Music Director Kevin Liles pays homage to culture with Jalen Rose

Milli Vanilli, the dancing duo that lit up the music scene in the late 80s and later turned out to be faux lip-syncing musicians, had a profound effect on my “Renaissance Man” guest and on the trajectory of his career. Although it can be said that musical director Kevin Liles also had a significant impact on Milli Vanilli.

How? ‘Or’ What?

When Liles was a Baltimore teenager rapping with his band Numarx, he wrote a little song called “Girl You Know It’s True” for his collective. It wasn’t aimed at German-French pop stars in spandex and shoulder pads, but that’s where the melody landed.

“I wrote this record which sold about 100,000 copies, but someone stole it from me and sold 18 million copies,” he told me.

“I am a young boy. I found out that someone had redone my record because I was at home relaxing and this girl said, “They’re playing your record.” And I’m talking bullshit: ‘Of course they played my record. They played my record all the time. She said no [the] the video is about to start. I’m like, ‘I’ve never made a video.’ And damn if I hadn’t seen Milli Vanilli doing my song on the video. That’s how I literally found out. So you can imagine, I’m 17, 18… I’m trying to understand. But it was time, J. I told you I didn’t want to be in the music business anymore. I wanted to be in the music business.

At the time, it was opening up to people like LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa and Will Smith. Kevin was a “regional star” on the music scene and studied electrical engineering at Morgan State University. However, the Milli Vanilli case redirected him to the conference room instead of the studio.

He rose through the ranks from intern to president of Def Jam, where he nurtured the careers of hip-hop’s biggest stars, including LL, Jay-Z, DMX and Kanye West, and helped bring hip-hop into and rapping into the mainstream – allowing it to be adopted by corporate America.

Milli Vanilli performs at Riverfest in St. Paul, Minnesota on July 30, 1989.
Getty Images

In 2012, he co-founded 300 Entertainment, which signed artists like Fetty Wap, Young Thug, the scorching Mary J. Blige and Megan Thee Stallion. It was acquired by Warner Music Group in December for $400 million. And last month, he announced they were launching a film and content studio and their first project would be “Race: Bubba Wallace,” a six-part Netflix series about the only African-American driver in the NASCAR Cup series. . He came across the streaming giant this week.

“I tell a lot of stories through audio, but I wanted to get back into the [film] space out. So I wanted to tell one of the stories that I think if I didn’t push for it to be told, it wouldn’t be told. And that’s Bubba Wallace’s journey,” he said. Their timing was amazing, because as they made the show in 2020, the world radically embraced social justice activism. “I didn’t know the George Floyd case was coming. I didn’t know that Breonna Taylor…I didn’t know all of that, but we were filming the guy because I wanted to tell a story.

This powerful series is just an appetizer. They have over 20 projects currently in production.

Kevin has been in the industry for three decades, working alongside everyone from Run-DMC and Method Man to Kanye, TI and now Megan Thee Stallion. He’s a walking testament to the evolution of the industry and the art form, but he doesn’t use the word ‘reinvention’.

Kevin Liles
The Milli Vanilli case redirected Kevin Liles to the boardroom instead of the studio.
Getty Images

“I don’t really reinvent. You know, the only thing that was different about me is that when we met, I was 320 pounds. It was a reinvention,” the now slender Kevin said.

“I say it to say, I just speak my truth. I wanted to serve the artist and serve the culture… It’s the culture. It’s not just music… I don’t have artists, I have human beings… I don’t try to be everything to everyone. I have a point of view,” he said.

He must also have a crystal ball.

“My job is to stay ahead of the business, but always come back to: Does it tell a story? Is it cultural? I have to feel the records,” Kevin said, adding that $not is the young rapper that everyone should know.

Kevin Liles is a legend. Its impact is immeasurable. And my next agenda is to present a documentary to 300 Entertainment called “Gotta Blame It on Something: The Untold Story of How Milli Vanilli Inadvertently Shaped Modern Rap”. I hope he will give the green light.

Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan iconoclast Fab Five, which rocked college basketball in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before becoming a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the bestselling author of “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion designer, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership. Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.

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