Cortez Bryant: “People are different”

People are different. We have to have diversity within the entertainment industry, and everywhere else too. It’s important to have diverse thought processes and minds in the seats at the table at the top because that makes for a more inclusive company, industry, and world. It’s simply the right goddamn thing to do. As a part of my […]

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People are different. We have to have diversity within the entertainment industry, and everywhere else too.

It’s important to have diverse thought processes and minds in the seats at the table at the top because that makes for a more inclusive company, industry, and world.

It’s simply the right goddamn thing to do.

As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Cortez Bryant.

Cortez Bryant is Co-Founder of Maverick Partner, The Blueprint Group Company — C.E.O., and Young Money Entertainment — C.O.O.

Cortez “Tez” Bryant became one of the entertainment industry’s pre-eminent managers through identifying and igniting the potential of game-changing outliers such as Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, G-Eazy and more. An innate ability to spot that elusive “it” factor spearheads his success behind-the-scenes.

With his co-founder, Cortney Woodruff, these two young, Black entrepreneurs are launching, an online platform that provides online courses taught by notablexBlack innovators. (Think Masterclass). Currently in pre-launch, is backed by some of the brightest and most notable executives around the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started on this music journey about 16 years ago. My best friend was Lil Wayne. Upon graduating from college at Jackson State University, he asked me to be his manager. I had no idea what I was doing, but we had faith in each other and we built and grew.

And from that place of confidence in each other, we built a great empire, signing the likes of Nicki Minaj and Drake. It’s been super successful, expanding to now manage Lil Nas X, Trippie Redd, G-Eazy, and a lot of other great artists.

Within the last couple of years with the country being so divided, I was trying to figure out what my part was in how to bring Black people to an equal space. That always took me back to where it all started for me with Lil Wayne and other early partners. We all met at Eleanor McMain Secondary School in New Orleans where we’re from. That school had a life changing dynamic on my life, preparing me for college and giving me exposure to things outside of my impoverished neighborhood, which was key. Going off to college at Jackson State, an HBCU, was another component of exposure. Exposure was always key. The education system is still archaic when it comes to curriculums and what they actually teach, especially in poor black neighborhoods. Kids from these neighborhoods don’t have the same exposure; they don’t know that they could be a social media manager, or work at a video game company, or do the things that they love every day. They don’t know that there are actual, legitimate careers in those spaces.

When Courtney Woodruff, my partner and Be-Great cofounder, came up with this idea about uplifting influential black teachers and instructors from all different walks of life to target our demographic of young black kids who don’t have the same exposure as their privileged counterparts, I thought he made all the sense in the world. Then I realized there was nothing else out there like it. It became my passion. I get to use all of the relationships that I’ve developed over the past 16 years in the music business to pour right into it.

We hope it becomes successful and changes peoples’ lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I entered the music business just to protect Lil Wayne, my best friend. I quickly learned that this industry was a crazy one from others, so I never aspired to be a manager or have a super huge career, all I wanted was to help out my friend.

Along that journey, when we were maybe three years in, we were doing quite well focusing on propelling Lil Wayne’s career. One day, some guy came up to me and asked point-blank, “Yo, can you manage me too?”

Immediately I felt like such an imposter because I didn’t envision myself as a manager. I had only been doing that kind of work for a few years and I was simply just there for my friend. I didn’t know anything about managing anyone else.

His response was simple: “Listen,” he said, “I know you. I like the person that you are. I know that you don’t want to do this, or don’t think that you’re going to be doing this outside of just helping your friend, but we could have that same relationship and same level of success. I guarantee you it’s going to be worth it.”

That person was Drake.

Drake was the second person I ever managed after Lil Wayne. I got to help Drake start his entire career. I recognize now there were so many different directions I could have went with this budding management business, but I had no interest in doing anything outside of helping my friend.

I also understand now that this was very much not the norm.: I didn’t aspire to do this. It was not my interest at the time. I didn’t get a degree in music in college, I was just a mass communications major. But when this opportunity somewhat fell into my lap, I was beyond flattered that another artist came to me to manage them so young into my career. It was then I started thinking about myself more legitimately as a Manager — a successful one — and that title had so much potential.

Once I embarked on the journey with Drake, I realized it was my purpose to be in this business

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The very first thing I did as a manager in the music industry was book a concert in Dallas, Texas, for Lil Wayne. We got the first half of the money and flew out to Dallas. Lil Wayne stayed back in the hotel while I went to pick up the second half of the money before he went to the concert venue to perform.

I pulled up to the venue and it was completely empty.

I sat there for hours panicking. It was the first job I ever had and I got ripped off by a fake promoter. What was I going to tell Wayne?

Immediately I started doubting my abilities as a manager. I was thinking this was it for me — this was not the industry for me. I was convinced my career in the music industry ended before it even began.

Finally I gained the courage to go back to the hotel and break the news to Lil Wayne. Near tears, I confessed: I messed up, I lost the money, I got ripped off, I failed, I wasn’t cut out for the job, I should go back to school, etc. I expected the worst.

To my surprise, he started laughing at me.

Lil Wayne said cooly and calmly, “Just take it as a learning lesson, man. I believed in you. I still believe in you. I know you’re going to do well. It’s all good. It happens.”

That was the first thing I ever did in this career: I got totally ripped off.

Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

I am not personally making popular culture more representative of the US population, hip hop is. With all the protests going on right now, we’re seeing people of all races and nationalities taking to the streets in unity. For so long, we didn’t see Black people. Mainstream media was historically whitewashed, but hip hop changed that.

The evolution of hip hop brought these different types of people together. At our concerts and tours, we saw people from all different backgrounds connected through a genre of music. That was transcending. That was the beginning of unity and inclusion, inviting successful Black musicians into the public realm for their talents. Never before were Black people celebrated like that.

