Written by Michelle Sullivan
Photography by Richard Warren
Assisted by Tat Leong
Hair and Makeup by Chichi Saito for MAC Cosmetics
Dress by TOME
Jennifer was photographed at
The Carlyle Hotel in New York City
There are new introductions that inform our opinions and ways of seeing the world, and then there’s Jennifer Justice. Like many of the clients she has represented throughout her career as a music attorney, Jennifer Justice did not have an easy start in life. The daughter of a single welfare mother, Jennifer grew up in Washington State with her sister Sandee and half-brother Mike. They had moved house several times by the year that she entered the first grade. It was a combination of sharp intellect and sheer determination that saw Jennifer graduate Cornell Law School, and move to New York City. Today she is the Executive Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Business Development for Roc Nation. She was appointed this role earlier in the year. Previous to that she held the post of General Counsel and Head of Business Affairs for Jay Z’s entertainment properties, S. Carter Enterprises and Roc Nation. Moreover, she sits on the board of 360 Management, together with serving on the advisory board of the WIE Network – a women’s organization that works to empower the female leaders of tomorrow.
Put simply, Jennifer is intelligent, determined and she doesn’t suffer fools. She is a classic beauty, considerate and over the time that we have come to know her, it is apparent that this New York attorney and mother of two, is a woman of distinction.
Michelle: What was it like growing up in your family household?
Jennifer: It was a little chaotic. I think we moved seven times by the time I was in the first grade. I’m not even sure to be honest with you, the third grade is really where I remember being in one house for a while, which was for six years, and then we moved again. High school was very tough. My mom got remarried and we moved to another place. They were divorced by the time I was graduating. There was a lot of back and forth, and no real security.
Did you keep in contact with your dad?
You mean my real father? Yes I’m in contact with him now.
Would he come to visit?
When we were younger, we would go and see him. It wasn’t consistent, like every Wednesday and every weekend, it wasn’t like that. It’s not like he would take us to school, but we would see him maybe once a month. I can’t even re- ally remember to be honest with you. I don’t have a childhood where I remember a lot of things.
What is the strongest memory?
My grandparents were a very, very big part of it. That is where I felt the safest and happiest.
What are their names?
My grandfather was Charles. His last name is Rhodes, which is my son’s middle name. My grandmother was Gertrude June Rhodes and June is my daughter’s middle name.
How do you remember them?
Very kind and loving. My grandfather was a logger, and so we would get up at 5am in the morning with him sometimes and go out with him on a job. My grandmother was a big quilt- er, and so we would always help her quilt. They never set foot on a plane their entire lives, but they would drive every year to Reno, Nevada. We would go with them, and it was really fun.
My goodness. Were you all ready to kill each other by the end of the trip?
No, we were well-behaved children.
How do you remember those teen years?
We had a new stepfather and he was a lot more stable than the previous one. He had his own daughter. I remember when we moved away.
Where did you move to?
To West Valley, Yakima, Washington. It’s about two and a half hours from my grandparents. I don’t really remember, other than that it was far. There was a lot of wealth in this small town, and because of that, people cared about education a lot more. The school I went to had a counseling system to support the kids that were excelling academically. They very much supported me going through higher education. It was a really good public school.
How would you describe yourself as a student?
I was definitely in the cool kid crowd. School came very easily to me. If I just applied myself a little, I would get full straight A’s.
What kind of kids were you friends with?
Usually the party kids.
What kind of smells do you remember from your childhood?
Diesel grease, because my grandfather was a logger, and venison because everybody hunted. All of my mother’s husbands hunted and we ate venison for morning, noon, and night. It was disgusting.
Were you the driving force in your application to a University?
Oh yeah. I was the only driving force.
Was there anybody giving you any sort of guidance?
Nope, all by myself.
What made you choose law?
When you don’t really have mentors, then you kind of do whatever you see on TV; doctor, lawyer, nurse, banker. I chose law. College doesn’t give you a lot of options. I was at the school with 40,000 kids, and I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t have parents that had connections to get me anywhere. I was having interviews with insurance companies and wine distributors and I thought to myself, “This sucks”. I just felt like I needed to do something else to get out of here. I took the LSAT, ended up doing pretty well, certain schools solicited me and Cornell was one of them. Thank God! I just wanted to get out, because Seattle was not for me.
