautiful music video and that spot a landmark, you know, like, people want to go there and take pictures and be like, No, I was as powerful. It really is. I mean, for me, one of the other things I think about too, that’s just changed so much from you know, back when you’re at Def Jam to now with 300 is because of streaming and the Internet and so much, now, people respect much more what you were trying to do then because they realize it and I think obviously streaming helped level a lot of the playing fields side, big hip hop and r&b soul. So many lot, so much black music was able to reach more of its true potential in terms of just how easily it could spread, because there’s less gatekeepers, right. And I think I’m interested to see, okay, how that continues to go. And what are the things that may continue to rehab that, you know, whether it’s boost further, or have it reach even more of its potential? Because to your point, I agree with that, we still haven’t reached the maximum point or we still have it, you know, really been able to have the whole world really tap into what’s happening here. So I’m curious to you know, as I’m thinking through what the next decade looks like, what are those things going to be the same way how, you know, streaming and social media help level the playing field for a lot of this genre of music like is whether it’s, you know, Web 3.0, or NFTs or the Metaverse is that going to be the next thing that’ll help even more of the hip hop artists in r&b and soul reach their full potential. 

 

Kevin Liles  28:01

It’s an output to you so straight that all that shit is good and as always, we evolution that we’re going to go from the small two way pages to now the cell phone game and remote control, all that shit, technological change cassette to CD and all that stuff is gonna change our biggest power. And I’m a living example of it is when you put diverse people at the head of the company, and you allow that person to make cultural decisions and not financial decisions on something that they don’t know. So that young people run a company, they don’t know, they might go to a concert, but they don’t know when a kid could come in, like I came in. And I saw Russell, I said, Oh, he the boss. So you mean if you’re the boss, you can move stuff that you want to people not only want to be an employee or work in music, no, they want to run companies. And until we as an industry, and really, this is not just about the music industry, this is about the world until the consumers today see a CEO that looks like them, act like them, talk like them, you know, that’s when you unleash the true power of where we are in our culture. The C-Suite does not represent what we’re selling, and until you get that you’re not going to maximize it, but it’s coming because I plan on my fucking changes. I’m gonna let them know now that guys, I’m nowhere near done. This is just a, I’m on chapter one. Fuck it. I don’t care what what we say. And I’m going to make sure part of my legacy is to make sure I have planted enough seeds that you know, the next CEO, CEOs of tech companies and men of various and this first in that verse, whatever you want to call it, they have representation of a culture that’s using it.

 

Dan Runcie  29:38

Yeah. And I’m glad you mentioned this because I do think that that is what makes the change at the end of the day and that could influence so much it will influence so much. And I’d love to know what your perspective is on the movements or activities that the music industry has done on this front the past two years. So after George Floyd’s murder, there was a bunch of announcements and funding that when after the show must be paused, and all of that in the call was exactly what you’re saying, we need more black executives that are making decisions that are the ones that are really pushing this culture forward, especially since it’s their culture that is making this industry what it is. So how do you feel that that progress has been since a lot of those announcements were made by the industry?

 

Kevin Liles  30:25

Not enough, and there’s more work to be done. And it’s one of the things that we hired a global diversity inclusion, the I would ever call officer named Dr. Smith. And when I came on, he’s the first person to reach out, he said, we have $100 million, help me, help us change the world. We’re not going to have a department, we’re going to create the first-ever DEI Institute, and we’re going to train people, we’re going to go and find people in the organization and make them leaders in teaching cultural, cultural relevance, as far as it accompany cultural relevance and diversity of mindset and diversity of thought, not just color, we’re going to find these change agents. No, I don’t make this shit up. There’s a lot of work to be done. But the reason that I’m at the more music group, and the reason I chose them is because Steve Cooper and Len Blavatnik have made in their mindset that we’re going to change the world, and people who consume our products, who love our artists who buy our T-shirts, we want to have people in the C-Suite that look like them. And so that’s a lot of fun work to be done. And once you’re you know me, I’m not quiet. So I sit in the room and I tell everybody not charged. I said, “Guys, you can’t announce $100 million and do things that don’t change things.” Just not check the box. We’re not doing it at the Warner Music Group. I never did it. I don’t know how to check a box. I know how to create other boxes. I let everybody else do with it. Oh, we just did this? No, no, we created the DEI Institute around pingy equity, which is just amazing man, but a lot of work to be done all across the board. And I challenged every CEO, every chairman, every shareholder of a major corporations to challenge the company to allow that diversity to be in the C-Suite. It will change the company and it changing the company, will make more money. 

