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New Business of Creative Enterprises Director, Wes Jackson

Seasoned music business entrepreneur and innovator arrives

With over two decades of experience in the music business, Wes Jackson is taking to a new beat since accepting the position as Emerson’s Director of the Business of Creative Enterprises (BCE) program – a fresh track for the New York City seasoned entrepreneur and innovator.

Prior to accepting the new role, which begins Jan. 16, the Bronx native earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Virginia. His career began with producing concerts for musical acts such as Nas, The Roots, Dave Matthews Band and De La Soul, before establishing his own promotions company, Seven Heads Entertainment, which was instrumental in launching the careers of musicians such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Rawkus Records.

When asked what initially drew him into the music business, Jackson replied, “Growing up in the Bronx, basically I was born the same year hip-hop as we know it was born, so it was really the culture that we lived in – the music, the fashion, the dance, even the philosophy was everything we did. My first musical memory is actually The Sugar Hill Gang’s ‘Rappers Delight’ – the first big hip-hop song. It was a special time in New York then, now it’s only gotten exponentially bigger.”

The avid reader and writer began producing events in college and then returned to New York after graduation to work for a record label managing artists. Jackson eventually founded Seven Heads Entertainment, and under his leadership, the promotion company expanded into a record label and management company.

“My record label was sort of at the last throes of the old music business before the ‘pre-Napster’ business. When streaming came in and file sharing [in the early 2000’s], the world just collapsed and I had to sort of reinvent myself. What I definitely want to communicate to students when I get [to Emerson], is it took a lot of failure,” said Jackson, admitting he hung onto his record label two years longer than he should have, resulting in unnecessary financial loss.

Facing the Music

“You sit there licking your wounds and you have a choice: It’s either fold up shop and teach public school, which was one of the things I thought of, or go and work for one of the big record labels and plug into the matrix. Or you sit there and question, ‘What did I do wrong?’ Let’s do that autopsy and see what mistakes I made. You have to step back and look at yourself objectively and not be afraid of the ugly parts. You have to have a macro view of things,” Jackson said.

When the record business crumbled, what surfaced was digital marketing. Jackson’s radio promotions company was then spun into the Room Service Group (RSG), one of the leaders in digital marketing that worked with Def Jam, Capitol, Warner Bros., Interscope, Vivendi, Converse and more. Eventually, the business felt unfulfilling and impersonal, said Jackson, noting the “old label guys” thought RSG’s tactics were wizardly when it really only involved sending mass emails instead of phone calls.

“But they were still five years behind. It was good for business, but I and my team at that time were creative people – we were art designers, graphic designers, writers and musicians,” said Jackson. That’s when he and his crew decided to physically reconnect people together by establishing The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival (BHF) and its boutique marketing and branding operation, Brooklyn Bodega, along with Hip-Hop content platforms, Brooklyn Bodega Radio and Bodega TV.

Activist Linda Sarsour and Wes Jackson at Medgar Evers College, 2017

“We were doing the digital and never saw anybody. We wanted to do something where we could have an old-school party. We wanted to kind of marry this old-school analog life that we came from with this new digital life that was emerging.”

Singing a different tune

After the economy crashed in 2008, Jackson recalled the period as a “tough time to be changing speeds,” in the music industry, coupled with a “lack of intellectual curiosity” for its crashing. He decided to further his understanding and return to school. From 2009-2012, Jackson earned his master’s degree at Manhattan’s The New School, a private non-profit research university. Meanwhile he served as a lecturer at the City University of New York (CUNY).

“What I realized is the business is full of people who are blissfully ignorant. In the classrooms and at grad school I’m surrounded by people who have a thirst for knowledge, and I found myself renewed by being around the latter. I wanted to be around people who want to be the new leaders. That’s when my bug for teaching and education came,” said Jackson, emphasizing he’s spent his career trying to be on the cuff of the music industry.

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish with your words and then follow it up with your actions. I was doing marketing for Eminem when he was in Detroit with a single. We were doing records for Common when he was broke. You catch these guys when they’re on the rise and nobody believes in them and you have the foresight that this guy’s going to be something and luckily, they remember you and we can keep doing business. This generation needs to have the courage of the current generation and wisdom of the older generation. There’s some knowledge I can pass along to the next Puff Daddy or the next Elon Musk or whatever person you want to be. I want to help facilitate that.”

In addition, Jackson’s consulted for Jazz at Lincoln Center and VH1 Hip-Hop Honors.

“Change is good. The person who’s wise enough to embrace it is the one who becomes the great leader. It’s the new experiences that keep my battery charged,” said Jackson.

“It’s an exciting time and I feel like it’s all converging into something that’s going to really explode. I think the BCE program seems to be perfectly setup to mentor and create the next leader. I’m really excited. Give some of these BCE students a couple of years, and they’re going to be on the cover of Time Magazine – That’s my plan.” 

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