The Cheats Movement “Chatting with Heroes “interview series started earlier this month with D’Wayne Edwards, founder of the Pensole Academy, and it continues with interview #2, Kenyatta Khari, the founder and CEO of Hip Hop Motivation Corporation.
Kenyatta Khari is on a mission. His mission is to provide today’s hip hop generation with the information and education they need to be successful in business and in life. It’s very similar to person that receives the divine call to preach the gospel; Kenyatta preaches a different type of sermon, one that elevates the consciousness of his culture. He does this through the company he founded in 2005, Hip Hop Motivation Corporation.
Since 2005, Hip Hop Motivation has gained its traction through social media, in particular Kenyatta’s one on one interviews with hip hop “tycoon” Damon Dash. But that’s all about to change as Kenyatta has completed a new film “The Secret of Ballin,” has plans to re-release his first book Think and Ball Out, and he’s working on a new book with the aforementioned cake-a-holic called Culture Vultures.
Kenyatta connections to the entertainment industry came through old fashion hard work. Originally, Kenyatta worked as a barber at a shop in his hometown, on Crenshaw Boulevard (Los Angeles). In about three years, he went from being a barber at the salon, to owning the salon. But it wasn’t until he had a life alternating experience that convinced him that he had a greater purpose. A purpose to uplift the culture through information and education, geared specifically to the hip hop community. Below Kenyatta shares his story of triumph and his secrets to ballin.
How did you discover your drive to be an entrepreneur?
I got my drive from watching my mother and father. Growing up, I saw them struggle and strive to give me (and my family) a decent living. I moved around a lot when I was a child. I lived in Tennessee, Cleveland, and North Carolina (Gastonia, Charlotte, and Kings Mountain) and seeing how they struggled all day long helping other people build their businesses and in return they did not get anything but back aches and a minimal paycheck – they didn’t get anything that could set their family up for the future.
Early on, I realized that I had a skill as a barber. I started working as a barber at a very young age and from there I went to beauty college because I wanted to learn how to cut women’s hair, as well as I cut men’s hair. I come from the Big Daddy Kane era, we use to cut a lot of high-top fades, Gumby haircuts, all of that – putting designs in people’s hair, it’s kind of repeating itself now – what was in style then is in style now. I’ve always been interested in the art of cutting hair. When I got to LA, in my high school years, I continued cutting hair and after beauty college, I started working at a barber shop on Crenshaw and 43rd. After about two or three years of working at that salon, at 21 years old, I became the owner of the salon. I’ve now owned that salon for over 19 years. At the salon is where I started cutting entertainers. Those opportunities came from cutting people in the entertainment industry at the shop. And that’s how I made my connections.
So your work as a barber really spread through word of mouth.
Yes, word of mouth but as far as the desire to start Hip Hop Motivation and bring forth information for people that have been left in the dark, my whole mission is give back to the people – give back to the culture. And that’s black people, white people, Hispanic, Asian, people from all over the world. The goal is to give them information on how to be independently successful. There are a lot of talented people in the world that go under the radar because they are not in the right area; they do not know the right people; or they don’t have the right information. I felt like now is the perfect time to move forward because of the growth of social media. This is a different time now – where you don’t have to kiss a.s.s. to really become successful.
It’s cool – you can say it…
Word. I just wanted to make sure I was clear.
Interviewing Damon Dash is something I’ve done and captured a lot of footage starting back in 2003. You are just starting to see the brand new stuff because there is a new book that’s coming out called Culture Vultures that Dame and I are putting together – so with the projects we’ve been working on and with the video footage, I felt like it was time to release it because a lot of people would say that Dame is broke or this and that about him, and I would see him and he wasn’t broke. He was flying in town every weekend or whenever he wanted, he was on vacations, he was hanging out, he just wasn’t on stage with Jay-Z anymore, and people were always interpreting that as Dame being broke and I thought that was interesting because he had a house out here in LA, he was living good, eating organic, and all that….
Well, we’re going to get to Damon Dash in a bit but you said something that caught my attention. How did you go from being a barber at the shop to owning the shop in two years?
Yes. It was like two and half – three years.
That transition is what I want to get to…what is it about you that transitioned from wanting to be the best barber in the shop to wanting to own the shop?
