Work For Free? RocNation Co-Presidents Share How Unpaid Internships Shaped Their Careers in the Music Industry

The career origin stories of RocNation’s co-presidents highlight the significance of internships, showcasing that these experiences can shape the trajectory of a young person’s life. They also serve as examples that, in addition to personal drive, the support of organizations and individuals invested in their success is crucial, providing valuable resources and opportunities.

Shari Bryant, and Omar Grant courtesy of Roc Nation (Photo: Roc Nation)

Music executives Shari Bryant and Omar Grant have been shaping the careers of artists since they were teens, assisting some of hip-hop and R&B’s biggest names as unpaid assistants with their eyes on the prize. Though their paths were different, they seemed to merge when the industry’s biggest power couple got together.

Who is Shari Bryant? How Her Harlem Hustle Paid Off

Bryant is actually a part of the original Roc-A-Fella crew and Grant has been with Beyoncé since she was in Destiny’s Child.

Bryant grew up in the 1199 apartment complex in East Harlem on 109th Street and First Avenue. She lived next door to Roc-A-Fella’s Dame Dash, who once called the high-rise residence, “the “best building in a bad neighborhood.”

In 1999, three years after Dash, Jay-Z, and Kareem “Biggs” Burke founded Roc-A-Fella Records, a 16-year-old Bryant asked her neighbor if she could shadow him at work. He agreed to allow her to intern at the record label and made sure she was equipped to lead.

Now, 39, she recalls that when she arrived at the office no one was expecting her.

“They were like, ‘Who are you?’” she said in an interview with Fortune magazine. “He finally comes in maybe like an hour later and he’s like, ‘Oh, yes, this is Shari. She’s from my building, and make sure that she learns everything that’s going on.’”

Adding, “When I walked into that company in 1999, I never looked back because I was able to see women that look like me, and it made me feel a sense of belonging.”

After two decades and a career spanning various labels, she now helps run Roc Nation. This is a full-service management, music publishing, and entertainment company, under the leadership of Roc Nation CEO Desiree Perez and co-founders Jay Brown and Jay-Z.

She doesn’t do this work alone. Grant helps move the machine beside her.

Who is Omar Grant? How Entertainment Was His Destiny

Grant was not raised next to an industry icon, but very early on he connected with a program called Yes2Jobs. Founded in 1987 in response to the NAACP’s criticism of the music industry and its lack of diversity in the boardroom and in management positions, the founders of A&M Records tapped their industry friends and started to provide opportunities to minorities in these spaces.

In addition to Grant, other titans in entertainment, like TV producer Carl Beverly, President & CMO of Warner Recorded Music Eric Wong, and former President of Motown Ethiopia Habtemariam, all came through the program according to the website.

As an intern, Grant was hired as an intern for Yvette Noel-Schure, Beyoncé’s longtime publicist. 

“I treated that internship like it was a real job because I fell in love with just everything about it. I fell in love with the artists coming through, the way people move, the way they wrote,” he said.

Noel-Schure introduced Grant to Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé’s father and former manager, who hired him as an assistant tour manager on Beyoncé’s Dangerously in Love tour for her debut solo album.

He then became the tour manager for other Destiny’s Child members, including Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.

Over the years, he expanded from just doing the grueling work of a tour manager to stepping into positions like management and being mentored by notable hip-hop managers like Steve Stoute and the late Chris Lighty.

Like Stoute and Lighty, who both started as road and tour managers and later transitioned into label heads and industry heavyweights, Grant was also hired at labels and served in several artists and repertoire (A&R) positions at different record labels.

His roles led to him being mentored by Jay-Z, Brown and Ty Ty Smith, which led him to Roc Nation.

“When they started Roc Nation, probably like the first year in, they were looking for A&Rs and building their team,” he says. “They remembered me because I always kept in contact, I always saw them around, and it just kind of came full circle.”

Internships Matter for Black Executives

Forbes Human Resources Council says internships for minorities can be valuable in opening doors. Their study found that internships help members of underserved communities gain exposure, get opportunities to learn and make mistakes, develop better professional skills, and direct people to long-term success.

Both Grant and Bryant are examples of that.

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