DON BLEEK Interviews Lyonel “Kay K” Rosemond, One Of The Most Powerful A&R’s In The Music Business

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Lyonel “Kay K” Rosemond is one of the most powerful A&R’s in the music business. He was just a regular kid from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York; who was told that he would never amount to nothing. Now, over a decade in the game, he has six Grammy nominations, a Visionary Of The Year award and a B.E.T. Award. I caught up with Kay K at Universal Motown Record office In NYC for an exclusive interview.

I read in your bio that you went to school for cartoon illustration, but in 1994 you seen another career path when you were approached by your uncle Jimmy Henchman Rosemond, who was about to start his own management company during that time. Can you describe that moment and what it was like to make a transition from a cartoonist to working in the music industry?

Kay K: In 1994, I graduated ahead of the class, I went to Art & Design and I was trying to figure out, the usual teenager goes to college once they get out of high school but I was never really interested in stuff like that. Even though I did go but I was introduced young. From the very first wall he knocked down in his office and turned it to a studio. It was one morning he came and picked me up to hang out at a video shoot. I was like, “man I don’t know anything about music.” He was like, “you should just come to hang alone.” That same day I met Biggie, Lil Kim, Lil Cease and I’ve seen the music and how hyped everyone was around it.

Do you remember which video shoot it was?

Kay K: Yeah, it was Groove Dirty video shoot, for a song called “Tell Me” or something like that. It was early 90’s. Everyone was there, it was early Hip-Hop. Raw and uncut, everyone was just vibing and listening to music. Everyone came in and out of that place. Trech, Naughty By Nature, Big, Cease, Kim, AZ, and Nas. I was like “wow.” I was just a 16 years old kid bumping into guys I see on TV.

How was it like meeting Biggie?

Kay K: It was still early Big. He was still rough around the edges like that but he was funny. He was a great guy.

You just said, “It was early Hip-Hop,” Right now Hip-Hop isn’t the same way it was during the early 90’s, why do you think it’s not the same anymore?

Kay K: Well, I have a bunch of things to say about that. It has declined a lot because of record sells. A lot of things has come into place. We now have ITunes; you can download any mixtape or album earlier then when you’re supposed to get it. In the 90’s you actually had to go out and be a consumer. Now everything is at you figure tips. You can get damn near all the music off the computer.

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As an A&R’s do you think the music industry would every go back to where it was before as far as the lyrical contents?

Kay K: No, the reason why and I done research on the same exact thing too, is because people want to have fun and not be educated. They’re out getting wasted.

As an A&R’s are you responsible for some of the music that’s getting played on the radio?

Kay K: Of course, all of the music that’s being played on the radio.  If there wasn’t an A&R, who would sign all the acts and bring them to the majors and stuff like that? We are the people who actually mode and shape the music of today and tomorrow.

If you don’t want you don’t have to agree with me on this one but I don’t think a lot of A&R’s are focusing on the artists coming out of New York City. Back in the 90’s, the A&R’s went to Queens to sign, Nas, Nore, Capone, Cormega, Mobb Deep and those guys, now A&R’s don’t go to the urban areas to look for talents anymore.

Kay K: I like that question and of course I don’t agree with you because I am an A&R. We have to do our job. Basically what that mean is, “okay, let me stop being selfish with the information.” I was one of the A&R’s that went to every hole in the wall showcase, every faces in the crowd, every indie radio show, indie review, etc. I went to all of that stuff. I did do the DJ Webstar “Chicken Noodle Soup.” I signed Raekwon and we did the Lex Diamond Story, I signed Pitch Black, did a record and DJ Premier, I done all of those things. At the end of the day, with me keeping it real and signing all of the artists from New York and stuff like that, that didn’t equal up to any dollar amount. That’s why you find us going to sign like Kia Shyne, someone who already has spins like that because the records are already moving. So we don’t have to do as much work as we thought we would have to. Let’s say we have a John Doe artist, I have to go find him, find what his sound is, take him to the studio, put him with the right producers, right song writers, and make sure he look good at what he’s doing. There are other artists out here that’s already all of those things. They have their images, music sound and everything together.

