men of mischief
Photography by Cesar Love Alexandre
“Music was always on in my household growing up” — Wayno Clark tells of his upbringing in 1980s and 90s Harlem, “my grandmother had all these vinyl’s and 8-tracks, I thought they looked like video game cartridges”. We’re at the iconic Apollo Theatre, visiting the streets where Wayno would ride his bike as a child — trying to pinpoint when that seed was planted that would grow into a lifelong love of hip-hop music. “The first rap song I remember hearing as a kid was ‘Walk This Way’ by Aerosmith and Run DMC”.
In music, as in much of popular culture, it is often the few who are championed for the work of many. For a recording artist to release an album or a music video, there are months of behind the scenes work to get to the finished product fans can enjoy. Many aspire to be the names in shining lights, but without the tireless work of many in the shadows who foster every step of the creative process, these works of art would often not reach the masses.
So how did you get your start in the music business?
In the year 2000, when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, the documentary ‘Backstage’ came out featuring tour footage from Jay-Z, DMX, Redman & Method Man. I went to see that movie with my friends, and seeing everything that goes on backstage, and all the other behind the scenes characters, that me want to be part of the business.
I’m a firm believer that when you put certain energy out — and I didn’t know it back then the way I do now but — if you not just wish something but if you put it in your mind that you want to achieve something and you wake up each day saying that you want to do it, then things will align for you.
I wasn’t doing well with school and my mom just wanted me to do something positive — and so she helped me get a job interview for a Pitney Bowes mailroom job. I ended up getting the job, and when I showed up to the office building where I was assigned, I discovered that all of the record labels that I had seen in the movie were housed there.
Wow that’s crazy — did you know that you would be working close to these labels when you went in for the interview?
No, I had no clue that they would be in the same building I was just going for a job. I’d just seen this movie and seen all the amazing things that these guys were doing, and I get to my first day on the job and it turns out I’m delivering mail to all the labels and guys from the film: Roc-a-fella, Def Jam, Murder Inc — I really saw that as my window of opportunity.
At first, I was just getting people food and
what not, but after my three-month internship,
they offered me an Assistant A&R position,
and that was the beginning of my career,
at Roc-a-Fella Records.
At first, I was just getting people food and what not, but after my three-month internship, they offered me an Assistant A&R position, and that was the beginning of my career, at Roc-a-Fella Records.
I was just a kid back then, I was the youngest person working in the mailroom, so I would stay after work and help out at the record labels. I befriended a young lady by the name of Omoyele McIntosh who was working at Roc-a-Fella at the time and was running Jay-Z’s fan club ‘Fan Fam’. Back then everything was still subscription based, they were receiving tons of letters — there was no digital media back then, she was literally reading these letters and I would help her out shipping packages, sending kids that wrote in t-shirts and CDs and what not.
Eventually I ended up getting fired from the mailroom, and so I just asked if I could help out at Roc-a-Fella on a daily basis since I’d been delivering packages and hanging out there all the time. I became friends with Shari Bryant who was the assistant to the assistant of Jay-Z, Dame Dash, and Kareem Biggs — and I would help her out, and that led to me getting an internship.
At first, I was just getting people food and what not, but after my three-month internship, they offered me an Assistant A&R* position, and that was the beginning of my career, at Roc-a-Fella Records.
*Artists and repertoire (A&R) is the division of a record label or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and songwriters. Wikipedia
That’s an amazing story — so then you’re working at Roc-a-Fella?
Yeah, I was working with some of the younger artists on the label since I was young myself — I worked with these guys called Young Gunz since we were all the same age at the time. I also did admin work since that was something you just had to do in downtime, so I did some admin work on Jay-Z’s album — nothing major just submitting lyrics to Def Jam, running CDs from one floor to another that type of thing. Being part of that system and that family, I got to see a lot of people’s humble beginnings, I’m seeing people like Kanye come through before he was rapping Kanye, he was just a producer at that time — it was wild.
What happened next?
