G I R L S W H O W I L L R U N T H E W O R L D
You can tell a lot about someone by the people they choose to surround themselves with. For Mike Caren - one of those people is Latoya, his new Manager of Worldwide Urban A&R at Warner Music Group. It’s a position she’s held for less than 12 months.
This is part two of The Manifesto's launch feature on Mike Caren.
Introducing you to Latoya Lee from Ellenwood, Georgia.
Latoya is a brave girl. She prides herself on being raised and surrounded by strong women, namely her mother Aneita, her Aunt Andrea, grandmother Olga Wise and her two best friends back in Atlanta whom she met on her first job at Zaxby’s when she was 16.
Aton Ben-Horin (@Aton) calls her LT Money.
Latoya has two big aspirations: To produce great music and to one day start a mentoring organization for young girls in entertainment.
Michelle Sullivan recently spoke with Latoya in Los Angeles.
Today is her 25th birthday.
Michelle Sullivan: Did you have a good weekend?
Latoya Lee: I did. I had fun this weekend actually … You know the producer Hit Boy?
Yes. Not personally though.
Lee: I was at his birthday party yesterday. That’s something I did. Just hung out with some friends … How was yours?
Our team went out for a celebratory drink on Friday night (after our photo-shoot for the images you see in this feature), to a place called The Joint. It was cool. We were all so knackered though. Damian (TM photographer) was convinced he knew where we should go – and that we should walk. Don’t go walking to find a bar in LA. We walked for hours … it’s like New Years Eve when you're chasing the dream.
Lee: How do your feet feel?
Sore! How long have you been in LA?
Lee: Since August. I moved out here to meet with Mike. Well I didn’t necessarily move out here, I just came out here like – “Oh I’m going to meet with Mike Caren." It turned into a week, and then another week and I’ve been here ever since.
I started in the industry when I was 10. That’s like about to be 15 years now. I was always that kid, ya know, I would watch TV then say– I’m gonna be that person … Then ironically my step-dad (Daddy T) came into my life, when we parents separated and my mother met my stepfather. This was in ’98. Ironically he was building a recording studio and starting a record label. I remember every day after school, going into the studio and just being there and soaking it all in. By the time I was 15 I was practically running the studio. I had my own keys … I literally did everything but the time I was 15. I sang. I rapped. I wrote. I produced. Then when I was 18 I went off to college at Georgia State University. I started interning and I kind of realized that I’m more of a behind the scenes person. When I was a junior at college I became an assistant at Konvict Musik. From there I found an artist that they wound up loving and signing and I was promoted from assistant to A&R. I was at Bu Vision/ Konvict for about 2 years.
For me … I was grateful that I found out that Mike was looking for an urban person, ya know? We met and hit it off.
When two people meet and their energy clicks, then they do great work.
Lee: Man, it’s so exciting. I’m just so grateful, you know?
Was it hard to make friends in LA? It’s a really big transition.
Lee: I’m what you call socially awkward, ya know?
Really? I don’t get that from you.
Lee: Yeah it’s weird. I’m the person that – like – when I’m done talking to you, I don’t know what to say so I kinda just back out of the conversation.
Lee: Yeah I will just backpedal out of the conversation and just go tweet in the corner somewhere … I’m the sort of person – when I rock with you and I like you – that’s just it. I’m a cancer so it’s already hard to get in my shell. But once you do…
It’s for life.
Lee: Yeah. Like Aton and I – we came in together. He calls me LT. LT Money. Ya know? I’m like Wassup!
It’s inspiring to hear how passionately each of you talks about music. You really light up.
Lee: I love this shit man. I’m from the south and I have all these different areas of the world in me – being Jamaican; Chinese; born in New York and being raised in the south. All these different things really played into who I am and the type of music that I love. It’s like how people feel about country music. That’s how I feel about RnB music.
What do you think is your manifesto?
Lee: My family. Mom - you heard that? Family. Growing up and watching my mother; When she was married and then when she got divorced. When you have a two parent household things just look so easy. Then going from that to one parent in the house. She’s raising 3 kids by herself while she’s working and she’s going to school. Just watching her – that’s why I am the woman I am today. Watching my Grandmother move closer to us to help raise us. Then with my Aunt moving closer and for all of us to be together. I am very family oriented.
