INTERVIEW: Music Executives Amir Windom & Maurice Slade Talk Success in the Music Industry
by Mercy Chikowore
It’s a sweaty summer day in 2003. Tallahassee is vibrant with a fresh import of anxious Florida A&M University (FAMU) students. A bus shuttles the new ‘Rattlers’ on a mall trip, when a few students in the bus interrupt the still, nervous air. Amir Windom (“AW”) and Maurice Slade (“Moe”) were doing what they naturally did– cracking jokes. Comedy was probably the first thing they realized they had in common. The second was music. It was this comical introduction to a friendship that would push them to achieve more than most under the age of 30. A decade later, the two college friends sit in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. clowning and catching up. AW traveled to D.C. to speak at an event during the AT&T Nations Football Classic. Moe is in town to DJ the hottest traveling party on the east and west coast, “Grits & Biscuits”. AW and Moe are the cool, creative guys behind some of the hottest artists and brands in the music and entertainment industry. If you don’t know them, here’s your shot.
Thanks to his dad working at Delta Airlines, AW saw a much bigger world outside of Decatur, Georgia. A born and raised “ATLien,” AW grew up around music, art and culture. His first taste of business and music was naturally from his parents. Whether hearing his mom jam to Gil Scott Heron, Hiroshima or Smokey Robinson while cleaning the house, or watching his dad submit a proposal to the Department of Cultural Affairs in Atlanta that later turned into the Atlanta Jazz Festival; the entrepreneurial spirit and the love of music was always around him. AW was a gifted athlete that had the cliché dreams of playing in the NFL. Can we thank the music gawds he didn’t? Fast forward a few decades, he’s a record executive, TV and film music supervisor, marketing executive and consistent philanthropist and humanitarian. He has worked at record labels such as Atlantic Records, Def Jam Records and Bad Boy Records, and he has assisted in creating music and developing brands for artists such as Fun, T.I., Bruno Mars, Lupe Fiasco, B.o.B, Madonna, Trey Songz and Kanye West. He has also assisted in creating some soundtracks for films such as “Despicable Me 2” and “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man” to name a few. His creativity has been used to produce global marketing campaigns for brands such as Kodak, Adidas and ESPN.
The Tallahassee-born Houston native, known as “Moe,” grew up with a balance of education and business in his household, which pushed him to cultivate his talents and ambition early on. His mother was an educator and his dad was a hard working architect who also was in a band. He was a music nerd that started DJ’ing at high school parties. Through DJ’ing, his love for music grew. He would research deals that executives such as Diddy, Lyor Cohen, and Master P were making and he knew his future was in the music business. Moe wanted to be the guy who saved the music business from illegal digital downloading. He hasn’t saved the industry from piracy just yet, but he’s been a creative force in the digital marketing world. He is the Creative Branding & Digital Marketing Manager at Jay-Z’s conglomerate RocNation and RocNation Sports. He has helped create some of the most globally recognizable brands in music and sports including Jay-Z, Kevin Durant (NBA), Robinson Cano (MLB), Rihanna, Shakira and J-Cole. Prior to RocNation, Moe was a manager in the marketing division for Universal Motown, where he helped build brands for entertainers such as Drake, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Kid Cudi. Moe and a few business partners (known as EZMOBreezy) created one of the most talked about traveling parties called “Grits & Biscuits” that has made “Twerking 101” a required course before each party.
Both AW and Moe have worked on numerous Grammy Award winning albums that have garnered Gold or Platinum RIAA achievement. Besides having a knack for melding creativity with business, what’s helped them succeed is keeping a tight circle of friends, and a global outlook on life, cultivating both during their time at FAMU.
In college “…we weren’t satisfied with the norm of what everybody else wanted out of college and what they wanted from the college experience,” says Moe. AW chimes in, “most weren’t thinking beyond college. It’s kinda like they had a domestic mind and we had a global one. We were interested in the unknown. The undiscovered. The future beyond those four or five years.