What drove you through those times? It’s very isolating when you’re trying to pursue something and others around you aren’t.
I had strong friends, and I knew that they would be my friends, but I just wanted to get out of the situation. What propelled me was my childhood. I did not want my whole life to be dictated by other people, because I didn’t have the resources to fend for myself. Around me I saw people who were not that happy, because they never challenged themselves to become financially independent.
When I was done in my senior year of college, that’s when grunge was exploding and I would see all these bands. I started hanging out in that scene, and I finally felt like I had found my peers. People who were like me, from poor families, kids who were struggling, who wanted to make it and do something. It was creative. It was that mix of being smart, and then also the passion for music and creativity. Then I thought to myself, “Okay. I like this scene.” These were people I could relate to. Friends in bands would say “You’re going to go to law school? You should be a music lawyer!” I didn’t even know that existed. I started hearing about Rosemary Carroll and Michele Anthony. Michele is a mentor of mine to this day; we met and became good friends in the past couple of years and I’ve always looked up to her.
She’s an incredible woman. That must have been such an exciting time musically. Being in Seattle during the grunge era.
It was epic. It was Pearl Jam. I was at the video shoot for ‘Alive’. It was Alice in Chains, Soundgarden. There were bands that had like one-hit wonder songs like Sweetwater or My Sister’s Machine, Green Apple Quick Step. Other bands were coming to town all the time – Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Stone Temple Pilots.
I can just picture you in the long flannel shirt, leggings and boots. Right?
Absolutely! Cut-off Levi’s with patches on them, tights with Doc Martens, and long flannel shirts. It was amazing.
Did you keep any of those pieces?
No, but I did have a pair of patched jeans for a very long time, and I actually wore them in law
school too. I showed up at law school with a flannel shirt, long patched Levis and shell toe Adidas with fat laces. People were like, “Where are you from, Seattle?” I would reply, “Yeah. How did you know?”
What was Cornell life like for you?
Oh my God, I hated it. I hated my first year. I wanted to drop out.
What made you keep going?
What was I going to do? Where was I going to go? There was nowhere to go so I had to keep doing it.
What was your first job in New York?
The firm was called Hughes Hubbard & Reed. They still exist and they’re a great firm. I moved down here to New York and I didn’t know a soul except for a few people I graduated with, particularly Joe Jacobson, who I became friends with during my last year He’s still part of my life. He’s still like my brother from another mother. I was a redneck from Washington State, and he grew up on 81st Central Park. He helped me find my first apartment. Our lives went crazy in the city. I started making friends and working at that job.
What was it like in that first year? Are we talking about a diet of cheap beer and pot noodles? Well you get paid pretty well when you’re a first year lawyer. It’s kind of insane what your first year salary is, because you’re pretty useless to the clients. With my student loans, it was tough, but I wasn’t really starving. I only did that for a year and half, and then I had to take a pay cut to be a music attorney. I took a $30,000 pay cut, which was a lot of money.
When you changed firms?
When I went to the music firm. About a year and a half into being at Hughes Hubbard and Reed, I got the opportunity to join Carroll, Guido and Groffman. I totally remember it. I started in August of 1998. The reason why I knew I got the job was because they said, “We have this whole litany of artists that you would work with. It’s Marilyn Manson, Sugar Ray, Sinead O’Connor, and Dave Matthews Band. We have this young hip hop artist. His name is Jay-Z.” I said, “My God, ‘Reasonable Doubt’ is my favorite album.” They said, “How do you even know who he is? He’s coming with his new album that’s called Hard Knock Life. The song is Annie’s song.”
Where did you hang out around the city? What an incredible time that must have been.
Downtown only. Moomba, Wax, Spy, all in SoHo and West Village. Moomba was the place and it will be spoken about as much as Studio 54. You’d walk in the room and Prince would be in the corner, Donald Trump, Julian Schnabel, and then Jay-Z would be talking to the Ronson’s, who also started DJing there. The room was tiny, and the funny thing is that none of us really knew that we had careers.
Have you ever considered leaving New York? To live in another city?