Ultimately I want to start an organization for mentoring young girls who strive to be in the entertainment industry … That’s why I carry myself the way that I carry myself. I don’t want to be someone that is speaking on all these things, yet I am contradicting myself while I’m talking to young girls. I would never want to say to a young girl – You don’t have to do this to make it, but then I’m looking at that girl and I’m lying. You know? I want to always feel like my last name – Lee – stood for something.
I lost my father (Paul Lee) when I was 19. My name means a lot to me and my name symbolizes my Father and so I carry myself in that way.
Your name is your heritage. I love the way that you talk about who you look up to. Having those sorts of role models in your family. Did you have people you looked to when you were growing up – outside of your family or in the industry?
Lee: My basketball coach – I remember she used to always tell me: “You have all the potential in the world, but potential doesn’t get you anywhere if it’s not greatness. You have to turn potential into greatness.” I found that very motivating. I will see all these writers and producers and artists and I think – You have so much potential, but where do you wanna take this potential? I never wanted to be someone who had all the potential in the world, but couldn’t turn it into greatness.
With music it was like – This is one thing I know I’m gonna be great at. I’m gonna be one of those top female executives to ever be in this industry. One of the big turning points in me deciding to be an executive was – When I was 19, the guy I was interning for – he told me “You’re gonna be a Sylvia Rhone." I was like – Who is that? I looked her up and I was like "Wow”. That was the day when I thought – "yeah I’m gonna be an executive”. Then as I was growing through those years that was one person who I have emulated my career on. Also Julie Greenwald.
They are two very strong women.
Lee: Definitely … I remember I was still home in Atlanta and on August 9th, 2011 I hopped in my car and drove to New York. I just hopped in my car. I was like – I’m gonna figure it out. I stayed with my Aunt in Brooklyn. It was like January 2012.
No way – I moved to New York in that same January.
Lee: No way (both laugh).
I remember lying there in the room and I see Julie Greenwald interviewed … and I’m like watching her. It was like 3 or 4 parts. I was just hearing her speak and I thought – one day people are going to want to hear my story.
I remember watching Julie and being like – I’m gonna be like her. Then a year later – I’m a Warner Music Group employee and I’m at the Grammy party. Then I see Craig (Kallman) and I’m like – I wanna meet Julie. He walked me up to her and he said “Julie meet Latoya Lee” … I was just looking at her and thinking – You don’t understand! Last year I was watching your interview and now I’m standing here having a conversation with you! You know – I’m 24. I’m still young. So all these different things.. I know where I’m gonna be.
One thing I always say – Regardless of how far I am in my career, or how much I achieve, I will never stop being a fan.
You seem like you have a good appreciation of the people who have either directly or indirectly helped you.
Lee: I’m always a fan. I’m a fly on the wall. You know – my friends have convinced me to go with them to places. I wind up at a studio, in a meeting that I’m not even supposed to be in and I will sit there and say absolutely nothing. Then the person will ask me questions and they’ll be like – so - What do you do? You write?
You an artist?
No. And I will literally just say no no no no no.
They’ll say – what do you do?
“I live”. The end.
Love it. That should be on a t-shirt somewhere.
There is a massive difference between talking about doing something and doing it. What I hope for – is that there will be young girls out there … who are in their bedroom somewhere – Utah – and they have an ambition. If somehow they can know that you are living it, then this can help them.
Lee: Exactly! And that’s why I do. That’s why I won’t let my position define me as a person. People be like – that’s Latoya Lee from Warner Music. I’m like – No I’m Latoya Lee from Ellenwood, Georgia.
Going back to what you said before – What’s why I wanna start an organization for young girls, because no female mentored me. Of course I watched the Sylvia’s and the Julie’s indirectly, but I never had a female in this industry take me and say “I wanna teach you” … I wanna teach young girls and that is something I feel is so needed and we don’t have it in this industry. You know? Like before when we were talking about women just bonding, and coming together in entertainment in general. Just all learning from each other as opposed to tearing each other down.
Women can be so quick to turn on each other. We should be there to bring each other up. We invest in the flow on effect: Here you are in this office today. Then there’s the 10 year old girl we spoke of earlier who will read this conversation and be inspired to follow you, then one day she will be in your position and you will be … Sylvia Rhone.