 

Dan Runcie  32:14

Couldn’t agree more. And I think too, this speaks to a lot of the work you’ve done, even you know, outside of just you know, running the music part of the record label, you’ve been active with HBCUs as a graduate of wind that you’ve wanted to make sure that mentorship programs and entrepreneurship supporting programs are there because you see that pipeline that you want to make sure that whether it’s executives that want to go on to succeed in music or other places, the more that you can use your platform to help them the better off they’ll be.

 

Kevin Liles  32:44

I think it’s very important. I did a centennial raise from Golden State. Dr. Rosso, shout out to Florida State HBCU person myself, and we raised $250 million. So we knew that was the biggest institutional raise of HBCU went on to had a big conversation. I speak on a circuit a lot. And it had a big conversation around what’s the pipeline to get to be a state’s attorney, or a FBI special agent or a CIA, you know what, and really, I didn’t know, I got to be a police officer. That’s what I saw, you know, but I didn’t know I don’t be a basketball player, football fan, because that’s what I saw. And so another program that I launched two years ago, I think, maybe last year is what I had 60 presidents of HBCUs meet with the head of the FBI, and to show that when George Floyd happened, when Freddy Gary happened, the FBI came, but people who were looking into it, when people like us, they wouldn’t play for communities, there was no trust. So I want to make sure before I’m done, there will be somebody every place that will affect our culture, and have a cultural point of view, and not just a title point of view. And so that’s been and I’m a big advocate of education and entrepreneurship, I believe the school system should be blown up. And we should be teaching more entrepreneurism, and not teaching people how to go work for somebody, but teaching people how to join and actually want to be change agents and not just employees. So I’m going to continue the big fight between 15 and do the work. And again, I don’t do that by myself. So shout out to Dr. Smith.

 

Dan Runcie  34:24

That’s good to hear. And I mean, I think you’re right so much bad taps back into see where the pipeline they see how you can build it up in making sure that that leads to a promising career so people can whether it’s they want to be their own boss or they want to do their own form of intrapreneurship whatever it is, the opportunities are there. One thing that I did want to talk about shifting back to music a bit. There’s been an interesting movement I think happening right now where there is more of these, I call it the hip hop media personality that has come a bit more to rise and some of them You know, even some of the, you know, the artists that that 300 have definitely pushed back on some of these folks as well for someone, whether it’s the things they’ve said or other things like that, it would be good to hear from your perspective, because I think this is not necessarily that these types of people didn’t exist before. But I think social media obviously just makes the dynamic a little different. So what’s your take on that dynamic?

 

Kevin Liles  35:21

No different than, we used to write on a graffiti walls now, we write it off Facebook, was used to hand out flyers and posters. Now you have Instagram and WhatsApp and this Snapchat and all these things. And when you talk about these personalities, you don’t remember Starbuck while how they were. 

 

Dan Runcie  35:38

They were wild. They were wild.