While at FAMU, the two founded an Endustry Power Players (EPP) chapter on campus. “We had the luxury of bringing the industry to us,” says AW. EPP is a student-run organization that allows college students to work and network with record labels to promote upcoming albums and singles on campus. The first Chapter was founded at Howard University where AW’s older sister Ravi Windom was a co-founder. The small college town of Tallahassee appealed to entertainment companies with its three major universities and over 100,000 college students. AW and Mo knew this and strategically positioned themselves to be in constant communication with labels like Bad Boy, Def Jam and Atlantic. “We both knew we wanted to work in the entertainment business when we left college so if we could find a way to bring the entertainment business to us, it would bear fruit in the future,” says Moe. It didn’t take long before Tallahassee saw Young Jeezy, Magic Johnson, Burger King Basketball Tournament, Kevin Liles and a host of others thanks to EPP. “A lot of the things we did had an entrepreneurial mind set, not in the sense of making money,” said Moe. “But in the sense of taking things in our own hands instead of relying on someone.”
While other students were pledging fraternities or sororities, running for student government or sleeping in the library, AW and Moe knew they had to follow three rules:
1. Don’t get addicted to the college lifestyle and atmosphere but still have fun;
2. Do schoolwork and fulfill their purpose at FAMU (which is why they enrolled in the first place);
3. Begin work on the post-college life that they saw on the other side of graduation.
They mastered all three. They graduated, had a deep rolodex and became recognized as the top music executives and creative minds of their generation. “To me, college was about figuring out who you are not versus who you are,” says AW.
The respect and relationships within the entertainment industry came to them.
One entertainment industry icon in particular, who got AW and Moe their first jobs at a record label, took notice. “I saw something special in AW and Moe…hence why I gave them a shot…. It seems I had 20/20 vision. They have those visionary minds that can transcend cultures and the way people think. They’re doing great things. I’m proud of them,” said Kevin Liles, entertainment mogul, philanthropist and former Executive Vice President of Warner Music Group.
Although both have had a clear path to success, it wasn’t smooth sailing the whole way through. In his sophomore year, AW took some time off college to intern and work at major record labels. “For me, I went through the period where I was just like forget school. I didn’t want to do no work, didn’t want to go and so my sophomore year—if you would’ve looked at my sophomore year, I had a 0 grade point average! At the time I didn’t know how to balance school and my ambition.” After two years of hustling and finding out who he was, AW returned to FAMU more focused. “It’s easy to say I’m gonna leave school and pursue my dreams but it’s a whole ‘nother level of competition. At least with a degree, you kinda have something that gives you credibility and some clout versus not having anything and just relying on talent. I realized I wasn’t the only “talented” person in the world. You gotta work triple times harder when you’re just relying on talent. After I realized that, I was like okay, I gotta finish school. To those who have opportunities to go to school and decide not to…you’re a damn fool if you want to just do music and not have something else to fall back on! I couldn’t imagine someone leaving school for the music ‘biz’ nowadays, considering everybody’s brother, little cousin and uncle is trying to be in the ‘biz’ as well. What is your advantage? An education plus your talent is a lot more attractive,” AW said. Moe chimes in “There are plenty of people working in the music industry without a degree, but you shouldn’t be that person, who just wants to work in the music industry. Music should just be a platform for you.”
With graduation approaching, Moe knew everyone and was doing amazing things on and off campus and ultimately had a job offer at Warner Music Group his senior year. When it came time to graduate, things changed. The job he thought he had no longer existed (which he didn’t tell anyone) because music wasn’t selling like it used to. He decided to continue interning for the label and moved to New York City where he stayed on his brother’s couch. “Going from “that dude” to eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and then trying to hustle your way to getting dinner was hard. Not being able to ride the metro and having to walk back from the bridge all the way to my brother’s place…humbling,” Moe reminisces. AW interjects: “You realize that no success is going to come without struggle. Regardless of who you are, how bright your future was, etc. You’re going to have to struggle. Once you accept that, the struggle gets mentally easier. Maybe not physically, but mentally.” Moe concurs with a look on his face as if he was reliving those moments in his head. Six months later he landed a job at Universal Music Group after meeting Kid Cudi during his writing gig at Complex magazine. Kid Cudi requested Moe after they worked together on his first mixtape, and Moe later worked on Kid Cudi’s digital marketing campaign for his first two albums.