My desire to own the shop really came from unsatisfactory and unorganized management of the shop, at that time. And that’s not to discredit the previous owners and management because they are wonderful people but anytime your run a business, especially in the hood, you need to have certain standards and rules in place for it to be a success. And if you don’t have those rules it becomes chaos with people doing whatever they want to do at the shop, on the outside and on the inside. I just saw ownership as an opportunity to move the shop forward because the previous owner was losing the shop.
I got my partners together (friends & family members) and they threw me some money – that I paid back when I got in the shop in the position it needed to be…and I took over the salon. It was from there that I started to implement certain rules and regulations and we became the most successful shop on Crenshaw Boulevard.
The salon wasn’t this new-age, beautiful looking salon, it was just became a wonderful place where everyone wanted to work because there was rules in place. And there were certain standards like: not smoking in the shop, or no loitering at the shop for no reason, we had a large clientele of men, women, children, and senior citizens, and I wanted everyone to feel welcome and comfortable. That’s the case for any business, not just a business in the hood, but any business needs to have structure. And that’s where a lot of my desire to own the shop came from – I didn’t want to work in a negative environment or one without structure so when I saw the opportunity to buy the salon, I took it. I didn’t even think about it, I just took it. And to be honest with you, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I learned as I went along. I’m glad I did.
Was it a big transition?
Yes, a big transition – I can’t lie about that. I was 20 – 21 years old and I was just learning how to add structure to my own life. When you’re 20 years old – you’re out clubbing – every girl that walked by I was trying to holler at…I had to get that in order first. When you’re a barber and you’re on a block like Crenshaw there is a lot of activity, girls walking by, girls walking in the shop, I was trying to get at everyone’s clients – I had to learn the hard way. I had to learn how to be professional by trial and error.
So you alluded to this earlier and I’ve always wondered – being in LA, you’ve had to opportunity to link you with a lot of people in the entertainment industry but your relationship with Damon Dash has really moved your work forward on social media. I’ve always wondered, because you have so many contacts, what was it about Damon Dash that compelled you to work with him?
Dame is one of the most hospitable people that I’ve ever cut, not to take away from any of my other high profile clients, they are all wonderful people but the interesting thing that you see with Dame is that he has a polarity. You see how he is on camera – he’s aggressive – he’s rough with his activity – and he’s strong with his movement- but the other side of Dame is that he is a nice guy, genuinely nice. He’s so real with his day to day – you couldn’t really imagine how nice and genuine he is.
It’s interesting that you say that because my wife and I have this conversation all the time …I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dame Dash, I follow his movements and understand what he is doing for the culture but with that said, I’m not sure that I’d would want to be around him. I’m not sure if I would like him as a person….does that make sense?
Yeah. A lot of people say that and he knows that – I tell him that all the time. You would like him because his spirit is contagious – his business sense is contagious. It’s contagious to be bold – make major moves – that why we connect with each other – similar to the moves I made to own the salon, back in the day, I had to step up. Sometimes we all have to step up and make a tough decision and sometimes those decisions are not popular amongst your peers but you have to have the strength to move forward…you have to. It’s about being bold.
I appreciate you saying that about him because that’s one question that I always wondered about. You’ve cut a lot of high profile people but the chemistry you two have on camera definitely works well. I’ve wondered if the days are tough for you.
Dame is also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He is hilarious. A lot of the stuff he says and does – there is an element of theater to it when he saying some of his harsher things on camera but he’s a good dude. I’m going to keep it real, he didn’t want to be come off as any type of Robin Hood or revolutionary but what I tell him is that “the people” need the information that he gives.
I would always get his insight and I would take it back to my coworkers and friends but I suggested to him let’s put these videos up where I’m asking you questions because it’s important for the culture to rise to a different level with their consciousness; consciousness is everything.
It was about informing the people and having them become more conscious – elevating their minds so that they will be ready for “The Secret of Ballin” because the movie is something like 20 to 30 people sharing knowledge. We have a lot of amazing people in the movie. And I’m going to let you know – this is my passion, helping the culture is my passion and it’s been a blessing. All of this work is about helping the culture and providing the culture with information and learning materials from a hip hop perspective. And that has not always been easy – not everyone wants the culture to have this information – certain videos had been blocked, etc. and all of that is does to withhold information from the people – and that’s ignorance – because if the culture grows then society grows. People would not be compelled to rob and hurt other people, they won’t be compelled to commit crimes as much, if they start becoming conscious of their movements.