 

Kevin Liles  35:41

You don’t remember how if you did any bit of R&B. You had to go to video. So with Donnie Simpson, you don’t sit remember how sway and tech can wake up showing them what they were there. They just went on what one thing now with social media, it could be everywhere around the world. And we want those opinions. We want those pushbacks, we want those perspectives, because those things allow us to evolve as people we’re not sociated for not some of them, we wouldn’t be addressing some of the issues think about what Charlemagne and The Breakfast Club dude don’t for mental health, you want that pushback, you want that conversation because we don’t want to become stagnant as a people. And so to me, I put your nine out of 10 of my friends, Joe Biden, I signed him to be your I mean, Noriega, drink champion. Besides me, you don’t mean to get Fat Joe, us you don’t need to go down the list of these guys and girls around the world that have an actor that you need the crazy one, you need him to say what he wants to say, just to be thought-provoking, you know, but if you really get to know him, you know, he’s Howard Stern, hip hop. That’s his thing. And we don’t want to do we don’t not have a stern. There might be you do you’re like it, you know, but you need the conversation. And I think even, what this happened with the Rogan guy, we need that conversation. As long as it is acceptable for you to use a word that you need the conversation the corporation’s needed. And you need a Spotify to say, hey, we made an investment. We’re gonna learn from this and teach from this, and you needed him to come on. I don’t think he just apologize for his sponsors. I think that he felt that damn, you know, I never thought about it that way. Because I’m just repeating No, but even repeating is wrong. And so this is in the people that listen to him, trust me that backface was going on, they dress it up like this during all the shift is going on still. But I’m open. But I went all the smoke, bring me the motherfucking smoke because I want to have the conversation. I want to and the problem is we don’t have the conversation. And so we operate in five items around things. No, I want to taste monster ball soup, which I want you to take some collard greens to I want you to go I want to go to the Trinidad festival and hang out Mardi Gras and all this. But yes, I want you to come to the hood celebration we build into the basketball is that to me, we don’t have enough of the intermingling of cultures. And the lack of compensation has led to suicide, the lack of compensation has led to racism. And I knew when Barack Obama spent eight years I said, Oh, the next thing is gonna go left and be extremely other way. And then you got Donald Trump, I knew it was going to go in. But I also knew that we had to swing it back to the middle of the pendulum because he went too far left, and I can’t wait to see some of the great leaders that will be born and find out of the conversation. You know, I always say we’re living in biblical times. And was Moses, just a farmer competence was Job justice was married justice. No, damn, Max was the prophet. That shouldn’t be a book of Acts, that shouldn’t be a book of Jay, it shouldn’t be a book of Todd. Because in these biblical times that we’re in right now, when Moses parted the Red Sea for other people to get, there were some casualties of war. I gave my only begotten Son for us to move forward. And believe two people don’t relate what we’re going through as true biblical scriptures because we haven’t put them all together. We call it the Bible. But there was a George Floyd in the Bible. There was a Freddie Gray in the Bible, and God bless their families and their soul. And all of them have taken on the mantle and said, his death, her death, this moment is meant to shift culture. It’s meant to get people thinking a different way. And that’s why again, I applaud all the noise, all the smoke, all the conversations that I have to have, and I do have a smile.

 

Dan Runcie  39:30

That’s a good point because if we think about the evolution of Howard Stern, I think about the evolution of a Charlemagne there’s kind of this like, you start off and you say, the stuff that makes you be like, What did he just say? And then like, a few years later, I mean, you listen to more recent Howard Stern interviews, I mean, he sounds like you know, almost like a therapist on the couch, like, you know, just talking through things and we said similar stuff about Charlemagne, given some of the books that he’s written and just how much of a topic that is for him, and he definitely doesn’t do interviews the way he did back in 2013. All right, is the evolution there? So thinking about it in that perspective, yeah, we’ll be very interested to see like, where ACC or you know, where some of the others are, you know, seven years from now because I think I agree with you, you know, I don’t necessarily think that, you know, he is a bad person or anything like that. I think if anything, it’s more so this is a product of the internet and what everything has incentivized no different than, you know, Starbuck wild were incentivized to say wild shit on you know, power and you know, back in the day, and then now, you know, whether it’s activated on twitch or on YouTube or whatever channel, yes. 

