Interview: Lenny S. On How He Climbed To The Top Of The Roc

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month 2016, Brisk has announced a new #BriskMode contest which allows fans to win tickets to the firs ever ComplexCon festival in California.

Brisk is allowing contestants to creatively express what Hispanic Heritage means to them by submitting various forms of art for the chance to be selected for unprecedented access to the big festival.

The brand partnered with like minded professionals from the music, art, and fashion worlds to help give assistance to aspiring creatives. One influencer is Roc Nation’s Lenny Santiago aka Lenny S.. Those who are heavy in social media land may know him as @KodakLens — the well known photographer who snaps the most exclusive pictures of Jay Z, Beyonce and more.

However, photography is merely a hobby for Lenny, who is actually the Senior Vice President of Roc Nation. He has been riding side by side with Hov for 20 years now. VIBE was recently granted the chance to speak with the Roc veteran to find out what being Hispanic means to him, more on his musical background, some of his best business advice and more.

VIBE: Where are your family origins from exactly?
Lenny S: My family is from Puerto Rico to be exact. My mom grew up in the Bronx and purposely went to Puerto Rico for a vacation when I was about to be born — just so I could be born in Puerto Rico.

What does being Hispanic mean to you?
It means a lot, especially when you come from the Bronx. In the music industry, I feel like there’s not a lot of Latinos and sometimes they’re not highlighted for their contributions in hip-hop culture and the entertainment business. It meant a lot to me.

Man, just to come up and make it out of my hood was big. Where I’m from, most of the guys are either on drugs or like going o jail — or just working 9-5 jobs, which is totally cool, but I just wanted to make a mark. I took a heavy interest in the hip-hop industry during my early years and the music industry in general. At 11 or 12 years old I set a goal and to make it in there. I felt it was important to be an example for the other kids growing up around me.

How did you feel about Brisk reaching out to you to give tips to the young creatives? What mark do you want to leave on those coming to you for advice?
I felt excited that Brisk reached out because I love what they’re doing. I love that they are creating this platform for artists — whether its dealing with music, fashion, or art to be able to display their talent and their creative juices. It’s not often that people let you do that. I want to leave a mark of being an example that it can be done no matter the odds. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to go to college, so I just want to be an example to kids like me. I would suggest for them to go get an education, so you can be better at whatever you are doing. Really, I want kids to set legit goals, stay focused and consistent. I want them to just be really reliable and responsible. I just want to be an example of that.

Being Hispanic, do you still consider yourself black?
Yes, I feel like anybody who is a “minority,” you’re just mixed no matter what. And the community I grew up in the Bron was just Latinos and African Americans, so I actually grew up with more African Americans than Latinos. I identified with [black] culture. To us we’re all one and I wasn’t really raised to be separated.

We came up in one community where we all enjoyed the same things. Whether it was the culture, the food, the dancing, the music or the fashion, it was all one melting pot. That melting pot being hip hop culture, so I identify with my brothers and sisters that are African American, Dominican, Puerto Rican… so to me, we are all one, so the answer is yes.

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CREDIT: Marjua Estevez / VIBE

I have to ask, how did you get your start with Roc-A-Fella, and what is your exact position now at Roc Nation now?
I’m now the senior vice president at Roc Nation, so I help run the label side with my counterpart Ty-Ty. I sign artists of course. I signed Justine Skye, Vic Mensa, and DJ Khaled and more to Roc Nation. Then I also do management as well. I manage Khaled, Fabolous and other clients that we have, so that’s my involvement with Roc Nation.

I started at Roc-A-Fella Records when Jay, Dame and Biggs were starting it themselves. This year marks my 20th year with Jay. At first I was actually with Bad Boy Records. I was on the street team doing street promotion. But I already knew of Jay — plus I was a fan of his music already. He had only done a few features at that time with Jaz-o and Big Daddy Kane, and he was just dropping the record “In My lifetime,” which was an independent single.

So anyway, I was at Bad Boy and then the opportunity came up at Roc-A-Fella Records. A friend of mine was one of the four employees at the company. Roc only had four employees at that time in ’96 or the beginning or the ending of ’95. I took a shot at interning, and I actually got denied at first because Jay identified me from being with Bad Boy’s street team. So he didn’t let me in at first, so I had to prove myself for maybe 7-8 months.

I did street promotions at Roc-A-Fella. I promoted everywhere Jay was, I promoted his record at the time and after about 7-8 months he said ‘cool man I get it! you been consistent.’ And he gave me a shot and I officially joined the Roc-A-Fella street team from there. I was the head of the street team for about a year and then after that, I went directly into A&R mode and I never turned back.

I helped A&R every Jay-Z album, most of the Roc-A-Fella albums, then went on to Def Jam, etc. Roc-A-Fella was sold obviously and Jay was the president of Def Jam, so we were over there for a few years. And then he acquired Roc Nation about 8 years ago. So again I been with Jay Z for 20 years and I love it!

What’s the best business move you have ever made?
I left Bad Boy when it was on fire — like scorching. So at that time it would be like you leaving Young Money or OVO right now to go work with this independent artist, people would question your move like “what?!” But I really believed that Jay was gonna be big… I didn’t know he was gonna be this big, though. I didn’t know he was gonna be the biggest mogul in the hip hop or entertainment business damn near. But I definitely saw the vision that most people didn’t and it’s the reason why I joined the organization and never looked back.