When did your activities become a larger vehicle to help the culture? I get the sense that this is not about you personally but about informing a mass amount of people, was there a specific moment?
Yes. The day I wrote down the business plan for Hip Hop Motivation. It was a Friday, the day after my 28th birthday. I left the salon and I was on my way to cut Method Man from Wu-Tang Clan. Before meeting up with Meth, I stopped by my home to get my ipod, I was planning to load some music on Meth’s ipod. On the way into my crib, I was shot six times. I was shot and left for dead. I blacked out. I felt that realm of the spirit separating from the flesh. I was harassed by the cops, even in that position. I’ve never gang banged. I grew up in LA but I’ve never ganged banged. I know a lot of gang members but I never did that, I never sold dope, all I did was cut hair, but when I got shot and was in the hospital, that’s when I continued to write and develop Hip Hop Motivation as you see it now. I wrote a project called “Think and Ballout” that went under the radar but we are planning to re-release it and maybe turn it into a movie. But that’s really when it started for me.
That’s crazy. I did not know that story.
Yeah. I was in critical condition entering the hospital and by the grace of GOD I was able to survive and bring forth this information. That was my prayer as I was lying on the operating table – to use me to bring forth whatever it is you need me to bring forth. And that’s what we are doing now with Hip Hop Motivation.
What is the most important lesson you have learned since starting Hip Hop Motivation?
The most important lesson I’ve learned is that love is the most important element; the most important thing we have to express in order to reach people and to connect with them. People really don’t care how much you know until they know how much your care. You have to have that love element in place for whatever you are doing. If you don’t have the love element in place, whatever you’re doing is not going to be a success. You’re only going to be as successful as your desire is….your belief in yourself is your belief in GOD and your belief in GOD is your belief in yourself, and GOD is infinite. Everything you see and everything you be is GOD. Once you become aware that everything around you is a reflection of you and you can reach any height through your own desire – what happens is things become easier to you and you begin to channel from GOD as oppose to those that think they are separate from everything. You’re not separate from anything – things don’t happen to you, they happen for you.
I’m talking like this because I usually don’t get a chance on the footage but it goes a lot deeper for me because this is what I do, this is my study, this is my passion, and everyone will be seeing that eventually.
That’s exactly why I wanted to speak to you. The movement that you have created – while you can get someone with celebrity status to deliver the information – you are the driving force behind getting the information to the people.
We are all connected.
Tell me the biggest misconception people have about the business of hip hop?
In my opinion, the biggest misconception is that when you sign a record deal everything is going to be alright. That’s all you need to do to be successful, sign a record deal. That is absolutely the opposite of what I’ve seen and learned over the years. I’ve learned that the most important aspect of anything you’re doing is the love element, the creative element. If you really work on your skills and you love what you’re doing people will see that and pick up on that and then you will start to create your own movement.
Some people think that if they sign a deal, everything is going to be alright. And they sign without getting a lawyer or knowing all the information and that tends to cause more problems for them. Years down the line, those people are the ones that feel they got a tricked into a bad situation. They’re in a 360 (deal) situation now and that’s not the way the business should work. The business should be studied beforehand if you decide to become a signed artist. And there is nothing wrong with signing a record deal, just understand what you’re signing. Understand that the most important thing is your products and stage show. Live shows are what build your following. It’s the same for you – this interview will hopefully build your following and from there you can branch out in different ways.
Last question, do you have a release date for your upcoming movie “Secret of Ballin?”
The movie is done. We are cleaning up some of the audio and that type of stuff. I’m looking at December or January. We are looking at a few distribution channels. We are just making sure that it’s great for the people. We can’t drop the ball when we have this type of opportunity.
I am sure you will not drop the ball – you have not dropped anything to date. I wish you much success family. I look forward to you bringing the film to RVA.
You can follow all of Kenyatta’s moves by subscribing to his YouTube channel: Hip Hop Motivation.