 

Kevin Liles  40:35

You got to be doing it for rabies. He’s doing it for reach. He’s doing it. It’s so much noise out there that you have to sometimes it’s like, our chief innovative officer is Young Thug, so Young Thug, wearing a dress that people know I’m fashion, fashion shouldn’t be limited, you know, but think about prints with his ass out. Think about Michael Jack and think about these guys. And again, why shouldn’t we allow people to have an opinion to that that’s the problem I have with a lot of people. People are really afraid of freedom. Because freedom comes check too, there’s good and bad and freedom. But you’re free. You’re free to say and be and act and we should not judge. But we should know that people are doing things for certain reasons. The bigger your audience becomes, the bigger your reach, the bigger you become. And we can’t just have Howard there by himself, can’t get him broken down by itself. So what did they do to get there? What did they do to get there? I got Russell call me 10 times.

 

Dan Runcie  41:35

Oh, man, I do want to talk quick because yeah, I was gonna ask you about Thug being Chief Innovation Officer. So what does that role include? So what’s what’s on the agenda?

 

Kevin Liles  41:45

Change the world, change the perspective, change the conversation, changed the ideation process, don’t limit yourself be as free of a person as you can be. And I actually run stuff by him. I’m thinking about doing a hot challenge with HBCUs. And my goal is to help these bands raise money. So I want to do $25 A night and campus did it. I did some around Pusha P and I kept that’s not p. I said to him, I think we should do you know, I have family business. But I think you are the biggest family with lash out. So we made it out. When you have an innovative officer, there’s no limitations. There’s no job description, it’s to touch taste and tone of his very existence that allows people to come up with new ways and things to do. You know, when Mary J. Blige said good morning, gorgeous. It was therapy for that young person that gets bullied, but it was also therapy for her coming off the ship that she came off for. And I kept her I said, guys, this is not a song. This is going to help people get through life. And people have started adopting it and dads are now looking at their daughter saying good morning, gorgeous, looking at their wife that they take for granted in the morning, and saying good morning. Gorgeous. I don’t make this shit up. Everybody, be free. And Thug, I’ll check with you later on about what I’m thinking about next. Make sure I got the cool factor on it. 

 

Dan Runcie  43:08

Love it. Yeah, make sure he doesn’t treat you like that pirate. He said, Alex, you’re up.

 

Kevin Liles  43:15

You couldn’t make shit up. You couldn’t make none of this up. You know what I mean,

 

Dan Runcie  43:19

It’s beautiful. Yeah, I mean, perfect timing for that. I mean, and just lining up with the album and everything. That was perfect.

 

Kevin Liles  43:25

But it was not scripted. It was really cool. People started to show up the shows without you posted this thing. 

 

Dan Runcie  43:36

Oh, man, that’s what you know, you got a movement as well. You know, you got something. I will. Kevin, this has been great. Before we let you go though, is there anything else that you want to plug? Let the travel audience know about that 300 Hands on Deck.

 

Kevin Liles  43:49

I don’t know if it’s a plug. But I’m in search of the truth. There’s a lot of talent in the world. And the reason why I feel what it means we partnership 300, Electra Entertainment, Sparta, 300 Studios, I’m creating possibilities and platforms for you guys to come and help change the world. So I would just like to enlist your audience to say you don’t just have to be an artist. You don’t have to just do marketing, or digital or finance or legal. There is some place for you with us. And so I’m sure I’ll come in and hang out and you and I finally get in the same space. We can have a dinner, but let’s keep the narrative or where we going not where we were.

 

Dan Runcie  44:33

Sounds good. And yeah, let’s definitely do it. And Kevin, thanks again for coming on. And congrats to you again on great start to the year, big sale and everything. Keep trailblazing

 

Kevin Liles  44:42

God bless you, man. Thank you. Appreciate it.

 

Dan Runcie  44:44

Thank you. If you enjoyed this podcast, go ahead and share it with a friend. Copy the link, text it to a friend, post it in your group chat, post it in your Slack groups. Wherever you and your people talk, spread the word. That’s how Trapital continues to grow and continues to reach the right people. And while you’re at it, if you use Apple Podcast, go ahead, rate the podcast. Give it a high rating and leave a review, tell people why you like the podcast that helps more people discover the show. Thank you in advance. Talk to you next week.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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