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At the age of 30, after just ten years with the company, Kevin Liles was promoted to president of leading rap label Def Jam Records.
Four years later he was appointed vice president of Island Def Jam Music Group, the label's parent company.
By that time he
was widely acknowledged as a driving force behind the doubling revenue of Def Jam
Instrumental in the careers of superstars like Jay-Z, Ja Rule, and DMX, Liles
also had his
hand in spin-off labels Def Soul and Def Jam South, as well as joint music recording ventures, Roc-A-Fella and Murder Inc.
A cross-branding whiz, Liles
also forged deals that tied Def Jam
in with products ranging from clothing to video games.
ability to impart professional respect on an industry often impeded by its gangster rep, Liles
was touted as one of the few hip-hop/rap executives that had what it took to segue into a management suite in corporate America.
Born in 1968 and raised in Maryland, Liles
enjoyed a comfortable life made possible by his
After graduating from Woodlawn High School in 1986, Liles abandoned music to pursue an engineering degree.
However, hip-hop and rap held a powerful grip on Liles
and 13 credits short of a degree he
left college in 1989 to form a rap group with a couple of friends.
Numarx found modest success with a regional record label and recorded several songs including "Girl You Know It's True," written by Liles
It was frustrating for Liles
, particularly when it was discovered that the duo had lip-synched the song.
After that Liles
veered toward the business side of music.
"I wanted to start my own company where musicians could be treated fairly and I could be more in control of my business interests," he
New York Business.
In 1991 he established MBR (Marx Brothers Records).
A year later he joined Def Jam as an unpaid intern.
Home to superstars like Jay-Z, LL Cool J, and DMX, Def Jam was the perfect environment for Liles to grow in. As the intern for the mid-Atlantic regional manager, Liles quickly developed a reputation as hard-working, disciplined, and committed to the music.
Lyor Cohen, the CEO of Island Def Jam agreed, telling Billboard, "Kevin is such a rare personality in this business, where everyone is impressed by the flash-the dinners, the cars, the clothes.
Both Simmons and Cohen kept an eye on Liles
and ushered him quickly through their ranks.
In 1994 Liles
boss as mid-Atlantic manager.
That same year he became general manager of promotions for the West Coast.
hired a West Coast staff including a regional manager and oversaw promotional campaigns for Def Jam artists.
stayed on top of the music scene on the West Coast, always searching for new artists.
In 1996 he
was promoted again, this time to general manager/VP of promotions.
Two years later he became the first president in the company.
In the newly minted role, Liles
would oversee Def Jam's
daily operations and the search for new talent.
"This is kind of like what I've been doing all along," Liles
told Billboard of the promotion.
In 2000 Liles told Billboard that a successful label president must possess "Leadership by example, confidence and security in one's abilities, hard work, and teamwork.
Those traits prompted Crain's
New York Business to write "Most Fortune 500 chief executives could learn a thing or two from Kevin Liles
watch Def Jam's
revenues doubled to $400 million.
was instrumental in the creation of sister label Def Soul, home to artists Montell Jordan and Kelly Price.
has also overseen cross-branding deals that have linked Def Jam's
name with movies, television shows including the popular "Def Comedy Jam," and clothing labels including Phat Farm and Rocawear.
In 2003 Liles
was the key player in Def Jam's
partnership with independent video game publisher Electronic Arts
Together they released Def Jam Vendetta, a game in which Def Jam artists such as Ludacris and Redman duke it out to the background pulse of rap and hip-hop.
it was a natural fit.
"Ninety percent of the [rap] artists, athletes and entertainers are gamers," he
was quoted in USA Today
said in an on-line interview on BBC.com
, "We want people looking to us as trendsetters.
unwavering support of the gangster image perpetuated by Def Jam's
recordings and artists, Liles
insisted that the company be run according to accepted corporate standards.
assumed leadership at the label, staff members were used to arriving at the office just before lunchtime.
stopped that by arriving everyday at 8:30 am and expecting everyone else to follow suit.
instituted a two-ring policy on all incoming phone calls and began immediately rejecting memos, reports, and other office documents with misspelled words.
stuck to baggy clothing and flashy jewelry over business suits and ties, Liles
demanded that all other aspects of the office be as professional as those in any other industry.
"I want people to see that Def Jam
breeds excellence, with young executives who could thrive in any other company," he
New York Business.
Because of this commitment, Liles
often gave employees much more responsibility than they would receive at other companies.
With profit as bottom-line, Liles
also recognized that as a leader in a predominately black industry Def Jam was scrutinized more harshly by mainstream business observers.
"Corporate America still doesn't believe we can manage our people and our money for ourselves," he
New York Business.
With the Def Jam empire encompassing nearly half a billion dollars, corporate America was fast changing its mindset, and Liles
was also looking to greater things.
confessed to Crain's
New York Business a desire to run a company "like Coca-Cola or American Express."
Gave Back to Baltimore
While waiting to move into a corner suite in a mainstream corporation, Liles
continued to improve his
own corner of the world.
In 2002 Liles
donated $150,000 to his
alma mater, Woodlawn High School
, to finish construction of a much-anticipated sports stadium.
The project had been on the shelf for seven years due to lack of funding.
"When I was asked to help support the Woodlawn Stadium project financially, I felt honored and I immediately said yes," Liles
told The Cyber Krib.
"When I was growing up, Woodlawn High School
helped to provide me with a good education and great memories.
For years to come, I want students who attend Woodlawn High School
to have the same opportunities that I was given.
Liles also established the Kevin Liles for a Better Baltimore Foundation
, an organization that provides academic, social, and financial opportunities to Baltimore youth who make efforts to improve the city.
has also been very active in the Rock the Vote movement spearheaded by Def Jam
with the goal of registering 20 million young, urban voters over a five-year period.
Summer 2004: Liles resigned as president of Def Jam records, in the wake of failed contract negotiations.
Source:Variety, July 12, 2004.
August 2004: Liles joined Warner Music Group as Executive Vice President.
Source: "Kevin Liles Joins Warner Music Group as Executive Vice President.
Press release, August 2004 (Retrieved January 15, 2009).
Jam Web Chat, Kevin Liles
, www.bbc.co.uk/1xtra/hiphop/kevin_liles.shtml (July 30, 2003).