I’ve never considered it. I’d move to London before I’d move to L.A. I love the synergy, but if I’m going for two weeks I feel like, “I’ve got to get back to New York.” I just love it. I love that you get in the subway and everybody is from a different cultural background, race, religion, sexual orientation and financial background. People could have 10 million, $9 and a dollar, and be sat side by side on the same subway car. I love that.
How do you remember your time at that firm Carroll, Guido & Groffman?
It was a really fun time in the music industry. There was a lot of going out and seeing shows, going to the Mercury Lounge and all those venues that I’ve not been to in a very long time actually.
What artists were you working with?
A lot of bands just starting out. Jay-Z. That’s when the record industry was literally signing four or five artists a month. It was kind of crazy. I represented Sebastian Bach and I was like, “Oh my God, I am in love with that guy.”
I met Nate from Republic Records the other day. He was in The Mighty Mighty Bosstones!
We represented them too. I remember working with Biohazard, a band called American Hi-Fi that was doing pretty well. Older bands like Soundtrack and Eastern Conference Champions. I started representing Mark Ronson, Steve Aoki, Paul Sevigny and his bands.
What is a valuable experience you had during that time? What was something you learned from coming up with those bands?
There are so many lessons. Not only concerning the nuts and bolts of doing a deal, but also
about their image, their name, the sensitivity of artists, and really how to get a deal done. I learned how to really protect them and fight for them, because it’s not what’s natural to them as artists. How to communicate and relate to people, was also another lesson. Most of the artists were from a similar background to me. Most had never had a lawyer. The music industry by design is super confusing, from your publishing to your master recording. Traditional record deals are also really backward, and not at all transparent. I worked hard to help them understand those things, and basically how they’re making money.
What is an approach you use when you’re trying to get that deal done?
To get the best deal you can, so both sides feel like they’ve won, and to be okay with walking away from a deal. Those were important lessons that I had to learn. There are certain things that just don’t matter. It’s important to get to know the artist and understand what really matters to them. Every artist is different.
When did you move over to Roc Nation?
What drove the move?
Jay-Z called me and asked me. (laughs)
What was the role title that you came on with?
What’s been the progression after coming on as General Counsel, because your role changed this year?
We had to build the company, so it didn’t matter what our titles were. We were doing everything. We had no filing cabinets, no computers. People were bringing in their own laptops. It was eight of us and we were signing people. I represented both S. Carter Enterprises and RocNation. We were new, so it was, scrappy, lean and mean. Then we did a joint venture with Three Six Zero Group, and that was great. At the beginning it was a lot of housekeeping stuff. I would meet with my friends who did the same thing in-house, and get advice. I would be asking questions – What else do I need to remember? What about unions? There were a lot of growing pains, but then we started to grow and we had to figure out new solutions to new problems. This year I really wanted a new challenge. I’ve been doing law for so long. It just became very apparent that it was time for me to do something else, so we created this department and this role.
What is it that you do now?
I work with all the branding departments and strategy. We figure out ways that we can partner with great brands or companies, and invest in different companies that help our artists and athletes grow their portfolio, their brand, their image, and equity. Jay-Z has basically turned his hobbies into businesses. We work to find great partners for Roc Nation as we build the brand.
Let’s talk about your involvement with the WIE Network. We’ve talked before about problems with equality between men and women in the workplace. How do you perceive the problem?
Traditional roles have played a massive part in this problem. Work hours, the structure, and the system are all geared toward something that’s easy for men to do. Men traditionally work during the week, and the weekends are spent with their kids. For women it’s completely different. It’s work and the kids and the home, and it’s not easy for me. The guys here were having really early morning meetings and it’s difficult for me because my nanny doesn’t come until 8:00am. Having a structure here has made it possible for me to find a way of having both. Phones have really helped, and we can communicate at all times; being present is not always necessary.
It’s important in how our younger generation sees us, and follows our lead. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that structure is one. We have to be okay with the fact that women work and that needs to be 50-50. We bring different experiences. We are more nurturing. We are details driven and we get things done. There are many studies that demonstrate that when you add a woman to a project, it gets done faster. Women aren’t on some crusade to take over men. It’s not even about that, it’s that we want a place at the table too. The balance allows for a sense of partnership and it benefits everybody.