Do you think an up & coming artist should have a buzz and be developed before they approach an A&R?

Kay K: I get into arguments about this all the time but I think the music industry is lacking artist development. You get an artist who have a record out and he gets on an interview and say “yeah, you know what I’m saying, you know what I’m talking about.” No, “I don’t know what you’re saying; I don’t know what you’re talking about.” That’s not proper. Formulate that into a sentence and tell me what producers you’re working with and etc. That was one of my main problems with this industry period. I think they should be a little bite seasoned before they come in here and approach an executive because you only get one shot in this industry and if it’s the wrong one, then you won’t last.

Agreed, I was watching this interview from like a year ago and Lyor Cohen said, “I only believe in artists development. These companies, these big companies are so big that they cannot wait for artist development.”

Kay K: Of course, because we don’t have time to do that anymore. In all honestly, I can’t sit with you as an A&R and tell you what all the correct answers are. I can’t tell you what to answer correctly, what not to answer correctly, what information to give and what information not to give.

As an A&R, what do you look for in a new artist?

Kay K:  It varies; a different sound, style. I don’t want to say swag because not everyone has it. I look for uniqueness; a sound that I haven’t before. It’ 95% business and only 5% music. What I mean by that is if you’re not on top of your attorney, management, your team, and in general, you will easily get lost in the sauce. It’s a real cut throat industry. There are a lot of people who will take advantage of you. You have to have a strong team. The music part is easy. If you got in front of the executive that means that half of the battle, then you come to A&R’s like myself and I can help you make that hit record but if you’re not on top of you legal team then you’re not going last very long.

Harlem’s rapper Vado recently signed a major record deal; do you think that will open up the doors for other up and coming New York rappers?

Kay K: Yes and no because everyone has to find their own nitch. Just because Jae Millz is signed to Young Money does that means everyone from his block is nice; that doesn’t mean everybody is going to go sign Murda Mook, T-Rek and those guys, does that means they going to be up next to sign? No! Everyone has to find their own nitch, style and hustle. Also, every deal is different, every single deal is different.

In 1997 you got you first start in the music business as A&R Project Coordinator for Henchmen Entertainment & Akbar Management Studio, but you didn’t get your big break until you were offered an Executive Assistant to the CEO and A&R Project Coordinator for Motown Records in 1999; during that time who were some of the artists you worked with and what projects you worked on?

Kay K: I did a bunch of stuff with my uncle in the earlier days. We had signed Lil Shawn and did Sugar or Sweet T, we did Groove Theory, and a cat out of Miami named Ammo.  Unfortunately, due to other issues, the company shut down for a little while. I had the opportunity of meeting Kedar Massenbura, Jimmy was actually my first start but Kedar gave me an actual job. What his entire goal with this entire whole thing was he wanted a young A&R person he can mode.

During your time at Motown (1999-2003), what are some of the artists you worked with and what are some of the projects you worked on?

Kay K: It all varies.  Erykah Badu, all five albums, Chico Debarge, A-Plus, Temptation, Marvin Gay at 60. I know I’m missing some, but I had my hands on almost every project that came out of this building.

In your bio, I read that you said you learned so much from Erykah Badu, what are some of the things you learned from her and how was it working with her?

Kay K: She an extraordinary woman, she taught me a lot. I thought every record was like a Hip-Hop record. You get a producer, you rhyme, you put the hook together and that’s it. She broke it down for me; she broke down the sound, the correct vibration, the tune. She brought in the flute, drum players, violinist, percussionist, and all these different people to work the project to play it the way it is. I know when you listen to an Erykah Badu album, you probably think that it’s not a lot of effort put into it but it is. There are hundreds of people working trying to make it what it is. It almost like a find piece of art; like painting the 16 chapel.

