Kevin Liles shocked the music industry last year by announcing he was stepping down from his Executive Vice President post at Warner Music Group to pursue other entrepreneurial opportunities.
It marked the end of a journey for Liles that began 18 years ago as an unpaid intern at Def Jam Records, the one-time home of hip-hop artists Jay Z, Ludacris, LL Cool J and DMX. Liles would ultimately become president, leading the extension of the Def Jam brand into different regions, genres and products.
Now, the music mogul, author, philanthropist and motivational speaker is embarking on a new path that leverages his knowledge of young America and hip-hop in new businesses and ventures.
Among the areas Liles plans to bring his expertise include talent management, entertainment, media, philanthropy and politics.
“I’m a provider of what’s cool to young America,” say Liles, 41. “Whether it’s clothes, movies or education, it’s my responsibility to have my pulse on what young America wants.”
Liles is banking that his Midas touch at Def Jam, where revenues doubled to $400 million during his tenure as president, will extend to his new projects.
In television and film, Liles is working on developing a media/entertainment company with television producer James DuBose, creator of BET’s “Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is,” Frankie and Neffe,” and “Monica: Still Standing” reality shows.
Liles will continue to launch new ventures in music, saying he hopes to be a catalyst for the convergence of sports and entertainment.
He’s also developing a partnership in the telecommunications space that aims to bring access to the Internet to large groups of people, particularly underprivileged or minority communities, who are currently without the capabilities.
“It’s my responsibility to get the same people I influence to buy records to that space to be connected,” Liles says. “Every child should have the opportunity to connect and surf the web.”
The hip-hop marketing guru says he’s hoping to utilize his skills to market a different product to today’s youth: education. Liles is offering up his services to the Obama Administration for any support they need on its education initiatives.
“I want to help the administration with much of my energy to make education cool again,” Liles says. “Being smart gets you paid. I think I can affect education with our culture.”
If Liles does become involved in any Obama Administration education campaign, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s went to bat for the president.
Last year, Liles joined Sean “Diddy” Combs, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Beyoncé on the campaign trail for Barack Obama in the days leading up to last November’s U.S. presidential election.
From Motivated to Motivator
In 2005, Liles added best-selling author to his list of accolades. His self help book “Make It Happen: the Hip Hop Guide to Success,” which offered tips on how to become successful, was praised for putting creative spin on a traditional motivational book, and for appealing to people who typically wouldn’t read books.
Since the book’s release, Liles has been coveted for speaking roles at conferences and conventions focusing a variety of issues.
This fall, Liles joined top educators and policy makers in Washington at the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Legislative Conference for a panel addressing the challenges to raising young men of color.
During the panel, Liles took a moment to talk about the importance of personal responsibility in overcoming life’s obstacles.
“As a kid, I never blamed my father who left me at two,” he said to the audience, which included students from schools across the country. “I just got away from the negativity. Growing up, I saw the street and I wanted to be that guy on the corner. I tried it. But I realized I didn’t want to live my life looking over my back everyday.”
Liles’ humility and sense of community can be traced back to his humble upbringings in west Baltimore in the 1970s and 1980s. Liles has quipped about being born with a “rusted” spoon in his mouth, but often grows serious when sharing his story of how he made it out of the gritty neighborhoods.
“I always challenge young America not to be a product of our environment,” he says. “I wanted to go into engineering because I knew they made a lot of money. But there weren’t any engineers in my neighborhood.”
Liles gives back time and resources to the Baltimore community from which he was breed. He established the Kevin Liles For A Better Baltimore Foundation in 2002 to offer social, educational, economic, cultural, and civic opportunities to Baltimore’s youth.
In 2002, Liles donated $150,000 to his alma mater, Woodlawn High School, to finish the construction of a sports stadium, which now bears his name.
Baltimore’s mayor recognized Liles’ community service in 2005 by renaming the 2900 block of Presstman Street, where Liles grew up, Kevin Liles Drive.
Those who buy Liles’ books or attend his speaking engagements often want to know how he rose from an intern to the president position at a major record label in just seven years.
Liles often attributes it to hard work and being willing to accept roles others shunned.
“I made a choice that nobody is going to be better than me at what I do,” he says. “When it came to working hard, I was going to out work everyone. If I wasn’t as smart, I would out study them. Yes, I dream big, but I always work hard.”
To be successful, Liles recommends people select a profession they can be passionate about. He also suggests taking on new challenges.
“Whether it’s marriage, dating or a job, choose something that you’re passionate about and choose something where you can go above what you do,” he says.
Liles’ followers are also drawing inspiration from his battle with obesity. Liles, who once weighed over 300 pounds, was able to shed the extra weight by doing away with unhealthy items such as fried foods and caffeine.
His three children were the main motivating factor in his choice to lose weight. “My inspiration was my kids,” he says. “I had to ask myself do I want to be able to play soccer with my kids 10 years from now?”
Liles said his weight loss for more of lifestyle choice than a diet. “I didn’t’ say let me try to loose weight,” Liles says. “I’ve been through that. I said look it’s a choice between life and death.”
Since his departure from Warner Music Group, Liles has been full steam ahead with speaking engagements, appearances and high profile events. For instance, Liles was committee chairman of the Jay-Z & Friends September 11 “Answer The Call” Charity Concert, which benefited the NYC Police and Fire Widow and Children’s Benefit Fund. He’s also been a fixture at such high profile events as Diddy’s 40th birthday party and VH1’s Hip Hop Honors ceremony, which this year recognized Def Jam records.
With so much influence and speaking ability, some have wondered whether Liles has a future in politics.
Liles ponders the question, but doesn’t rule out the possibility.
“As I can wake up everyday and have the strength to wisdom to see and move mountains, I‘ll continue to do that,” Liles said. “I’m an influencer on culture. As long as god allows me to live and breath I’ll continue to influence culture