Kenny Burns: Head of the master class

Interview by Demi Lobo; Written by Lauren Martinez and Niya Hogans; Images by Dallas J. Logan

You’ve touched every part of the entertainment industry and are a master of so many things. How have you been able to consistently succeed across all platforms?

I remember getting into the music business and Dallas Austin’s brother, Claude Austin may he rest in peace, sat me down one day with my big brother Dave Gates and said “You have great ideas, but you have to master one thing first.” That advice really stuck with me over the years. When you think about all the amazing things I’ve done over a 20-year career, I had to master them all individually. It’s made it better for me as I’ve gotten older, because you dream about it all when your young and you come out the gate wanting to do all these different things, but I had to learn the marketing/promo side, the A&R side, the executive side, and all these different facets of the business for me to be able to tell somebody with sincerity what was going on, what to do, or how to curate culture properly.

As you get older, you truly find your swag and once I got mine, I began to pursue my passions. Like designing clothes. People respect my fashion, so we created Ryan Kenny. And the legend grows. You go through this process and like I always say, life is about your body of work. You have to go through different things to find your true calling and setbacks are only setups for the next thing. Just keep pushing. I’ve done records and radio successfully, I’m a pioneer in the marketing-influencer space…. You just kind of have to dive in, and you don’t have to know everything because you will learn it along the way.

Let’s talk about Studio 43, explain to us what it is, and what does it means to you?
It’s a part of my legacy.

Studio 43 is a company I started after I lost my first company 2620 Music in a bad business deal. I signed my company away because I was so pressed to get a big check and I had to come up with another company name. My crew and I would always hold up the four-three in pictures because to us it meant forever. I was also obsessed with the Studio 54 movement from the ’80s, so I took studio and replaced [54] with four-three and the rest is history. Back then we were managing a group by the name of DREAM, which is the second highest debuting girl group ever, over Destiny’s Child and everybody. The only one [that was] bigger I think was Spice Girls at the time. Then we signed Wale, and I’m from D.C. so that meant a lot for my city. I also do all of my hosting and experiential business for Kenny Burns under the Studio 43 umbrella. It’s been an amazing ride!

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You refer to yourself as the “LifeStyle Specialist”; what exactly does that mean?
In our world, we have people who are connectors. I took it to the next level and connected people from Fortune 500 companies with my peers. I would make these amazing deals with Trey Songz and Grey Goose at a time when they didn’t do business with young Black pop culture icons. I got AXE body spray put in Ciara’s first video. I created the Legendary Heineken Soul Tour that featured artists like Alicia Keys. We sponsored the Black album release with Jay Z. I signed global artists like Akon, and whatever I’ve ever done has been about connecting the dots and curating pop culture. So, I was in a meeting one day and they kept introducing me as this influencer, this guy that knows everyone, and I said after that meeting, going forward refer to me as The Lifestyle Specialist … and it has stuck.

“My gift, if I was to say I have one, is understanding people.”

What can you tell us about your SVP role at Combs Enterprises?
Puff was my childhood idol and he gave me the opportunity to come launch Revolt television with him. It’s looking like what we launched roughly three years ago as a television network will be in the black in a year or so, that’s insane. We also just launched Apple Ciroc less then a year ago, in which I was an integral part of choosing that flavor and also creative directed and scored the commercial using the legendary classic “Love & Happiness” by Al Green. It’s on pace to be the No. 1 selling flavor at Ciroc, over Peach. I also recently paired Aqua Hydrate with the young boxing phenom Devin Haney, as we continue our takeover in the water space.

It’s just a great opportunity to be able to learn from one of the greatest Pop Culture contributors of our time. I am conscious and in the moment with this experience. It’s a very heartfelt, wild opportunity and I appreciate it. It’s been incredible.

Where does your inspiration come from?
It comes from people. My gift, if I was to say I have one, is understanding people. The inspiration comes from my kids, my family, strangers and people I admire. Just like how you and I were just sitting here and you said it feels like it’s church when I’m passionately speaking. … That’s happened to me so many times in my life that I started to pay serious attention and felt like maybe I’m saying some s— that means something to someone. Then I started to take those isms as I call them and jot them down. I’m going to be coming out with my second book called “KB isms … Sometimes We All Need A Little Reminder.”

“Family is everything, and my wife, she holds me down.”

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You have a very demanding career, how do you find the time to make sure that you pour into the lives of your wife and children?
Family has always been everything to me. I was raised by all women. My father wasn’t necessarily around like I wanted him to be. Although he gave me presence and credibility in the street, which doesn’t sound good, but it actually came in handy a few times.

But because he wasn’t around, I always felt like I had something to prove. Luckily, I had these amazing women loving me, so I knew how to love and how to treat a women, I was just missing that male force to punch me in the chest when needed.

When I was younger, I would always say when I have a family I’m going to be present, instill security and promote how to live life for a living. Over the years my sons Kenny, 15, and Kyle, 12, have seen me do all these dynamic things, but even when they were younger I didn’t care what I was doing, if I got home at 7 a.m. and the game was at 9 a.m., half dead or not, I was at that game.

Early on, I also implemented systems with my wife like our four-day rule. I have to be traveling on the first day and home on the fourth day. That manages expectations and you know you miss your significant other when you’re gone. It’s really good for a relationship. I don’t know if we were under each other all the time how well we would be at almost 17 years married this October.

“There’s no playbook for being a parent, although my wife has read every book possible. You have to just do it. You learn from your mistakes and you grow.”

On being impressed by his kids’ work ethic, and his wife being his life partner …
My kids are amazing, like Kenny, I was a basketball star and he’s going to be a bigger basketball star than I ever was. His work ethic is better than mine was. He started taking it serious at 13, whereas I’ve never had that kind of work ethic at 13, so I salute him for that. And my youngest, Kyle, he’s going to do many things, he’s also a basketball star, but he’s super creative, he might just help build our new pool.

Family is everything, and my wife, she holds me down. I think in life we look at things like we need to have this “Oh my God, I’m so in love” feeling all the time, and you can have that, especially if you stay committed to that love, but at the same time you need a true partner.

You go through life and realize you need a partner that’s going to understand you, that will be there for you regardless, through whatever. She’s been with me with no homes, in a one bedroom apartment, now we have two homes and we do what we want, when we want. That’s part of the process of building, and I just want to tell people it’s a process and to enjoy that process as much as possible. You live and you learn, and it’s imperative to have that partner to hold you down on that journey.

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Both of your sons are athletes, would you ever tell them not to go into the music business?
Kyle would be the one. They can do whatever they want to do though. There are things that I would be protective of until they are old enough to understand what’s going on, but they are almost at that age anyway. Their daddy is a thug … lol. They know it and everybody else knows.

What advice do you have for rappers and entertainers who are becoming fathers?
Don’t be a play daddy and don’t play with being a daddy. A play daddy is someone who does it for the cameras. They do it because they think it’s cool. A father is one of the most important roles in parenting. To the mothers, all praises due with what y’all go through physically and what they go through all their lives. Generally, from like [ages] 8, 9, 10, it really becomes a focal point in the development of a child. They are playing sports and they are more active. They are getting into stuff in school. Girls, friends, hormones, etc.

Just don’t play dad. You have to be active, contribute, listen, spend time and communicate. They need that!

We’re all learning. There’s no playbook for being a parent, although my wife has read every book possible. You have to just do it. You learn from your mistakes and you grow. I don’t care what happens, I’m going to be that father that they need and that’s the mentality you have to have.

Go behind the scenes with the lifestyle specialist Kenny Burns as he spends some quality time with his son for this special rolling out cover exclusive.

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