Lee: I have a quote that I like to tell people – I don’t strive for riches, because riches are tangible and they can be gone tomorrow. I strive for wealth. Wealth is not only tangible, but also of the mind, and It can be passed down through generations. That’s what I strive for. I want my great great great great grandchildren so say – “My grandmother five times over did what she did and now I follow in that..” As women we already don’t pass on our name, so what we need to do is build more legacy. We need to be willing to work for something to pass down. I feel that men have done that for generations, but women have never really had that opportunity. I feel like I wanna be that.
Things are starting to shift though. One of my best friends got married not long ago, and she decided to keep her last name. Because as much as she loves her man she felt like she identified with her name and everything she has achieved as that name. Women should feel the right to choose.
Lee: I’m totally with her on that one.
Let’s talk about people who have been critical to where you are.
Lee: I was first introduced to music – as far as I can remember - with my father. It was 1994. We were in Rochester New York and I heard a song come on the radio. That song was Boyz II Men ‘On Bended Knee’, and I’ve been in love with music ever since. My father was a big reason why I love music so much.
My step father (Daddy T)– If he didn’t come into my life at the time that he did I would not have learned about music and known where I wanted to be so young.
My mother. She always motivated me. My mother always said – you can do what you want, but get your degree. So me literally getting my degree and putting it on her bed and us looking at it, was the proudest thing I could have done for her. So definitely my mother is the biggest of the three. As far as my career goes? I can definitely say – my first Boss – Bu. He was the first person to give me a position.
Isn’t that what you call a person you love? There was an old lady down the bodega who used to call me Boo.
Lee: No – BU. Akon’s brother Bu.
Lee: He’s part of Def Jam and Chris Brown’s management team. He was the first person to give me a position and say – Ok. Since you found it, let’s see what you can do. That was something.
Who else? Clearly Mike. Then indirectly – Sylvia Rhone.
Tell me about a key goal that you want to achieve?
I can literally see your brain ticking right now.
Lee: (smiling) There are so many. You point em out, and I’ll tell you..
When you develop your first artist. When you sign your first artist. I’m not going to say a chart position because I think that’s uncouth. Perhaps when you put your first team together – artist, producer, song-writer. You mentor them from idea through to execution, and it just clicks. That is going to be a really special moment for you.
Lee: Definitely (smiling). I meet a lot of writers and producers and a lot of them are young and up in coming like myself. When I meet them I’m like – I like you. I’m gonna do what I can to help you. Because when we’re in our bosses positions. in 20 years - We’re all gonna be like remember when we were there? Now we’re winning awards! … I want to grow with people. So our journey is that much more fulfilling. We be like – Damn ... I remember when that artist was brand new and no one liked them, and you brought them in. That’s way more exciting for me. You are absolutely right – I wanna be that person where they’re like – Latoya Lee – She believed!
If you truly believe in it, that’s the time where showing it really counts. When there are very few supporters. Sometimes you just have to trust, that it will all work out.
Lee: I’m supposed to be an attorney right now.
From what I'm told, the whole team is supposed to be.
Lee: My mother was like – just get a job! I’m like – no! She’s like – you’re so smart, why music?!
Oh my mum’s like that. She says – Michelle you could do anything, why music?
Lee: (laughs) It’s like a job in entertainment is so un-reachable.
She thinks it’s flakey.
Lee: Yeah. My aunt was like – why music! You know why? Cause I want a challenge. What made me with music, was because there was no guideline. What teaches you is going out there and actually doing it. My degree didn’t teach me this – life taught me this, making mistakes and doing dumb shit. It was my network. Being like – I have your back if you need me … When I left my last position. No one was paying attention to me. They weren’t taking my calls, but now it’s exciting to me. Because my whole thing was – If I did it once I can do it again … Proving to myself that I could get another position because of me – and I did. I think we should end the interview on that point. Very good.
Interview: Michelle Sullivan
Photographer: Damian Weilers
Art Direction: Beatrice Hurst
Hair Stylist: Jason Stanton for THEWORKSHOP
Make up artist: Jenny Cortez
Produced by The Manifesto
With thanks to Milk Studios
Dresses: Contraian New York / www.contrarianny.com
All photography shot on location at Atlantic Studios. Hollywood
Spotify Playlist by Latoya Lee