What is the difference between working with an Alternative Soul, R&B and Hip-Hop artist?

Kay K: Well, it’s pretty much the same. They all have the same tactic when they make their records; the melodies, hooks, etc. A hit record is a hit record.

What is your favorite genre of music to work on?

Kay K:  I’d rather do alternative soul because its music that last forever. Like right now, you can go back into your collection of music and pull out an Erykah Badu album and listen to it over and over because you know what you’re looking for. With the Hip-Hop stuff, you might play one of two songs that were your songs back in 1995, that might not even be relevant until this day. That’s why I chosen R&B or Alternative Soul music because with that being said and done, it’s longevity. It last for a very long time.

Do you have a most memorable moment with Erykah Badu?

Kay K: {Laugh} Yeah, I do. We were under the gun and we were supposed to deliver an album and we had pre-orders from Best Buy, Target, Walmart and FYE. We had pre-orders of like 500,000 copies and the label was trying to get us to turn in the album earlier than what it was and basically I got my ass handled to me. Kedar, who’s my mentor and the president, sent me down to Dallas for a month and I came back with the record not completed. He put me on freeze and told me not to come back into the building until I have the record complete. I came back in after we got the record complete.

And how long was that?

Kay K: It was two weeks, I wasn’t allowed back into Universal for two weeks but he’s the president. He has to do stuff like that. Just moving forward, we finally turned the record in and it was a phenomenon album. We got five Grammy nominations for the album.

Would you say that was your most challenging moment as an A&R?

Kay K: Of course it was and the reason why it was the most challenging is because, in all honestly, “you cannot rush greatness.” Erykah is a great artist and she’s phenomenon and again, “you can’t rush the art, you have to let it bake” and that’s what a lot of people don’t seem like; I call it popcorn music when people hurry up and try to turn these albums around really quickly an don’t take time to really sit and make an album. That’s why you don’t get people going out to the record stores anymore because they don’t take time to invest in their craft and sitting down for a year to make the record. That Biggie record, he didn’t go into the studio for a month or that Pac record, he didn’t go in the studio for a month. These guys were out there making music, living with the music for a year and a half before they actually out it out. If you ever notice any great artist that has longevity and lasted in this game; their albums aren’t right next to each other. It may take a year, 2 years or maybe 3 to get another Badu album. You know when it comes out; it is worth paying the money for.

In the past you worked for Motown and Universal Motown as an A&R, right now you’re an A&R for eOne Ent/Koch records; how did you make a transition from going from a major to an independence label?

Kay K: It was a bite of a challenge but with the help of Alan Grunblatt, Marleny Dominquez, Shadow and Dee, they welcomed me with opened arms. At the time Universal Motown was downsizing; which many corporations do. They were having layoffs and I was one of the people who got laid off. Everyone knows that it is not an easy job to get an A&R position. There is not set anything. I reached out to Alan and he was looking for someone to join the team that had experiences and he welcomed me with opened arms. There is a big transition, instead of five people doing one job, there are one person doing five positions.

That must be a challenging thing to do.

Kay K: It is because you wear so many hats. It’s crazy.

Do you enjoy being an A&R at a major or indie label more?

Kay K: At independence you get a little bite more freedom. At majors, you have to put on your suits and hats. It’s a big corporation. At an indie, you got a lead way to be flexible and things of that nature.

With the way the music industry is going today, do you think artists’ are more successful on an indie or major label?

Kay K: It varies on the artist and how; it’s depends on the music basically. If you have a hot record regardless what label it’s on, if it’s going sell, it’s going sell.

Do you think you’re a protégé of your uncle Jimmy Henchmen?

Kay K: Yeah, because if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here right now. He convinced me to hang out a little bite, see what was out here and he was already doing his management company and was successful.

For the people who don’t know; can you explain the exact definition of an A&R and some of your job duties and responsibilities?