Although their roads have taken many turns and twist, they credit their circle of friends and family as being the constant, keeping them humble, hungry and reaching for significance. “In college, if you don’t hang around the right people it can derail your life. It can be a dangerous place,” says AW. Fortunately AW, Moe and their crew helped get each other through college and beyond with a little healthy competition. “It was like a sibling rivalry but we were working together too and you’re like ‘I don’t want to be the one out the crew not doing shit with my life.’ And so we were just pushing each other and you aint even know it… U-O-E-N-O, a reference to rap artist Rocko’s song UOENO to all you non-hip hopsters,” laughs AW. “Luckily you don’t end up becoming friends with that person who’s not doing anything because that becomes your direct line of influence,” says Moe.
Among AW’s biggest accomplishments, working with Pharrell on the “Despicable Me 2” soundtrack sits at the top. “Working with someone you idolize or look up to, you never in your life think you’d ever work with them. It was an honor to put that in my memory museum,” says AW.
Moe went from the music credit-reading nerd to later working in the industry with the executives he used to research. “I used to read about Kev, Lyor and Jay. And to be able to say I’ve worked for or with them is equivalent to a rapper telling his mom he’s going to buy her a house. In most cases, that house never gets bought…. I guess my dreams were more practical and attainable,” said Moe. Looking back at his career, Moe states his biggest accomplishment was “sticking it out in NYC for six months with no job.” He also lists working on Kid Cudi’s projects from the ground up, as a top moment in his career and of course the whirlwind success of “Grits & Biscuits.” “We threw a party that was specifically to be the anti-New York party, we were going to play non-New York music and it was gonna be nothing but dirty south music. There were gonna be no velvet ropes, no VIP, we’re gonna throw it in a venue that’s not built for clubbing, but built for live music so you can feel the music thump.” Recently, partygoers in Washington, DC saw tickets sell out in the span of an hour—for both nights.
With all of the mentors and opportunities that they have been afforded, AW and Moe both give back to the universe in their own ways. AW speaks at universities all over the world “…those are the next leaders behind me. We’ve had people invest in us and we understand that we have to do the same thing—and it’s about figuring out how to reach them in impressionable, impactful ways versus those ‘I did it to say I volunteered’ kind of ways. Have to change their mentalities where they are striving to be SIGNIFICANT… LEGENDARY… versus just successful.”
“My way of giving back is just giving people the opportunity,” says Moe. “I’m not a fan of hand-holding or spoon-feeding people or giving people opportunities that they kinda didn’t work for. I’m gonna put you in the building and you make that opportunity whatever you want.”
When asked when they were going to start their own label or agency, Moe says, “There’s something there that we know that we should be doing together but we gotta figure that thing out.” AW interjects, “We work together on a lot of things but we haven’t started AW/MO Enterprises. That sounds so corny,” AW laughs. “We know there’s more for us to do but we don’t rush it!” Moe chimes back in, “It’s like how Jay-Z and Nas are great friends. They both are great rappers. Are they going to make an album together? Maybe not, maybe so, if it happens, it has to happen naturally.” “I’m Jay-Z, you’re Nas!” says AW.
“I think we want people to look at our lives similar to how people look at the bible. You can read it, get inspiration, gain strength and be confident in the future,” AW said. Moe looks at him and says, “Well said Martin Luther King.” They both laugh, just as they did summer of 2003 back on that bus in Tallahassee, Florida. Some things will never change.