I was just going on like things would never change, living my life, not planning for my future or anything and then in 2004, Jay and Dame severed ties and Roc-a-Fella was split up. At that point in my career, I had done a lot of work but I still wasn’t getting the respect that I felt like I should have been, and while I had made a lot of connections, worked with Beanie Siegel, worked with Young Gunz, but I wasn’t getting the credit I deserved or being paid what I felt I deserved so I decided to leave music alone at that point — I was back at square one. I didn’t graduate from high-school, so I didn’t have any academics I could fall back-on, I didn’t have any trade skills I could fall back-on, so I fell back on the only job experience I had which was the mailroom.
Over the next eight years I worked different mailroom jobs. I’d become a dad twice-over and I had another kid on the way, I was working two jobs at a time, just working my fingers to the bone because I just want to provide for my family. I’m doing everything I can and am willing to do — which is everything, to put food on the table, but I’ve still got this burning desire to do something. I’ve been working different mailroom jobs this whole time, and I get laid off for the second time from the television station I had been working at, and I just decided that I wasn’t going to work for anyone else ever again — and that’s when I started my music management company.
There was so much talent at Roc-a-Fella,
even aside from the artists — they had an eye
not just for musical talent, but for executive
talent as well.
There was so much talent at Roc-a-Fella, even aside from the artists — they had an eye not just for musical talent, but for executive talent as well.
I really had to figure a lot of stuff out on my own, but one thing I did have were all relationships I had made being in the music industry much earlier. There was so much talent at Roc-a-Fella, even aside from the artists — they had an eye not just for musical talent, but for executive talent as well. If I look back to my days there and all of the people I was working with, many of them are now label heads, senior vice presidents — even for myself, I didn’t go to college, but the experience that I got at Roc-a-Fella is the reason that today I own my own studio, the reason that today I own my own company.
Wayno’s management firm ‘The Triangle Offence’ borrows its name from a famous strategy employed by legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson who won a record 11 NBA championships. The philosophy behind the triangle offence is such that any of the players is an equal threat to score, and this is precisely the ethos behind Wayno’s management and tutelage of his artists. Since launching the company in 2012, cutting his teeth and learning on his feet, he has been able to help propel artists such as Dave East and TJ Porter to stardom — all the while building his company which now includes a production company as well as a recording studio.
So how did you end-up as the host of a show on Complex News?
Nadeska, who is the moderator of the show that I’m on ‘Everyday Struggle’ —when I was working on getting my management company going, she was working at MTV, and she would come and interview my artists, shoot content for her show, and we became good friends and colleagues. One day she hit me up like “Yo, you should come through and debate with us one day” and then she hit me the next day with a date and a time, and I came through and literally never left. I did the episode as a guest, but at that time Joe Budden had left the show, and so they asked me to come back. I had always been an A&R, a manager, behind the scenes, a silent assassin you know?! But they told me they wanted me to talk and eventually it was like the mafia, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I had thought that I would only be seen in the
light of being a manager, but I eventually
myself became talent.
I had thought that I would only be seen in the light of being a manager, but I eventually myself became talent.
And did being on camera like that hosting a show come naturally?
Well I knew how to speak — by the time I did this I’d done a bunch of podcasts and interviews. From managing artists, I had been on camera many times, so I didn’t have a problem with being seen, I just wanted to be seen in a certain way. I had thought that I would only be seen in the light of being a manager, but I eventually myself became talent. I hadn’t ever seen that for myself, but it really was a tremendous opportunity — beyond giving me a new profession and another comma on my salary, there was also the visibility that came with being on the show. There are tons of kids who didn’t know who I was that now see me and so they are more eager to want to work with me — for me to sign them or for me to give them mentorship or guidance in this game.
You can catch Wayno hosting ‘Everyday Struggle’ alongside Nadeska and DJ Akademiks here
Follow Wayno on Instagram: instagram.com/wayno119
Follow Wayno on Twitter: twitter.com/wayno119