Kay K: A lot of people don’t even know what the title A&R is and A&R stands for Artists and Repertoire. We are responsible for the project from the beginning to the end. From the time you get signed, to the time the budget comes, to the producer credits, to the writers’ credit, engineers’ credit, who mixed it, who mastered it, what samples we used, who was the side artist, what features on the record and stuff like that. We make sure we don’t get sued when we put the record out. We’re not the babysitters, but we’re the caretakers of the project.

What was your biggest accomplishment as an A&R?

Kay K: I got a visionary of the year award, B.E.T Award, five Grammy nominations for Erykah, one Grammy nomination for Queen Latifah, and just to be a part of these artists’ projects.

Also, you’re a music management. Who are some of the artists you’re managing?

Kay K:  Hood Boss from Dallas (he was S.O.D.), Lola Rae from NC and Chris Athens (mixing engineered).

What projects are your artists working on?

Kay K:  Hood Boss is in the studio with Drumma Boy, Lola is in the studio recording right now, Amber Turner (Model) and Chris Athens is mixing for Style P and a couple other people.

What albums/projects are you working on?

Kay K: Style P, Jim Jones, Cam’ron & Vado, Gorilla Zoe, Slim Thug, Boss Hogg Outlawz,  WC, Slaughter House, Dorrough Music, Faith Evans, Noel Groudin’, Anthony David, Lil Kee, Vivan Green and some others.

What other projects or artists you’re working with?

Kay K: I’, working with BOOM Muisc, John Atoms, Bingo Burnz, Mr. KaRon Young, Five Mega Verse, Donny Boy, P.O.W., DJ Boogie Black from Queens, and Marc of Vyou. And something very nice with ESPN and Adidas.

Does A&R still listen to demos?

Kay K: Yes, I still listen to demos all the time. The reason why I listen to demos is because Jimmy and Kedar told me that you never not listen to something because you never know where your next hit record is going to come from. So the next guy standing in front of Universal with just a CD and no real case, that has one song on there might be your next hit record to sell 10 million records. So don’t turn your back on him and walk off because he might be a superstar, you never know.

So it is cool for an up and coming artist to have a demo?

Kay K: Of course

For the people who don’t know, a demo is a CD with three of you best tracks?

Kay K: It might be three or four of your best tracks. Whatever the best song that you have or whatever you think should be the single should be your first track because most A&R’s they put your CD in when they’re driving or working and you only going get their attention for about a minute and a half before they forward to the next song.

On a demo, does all of the song has to be done to regular beats and not beats that signed rappers already used? Example: An up and coming rapper using Lil Wayne’s “6 Foot 7” beat on their demo.

Kay K: They can but I prefer all original beats. Its fine if you have just one song like that but I prefer all original music.

In the next five years, as far as you career, where will you like to be?

Kay K: Five years from now, I don’t want to be a label president, I don’t want to be a label executive, I want to be the future of entertainment. I’m talking movies, music, video games, software, and technology (as you see we have Marc from Vyou here and he’s holding it down). I want to be the forefront of all entertainment. Like the one stop shop. Like you can come and get management at my company, the newest technology, soundtrack, video games and etc. Something liked a Steve Stoute. He’s the guy behind the scenes that’s pushing the button and making the world goes around.

He does a lot, marketing, advertising and more.

Kay K: He does it all. I will like to be in his seat.

Any final words, comments, etc that you will like to say?

Kay K: First I will like to thank you guys for coming out interviewing me.


Kay K: Much love and respect to Vyou for being a part of my career. Also, I will like to thank Jimmy Henchman, Kedar Massenbura, Monte Lipman, Alan Grunblatt, Steve Rifkind, Marleny, Shadow, Dee, Sean Roc, Erykah Badu, Big Mike and my assistants Justine Duckett and Lil Joe Haley. F.A.M. for life.

Word By Donovan “Don Bleek” Moore

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Donovan is the CEO and Editor-In-Chief of For all general inquiries please email Donovan has a BA in Journalism & Media Studies from the prestigious Rutgers University. He's currently studying entertainment and fashion law.