Music aristocrat Kevin Liles has come a very long way. The head of 300 Entertainment is leading the charge in the music industry with a new initiative designed to defend creators against opposing forces. Liles, known as one of the heads of Def Jam Records, has emerged as a transformative figure in music, Hip-Hop and business. But, after all the accomplishments, money and accolades, his true purpose has leapt to the front.
Last week, Mr. Liles rang the bell at the NASDAQ in honor of Juneteenth and Black Music Month, but he had other things on his mind. His staunch, emotional defense of Young Thug moved many, but he has much more on the agenda. AllHipHop’s Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur took a bit of his time to talk with the mogul about a myriad of topics.
Check out our chat, mid-conversation.
Kevin Liles: That’s the thing. They made me so much money… I made them so much money that it stopped being about money. And so when you give yourself of service, it just becomes about how you feel. And I don’t do things to be recipient of something. I do it because it makes me feel good. You know what I mean? And that’s just where I’m at in life.
AllHipHop: How do you stay energized and motivated in these types of times? We’re in extremely turbulent times, trying times spiritually, physically, mentally. How do you stay energized?
Kevin Liles: Through scripture, through God, through meditation, through knowing that… And I think James Prince said it best, every day I get a choice and a chance.
To do better.
To do more.
Kevin Liles: You know what I mean? I have this campaign that I’m working on that will launch next year, and I believe that being stagnant or thinking that you did it already and it’s not more to do… What if Michael Jordan said, “You know what, I’ve got five rings, I’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars,” he wouldn’t have a company that in 2025 will be worth 13 billion called Brand Jordan.
AllHipHop: Right. If he stopped. Yeah.
Kevin Liles: What if Tyler Perry stopped when he had a successful play? He wouldn’t be rebuilding Atlanta. What if I didn’t learn the power of me and reading Russell’s book, Do You, and being around in the power serve. Understand, there’s only me.
It’s only me now in the business and I have such an opportunity because I’m an entrepreneur. I never worked for nobody, you know what I mean? But I partner with people and I’ll do things that help our culture go forward. But what if I didn’t learn what Russell instilled in me?
So where would it be now? Who would be testifying for Young Thug? Who would be out marching with Nas and Russell? Who would be down with Carmelo, with Freddie Gay? Because you don’t see nobody else. It’s not a food or a pill or anything that wakes me up every day. My will to be of service and to serve God.
AllHipHop: You mentioned in the fireside chat with Reverend Al Sharpton about we’re fighting the same fight as we did 30 years ago.
Kevin Liles: 50 years ago. 60 years ago.
AllHipHop: From a Hip-Hop perspective, it’s less time but yeah, obviously. Strange Fruit was brought up. How do we change things in a… I mean, obviously we have Protect Black Art, but how do we change this and create a shift that’s permanent or long lasting?
Kevin Liles: Policy. And putting people in place that look like us, grew up like us, act like us, talk like us, have some of the same problems as us. I don’t believe in politicians. I’m starting not to believe in a Democrat, Republican. I want to believe in what’s right and what’s wrong and the person that I believe in.
AllHipHop: And when we’re talking about Hip-Hop, it’s changed a lot, obviously. I put on Twitter the other day, Public Enemy. Can we get another group like that? Another game changing conscious group on a level that they were. Or on a level that pop artists are now.
Kevin Liles: The times dictate the art. When NWA said “f#ck the police” or Public Enemy said “fight the power,” remember DMX said (singing). You know, the time will reflect the art that comes out of it. And so I believe the biggest story hasn’t been told yet. Because I believe there’s a kid that walked 10 miles to go to school, barefoot. There’s a kid that had… Before he walked the ten miles to go to school, he had to walk two miles to get water to help his mom bathe. Wait til that story’s told. Not about the chains, not about the guns, not about… What til that story told from a perspective of I never had and I still don’t have, but I believe. Wait for that story to be told. So I believe the times dictate the art.
AllHipHop: Okay. And as far as the actual movement Protect Black Art, where are you with that now and what do you want to do with it? It’s obviously centered around the current case and things. But moving… How long do you want that to go or is that just centered around the here and the now?
Kevin Liles: It’s our legacy. And I say our legacy because 50,000 people have signed on. I got corporations that are starting to sign on to it. I’m not… I realize, we should’ve been protecting Black art since Nina Simone. So I realize the reason that we were able to come up with this term and why I want to dedicate my life to it because somebody has to protect us.
And so now, I want to protect Black art. Again, I only learned from Russell when we used to do Rush Philanthropic that sat on the border of… It was protecting art. It was providing art. It was giving. And so to me, again, the situation provides an opportunity for me to put a solution in that I believe people can get it by.
AllHipHop: You know, I’d be remiss in saying if… Since we have Russell here, Russell and Earl Graves (of Black Enterprise) were my mentors in my head, from books. I didn’t have a mentor, but Russell was definitely my mentor because I was reading his [books]. [To Russell Simmons] Obviously, studying the legacy of the culture through him and also reading the books that you were writing at that time. So I got to say thank you for that.
Russell Simmons: Thank you.
AllHipHop: Yeah. Because me and Greg, we’re from Delaware. We didn’t have anything to look at.
Kevin Liles: At least you had some ocean. I’m from Baltimore.
AllHipHop: Well y’all got the crabs though.
Kevin Liles: Okay, okay. Cool. At least you had some peace.
AllHipHop: Right, right.
Kevin Liles: Because ain’t harder back in my day. It wasn’t any harder than it is now. I jokingly say none of us grew up with a silver spoon in our mouth. We all grew up with rusted spoons in our mouth. But it’s having the opportunity to become not just a product of your environment but a product of your experiences. And allowing those experiences and taking other people, for them to get their interpretation of what those experiences are. And that’s what I was blessed to have and Russell and Lyor, whether it was matzo ball soup or philanthropy.
Kevin Liles: You know, I just had a different perspective on things and I now want to continue that by doing what we’re doing with 300 Elektra, but also protecting Black art.
AllHipHop: You mentioned getting out the way, something along those lines.
Kevin Liles: Find the way, nurture the way, and get out of the way.
AllHipHop: How confident are you with the state of Black leadership, the state of leadership within the music industry, to create those new pioneers, those new leaders, disruptors even?
Kevin Liles: I believe that people are free. I believe that… But it’s an industry. I believe that there’s not enough diversity and inclusion in the music business, but in all businesses. And I also believe that if Rolling Stones could do it until they 80 and if Clive Davis could do it til he’s 75, I want to be around fighting that good fight because it’s not to be given to us. It’s something we’re going to have to take.
AllHipHop: Thank you. I appreciate you.
Kevin Liles: Always, brother. Always. Bless you. Anytime.