The saying goes a person must first give respect before getting it. One of the most respectful and therefore respected people I’ve met in this industry is Wayno Clark. Mononymously known as Wayno, the manager-turned-media personality joined the cast of Complex’s Everyday Struggle in 2018. His arrival overlapped with my own two-year tenure at the company (2017-2019). A story I often tell when his name comes up is one of common courtesy, which he often showed me and every other Complex employee he encountered.
To keep up with the timeliness of the Hip-Hop news cycle, Everyday Struggle taped episodes very early in the morning. Most days, the show’s talent—hosts Wayno and DJ Akademiks, and moderator Nadeska Alexis—would be headed home by the time the rest of us got to the office. Routinely, Wayno would do a lap around the newsroom to greet every person individually before leaving. This would take quite a while. With some, he’d ask about their weekends or their families, and with others, he’d chat about music or movies. With those of us whom he could tell were a little shy, people like me, he’d simply make sure to say good morning and dap us up. In an industry as unfriendly as media, I can’t overstate what it meant to start each day with that sort of kindness.
Here at Dreamville Festival 2022, Wayno is hosting a livestream for Amazon Music’s flagship Hip-Hop and R&B brand, Rotation. Since June 2021, he’s also hosted a bi-weekly talk show for the streaming service called Connected with Wayno. The name of the show is a play on his days as a manager and reliable dot-connector. To me, it’s also a play on his ability to connect with peers across different industries.
“I always say, ‘I don’t consider myself a journalist,’” he tells me just outside the artist compound at the festival. “Only because I never want to take away from people who studied that craft, and [I know] I’m living another person’s dream.” This self-awareness is another sign of respect. Even as he’s paid his dues as the co-host of a successful show on an industry-leading network, and now has his own show bankrolled by the third-richest company in the world, the veteran move-maker still considers himself a novice in front of the camera.
“With Connected [with Wayno], a lot of it is predicated on my thoughts and my vision,” he says. “But I work with a great team of producers that all nurture me. I feel like I’m a plant. I’m a flower that’s growing in this space, and I got the right sunlight. I got the right water on me.”
As his career in media continues to bloom, Wayno spoke with VIBE about his journey on this side of the business, the relationships he’s made along the way, and how one of those relationships led to him becoming the co-head of the A&R department at Quality Control Music.
VIBE: Tell me how you’ve been enjoying Dreamville Festival so far and hosting this Rotation livestream for Amazon Music.
Wayno: Hosting has been good. I think this is my first festival that I’ve ever hosted a livestream [for]. I’m Muslim, and Ramadan started yesterday. It’s day two—day two of the Festival [and] day two of Ramadan. So, I’m not drinking, not eating nothing until the sun goes down. But it’s been giving me a clarity that’s pushing me through all day.
I’ve been having a blast, man. [I’ve seen] a lot of the artists that I have relationships with that I hadn’t seen in a while. Yesterday I ran into Moneybagg Yo. We didn’t speak much, but the embrace that he gave me let me know that he rocks with me.
How did your relationship with Amazon Music start?
Honestly, man, it all starts with my guy Tim Hinshaw, who is the Head of [Hip-Hop and R&B] at Amazon Music. And basically, during Grammy weekend 2019, Karen Civil invited me to a party that YG was having at Lucky Strike in LA. And I pulled up and Tim just approached me and told me that he really rocked with what I do, how I represented myself when I was doing Everyday Struggle. And he was like, if it made some sense for us to do something in the future, if I was open to it, then we should talk.
And it didn’t just start like [on] some business stuff. We really built a relationship with one another. I let him know a few ideas that I have for content. Because the media space is still… I feel like a lot of people give me a lot of praise, but I’m still in a bit of an infancy. I’m really learning. I really feel like I learned how to walk over the past year doing media. And Tim, I told him some of the visions I had and he told me the visions he had for me.
I did something for Amazon with Gunna when he dropped the Wunna album. And then I interviewed Nas when he dropped King’s Disease… And after we did that, I was presented with an opportunity to come and join Amazon’s team. It wasn’t even Connected [with Wayno]. It was just like, “Yo, we want to figure it out.”
So, that conversation at Lucky Strike, that happened after Everyday Struggle was over? Or was it in the midst of it?
It was in the midst of EDS. But it wasn’t like… I wouldn’t say he was trying to steal me, you know what I mean? But I ain’t gonna lie. If this were the NBA, it definitely would’ve been tampering [laughs].