Do you think we need to be mindful to embrace differences between men and women, rather than women feeling as though they need to play it down?
It’s about perception, and I think that you just have to keep doing it because words alone don’t achieve anything. It’s all about action. By me playing in this workspace as a mother, versus trying to hide it, and act like I don’t have children, I don’t think that approach benefits anybody. So I will say to the team – I can’t be here until 8:30am, so if we are going to have a staff meeting, the earliest it can be is 8:30am. And they say, “Okay. Sure.” You know what I mean? People see benefit in what I do and just because I have kids, doesn’t mean that changes.
As a woman, even if you don’t have children, you still have all of those meaningful qualities that we are born with. We are more nurturing and more detail-oriented than men. I’m watching those differences with my twins. It’s a great fit and it benefits in the household. It’s not just a women’s issue. It’s a human issue. This is not just in music. It’s everywhere.
What do you believe are the consequences if we don’t do more to correct the imbalance?
It affects the kind of music that crosses over, and it affects the imagery that comes out alongside of that. The music industry is targeted at 14-to-24 age girls. So we are perpetuating the problem, and the situation perpetuates a stigma. It’s going to be all the same music, and it’s just not going to be that interesting. The music industry is taking a whole new turn anyway in who really runs it. A lot of things have changed. Look at Michele Anthony, who is like killing it as EVP at Universal.
What are the barriers that work against momentum and the improvement of this problem?
Stereotyping, and that’s why it will take generations. Let’s just grow up and understand that it’s a mindset. It’s the way we teach our kids. The first seven years defines a child’s whole life. My kids will say that men and women are equal, because that’s what I’m teaching them. I have to do my best to make sure that my daughter Nico knows that she’s just as smart and strong as Jack, and that Jack knows it’s okay to be sensitive and emotional. You have to tone down the men’s strength, the taboos of what a man should be or shouldn’t be, and do the same with women.
How do we best manage those stereotypes?
You just have to keep persevering and doing. If I let these things affect me, I wouldn’t be here right now.
What recommendations would you have for managers and leaders in the music business who are looking to support the development of women, but unsure how to go about it?
If you have an open job, make sure that you interview just as many women as men. Even if you don’t think they’re as qualified or their resume isn’t as qualified, interview equal numbers. For every man you hire, hire a woman. There’s got to be somebody qualified out there. It can’t just be men, because that is not statistically possible. If you’re going to recommend a man, recommend a woman, and give them both a shot. You will hire the person who is best for the job, but maybe you’ll find that they also happen to be a woman. Look outside the obvious applicant pool, because our business has shrunk very much. It’s become very linear, and obviously, that hasn’t worked. Everybody has different ideas and it’s becoming this one world of talent, creativity and branding. Allow the women to be women, and understand and nurture that.
A female voice is always going to be different than a male voice. It doesn’t matter what context you’re in. I agree with you, I think that should be celebrated.
We need to lead young women so that they know that if they’re intimidated speaking to older men, do the opposite. Cindy Gallop gave
some great advice at our conference panel last week, she said “If you’re ever contemplating what to do and you’re doubting yourself, ask yourself this: what would a straight white man do? Then do that.” (laughs) It’s genius. Do what Cindy did.
Which is to talk it up.
Exactly. She said, “a straight white man would do this: I’ve got a job offer. I have absolutely no idea how to do that, so I’m definitely taking it.” Women will take a different approach and question themselves, wondering if they are qualified enough. Take risks and be okay with taking them. Women are very risk averse. Take those kinds of male qualities that are good, but then speak in your own voice. In law, that’s what I would do. People would say to me, “I’ll get back to you when I know,” and I would reply “You know what, if you don’t want to hear from me anymore, then just tell me the answer.” Every time I’ve said that, within 24 hours, I’ll get the response and then also hear “My God, you’re a nag.” I don’t care if I’m called a nag. So what? I don’t see that as a negative thing. I’m getting the job done.
With Special thanks to Jennifer Cooke and the enchanting staff at The Carlyle Hotel.
Jennifer Justice was photographed in Suite 2108. It features two king-bedded bathrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a dining room and a light-filled living room with spectacular 14-foot vaulted ceilings. The suite contains a grand piano, truly fit for an iconic New York City moment.