So I don’t think it’s me, it’s the music that’s creating a long-standing movement. I think it’s also the reason why we see so many young folks so politically active right now: there’s no color barriers or racial barriers. Just humans out demonstrating their belief that everybody needs to be treated equally.

Culture alone is doing that all on its own. It’s a beautiful thing, and it wasn’t always like that. Hip hop now is the biggest culture in the world and it’s going to continue to play a big role in the future of what this country is going to look like.

If the progress continues how it is now, we’re headed toward a great future.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

Jamil Davis is a young music executive and industry mogul. He started with me as an Assistant Tour Manager for Lil Wayne. When I first started working with Drake and became his Tour Manager, Jamil was just helping out. He had a college roommate at the time, Gerald Earl Gillum, who made music. Jamile would constantly pressure me to give him five minutes before Lil Wayne or Drake performed.

This young artist ended up being G-Eazy.

Starting as an extra pair of hands, Jamil grew to build G-Eazy’s brand to an incredible place from just being around me and learning from what I was doing for Lil Wayne and Drake. G-Eazy, Jamil, Matt Bauerschmidt, and myself partnered up.

What began as a mentee/mentor relationship bloomed into a full-blown partnership where we co-managed G-Eazy and turned him into a Platinum superstar. It’s great to think about Jamil’s humble beginnings, just watching and growing, staying true and loyal to his college roommates.

As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?

  1. People are different. We have to have diversity within the entertainment industry, and everywhere else too.
  2. It’s important to have diverse thought processes and minds in the seats at the table at the top because that makes for a more inclusive company, industry, and world.
  3. It’s simply the right goddamn thing to do.

Equality should be a given in this country. This country claims to be built as “the land of the free.” We need to finally get to what this country is supposed to signify: everybody is supposed to be equal. It’s up to us to make sure that happens.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

I strongly believe that at the community-level, we need to pay attention to local elections. The things that we’re fighting and marching for are controlled by our local leadership at the city and state level. With the most different president we’ve ever had in the history of this country, our attention often gets too swept up in the federal election. In reality, our local elections affect our communities more directly. For example, local elections are where we elect our city and town mayors who appoint our police chiefs. Local elections are where we choose our educational officials, it’s where we elect our district attorneys that have the most direct impact on excessive imprisonment. All of these huge decisions are made at the local level. On the community level, we need to get out, get politically active, and find candidates that align with our views.

If you’re infuriated by bad cops and their poor practices, gaps in our educational system, or unequal opportunities at any level, you have to follow through and get invested in voting on a local level. Those are the people who literally have the biggest impact on your everyday life.

As a society, we have to be empathetic and have an open mind to other people’s plight. I think that if we had a better understanding and willingness to accept the ugliness of this country, we could start there to then be more open to people that may not look like you or have your same views. It’s all about conversation. Only then, I believe, can we move forward because that’s when empathy can come in, but you must be open minded to empathy for that to happen.

With empathy, we could unite as one to create real change, whatever and wherever that may be. There’s a lot that needs to be solved.

As an industry, it’s about inclusion. Because of the systems that have been set up in this entertainment business, white people get more opportunities than those in the minority. The entertainment business needs to work on their PR and create partnerships with HBCU to uplift Black and Brown students that don’t have the same opportunities as students from other schools due to a disparity in funding or because those students can’t afford to fly to New York or LA or take an unpaid internship instead of working. If we pour money into these programs, we will see great students and great leaders gaining the momentum and attention they deserve. As it is now, young Black and Brown students don’t have the same accesses and exposure.

At the entry level of music and entertainment industry jobs, we need to make sure we are hiring diverse talent. At the executive level, we need to make sure decision-making boards look like a reflection of the culture they are representing. In hip hop especially, we need higher ups to reflect a culture that is created and owned by us. We need to make sure the gatekeepers at the top look like us.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is leading by example.

If I’m going to lead, I have to do things the way I want them to be done. In my company, that’s my mantra: I hold myself accountable first. Nobody is going to listen to anyone who doesn’t listen to their own words.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Beware of janky promoters.
  2. Make sure that your paperwork is in order when you enter new business relationships because people change and you want to make sure you have your bases covered.
  3. Understand that not everybody is going to be as loyal. Understand that not everybody is going to share your same morals and values in the business.
  4. Get an accountant. Once you reach a certain tax bracket, the IRS takes almost all your damn money. As soon as you start making any amount of money, the first thing you should do is get an accountant to get your business in order in a correct way so that Uncle Sam is not taking all your hard earned cash.
  5. Your lawyer is your friend. You’ve got to have great counsel to lead you through the entertainment business.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Be-Great is designed to do just that — to bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people. We hope to touch millions of kids out there with this platform and give them exposure to things that may not have known exist in this world in terms of passions and careers.

We are currently shooting 10–15 classes; we’re shooting for a launch date at the end of November.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Know yourself.

I always believe in working on yourself and figuring out who you are through your spiritually. There are countless different ways to figure yourself out, like through therapy or religion. Regardless of how you get there, it is so important to know yourself.

For me, knowing myself helps me understand who I am as a person, connecting with some sense of purpose and direction in life.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Though it’s probably cliche, I’d want to have breakfast with President Obama.

I feel like he gets it; he gets people. He’s a great uniter. It’s sad that he had to deal with the adversity of politics with how split the Senate was when he was in office, inhibiting him from really shining. Even still, his temperament and his manner are unmatched.

At this point in history, we need a leader that has a sense of loving everyone, someone who is empathetic to everyone in order to be a voice outside of politics. We need a voice to bring people together in a real way to create real change. That is what this country needs.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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