My battle with doing media has always been like, I really don’t put myself in a position to say anything silly so that I could get the most views. I’m really not concerned with the most views. I’m really concerned with the views that matter to the people who want to hear what’s going on in the artist’s life. And also normalizing the artists. Because they all like superheroes on TV and on social media. But getting a chance to have real, deep conversations with them about what’s going on in life. Not on nothing negative, but who they are as people. That’s what I’ve always battled with. But Tim gave me the opportunity to showcase that. Because that’s what he saw in me.
In your conversation with Tim, did he mention what type of voices he wanted on the platform? Because on the Rotation livestream, the three people I see are you, Gia Peppers, and Rob Markman—it’s a certain type of media personality. Responsible. Not out here tryna wild out for views. Was that a conversation you and Tim had?
Well, I wouldn’t say necessarily that. It was just basically he told me that he was trying to build something. And he said the opportunity that he had with Amazon, they was basically giving him the keys to start something special. And he felt like I was special. And honestly—I’m really not being cliche saying this—I didn’t look at myself as that.
Even with Akademiks. They give Akademiks flack, but we used to have a lot of conversations after the show. And he used to tell me like, “Yo, Wayno, there’s a void that you fill that, not taking nothing from Joe [Budden] and what he did on the show, but what you doing and how you present yourself is not what Joe did.” He was like, “What I do, you do none of that. So, you have a space for yourself.” And when Ak told me that… Like for his success that he’s had in media—regardless [of what] anybody thinks about it, he’s very successful. I was like, “Hmm, let me look in this mirror. Let me self-assess.”
And Tim, he noticed that too within me. And he was just like, “Yo, I think that you one of the people who can make a difference out here where what we’re trying to do is not just about going viral.” You know what I mean? If we do go viral, it’s going to be for substance. He didn’t say, “Pick these specific people.” But I could say honestly, Gia—I met her during my media career—I love Gia. I think that she’s so dope. I always give her praises.
And then Rob, his reputation speaks for itself. Me being a manager and A&R, we had tons of crossings. I remember I helped Rob break a Beanie Sigel news story when he had came home from prison one time, because I have a close relationship with Beans. And Rob, he be telling me I’m doing my thing, and I’ll be like, “Yo, you Rob Markman” [laughs]. I think the people we picked for Amazon Music and probably who we’re going to pick going forward, we got something special brewing.
Given your background in artist management, you’ve been transparent about media being “another person’s dream.” How did you stumble into this transition?
Man, literally, I was watching Everyday Struggle when it first started, when Joe was on it. And then when Star got on it, I was watching it. And Star and Nadeska was having a little spat. And Nadeska, while she’s very reserved, she was on one that day. And she was just letting Star know, like just in a very subtle way, like, “Nah, you ain’t gon’ come in here talking however you want.” And I just texted her, and I was like, “Yo, talk your talk.” I didn’t text her because I wanted to be on EDS or nothing. And she just was like, “Wayno, I’ve been such a bad friend. You should come debate with us one day.”
I did the first episode and after it was done, Chops [the show’s producer] was like, “Yeah, that’s the most fun we had since Joe left.” And I was like, “I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.” I left that day, and then they texted me and they was like, “Yo, would you mind coming back?”
I did that one day and I stayed for three years.
Wow. So, where does this position with Quality Control fit in?
Honestly, Everyday Struggle. It all goes back to that. When I started my media career, I was fortunate enough to get a conversation with P [Pierre Thomas, CEO of Quality Control] about getting Lil Baby on the show when My Turn dropped.
After the show, I had a conversation with P and he just was asking me about what I had going on outside of the show. And he just told me that he watched the show and he thought I was very intelligent. We just built a relationship. And that led me to becoming the Vice President of A&R and the co-head of the A&R department with Brandra Ringo, who is an amazing woman. Tons of stuff she’s done in the game. She’s the EVP and I’m the VP.
I don’t even know if this last question going to make the piece. It’s really just for my own curiosity. But as someone with these dual tracks, when you dream of the pinnacle of each—as an executive, let’s say that’s being the president of a major label, and as a media personality, it’s having your own nationally televised talk show on cable—which would you prefer?
Honestly, man. I’m not being cliche. Both of those sound nice, but I would like to have more time with my family. Because while I do get a chance to do all of this stuff and it’s amazing to everybody and they get a chance to view it and see it, I recently missed my daughter getting her second stripe on her belt in Jiu-Jitsu. The day that I had to meet with an artist for something, I missed that because I was doing something in media. And [another] day I had to meet with an artist, I missed my daughter’s first track meet… I had to watch her success on the track field through a video.
So, I would love to be at the top of both of those spaces, but whatever would permit me to just have a little bit more time with my wife and my kids, where I could travel with them and just kick it with them a little bit more. That’s what I really want.
That’s a better answer than anything I could have hoped for. That definitely has to make it now.