Wayno Clark discusses building a legacy in hip-hop, from his early days at Roc-A-Fella to his new position as Vice President of A&R at Quality Control.
There are no cutting corners when it comes to building a legacy. For Wayno Clark, much of the widespread recognition he gained today was due to his co-hosting duties on Everyday Struggle. However, as Kanye West’s jeen-yuhs documentary shows, his beginnings were in the Roc-A-Fella building in the early 2000s, before Ye even landed a deal as an artist. First as an intern, then as an A&R. The work he’s put in over the course of 20 years in the music industry has led him to his position as a vice president of A&R at Quality Control music. “I didn’t go to college but Roc-A-Fella was college for me. State Property was my fraternity,” he explained over a Zoom call with HNHH.
Wayno occupies an interesting space in the music industry, where he has the insight of an executive with the platform of a media personality. He currently hosts Connected on Amazon where he sits down for one-on-one conversations with some of the most prominent artists of our generation. It’s more personal and less salacious than what transpired on many episodes of Everyday Struggle. And it speaks directly to the artistic merit of hip-hop and how that perception can often differ depending on the platform.
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“I’ve only been doing media for four years, and while I might have leaped over a lot of shit, it has been a big learning experience,” he explained during our interview. “The reason why I said that there needs to be a little more transparency between the interviewer and the artist is that at end of the day, man, I always look at hip-hop culture as Black culture. Not discounting nothing from nobody, but everybody has their thing… I grew up on the East Side of Harlem and I grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood, I know what it meant for the parade to come around, and the festival, and how it was a big thing for them culturally. So with hip-hop culture, I feel like we just need to have more transparency so as to not try to make each other look crazy."
During our conversation with Wayno, he shared his thoughts on the albums vs. mixtapes conversation, his new role at Quality Control, and the importance of Kanye West’s Jeen-Yuhs documentary.
Interview edited for clarity and length.
HNHH: You started off in the Roc-A-Fella building and now you’re in a huge position at Quality Control. What’s the key to building an empire in hip hop?
Wayno: Man, patience and consistency. Honestly, at one point in time, I was actually trying to do that for myself when I had started my company Triangle Offense, which I still have and still work with artists through. But at the same time, I just didn’t have the patience any longer. It’s a very important thing when you have to be the go-to guy for everyone. And for myself, I took myself out of the position of wanting to run a company in that aspect and be an asset to a company like Quality Control. That’s why I made the decision to come over here. I was at Asylum prior but, yeah man, it takes patience. It takes a whole lot of patience and it takes creativity, also. Putting people around you that do things better than you.
Yeah, so I wanted to just jump into the deal between QC and Soundcloud. How do you think the average artist benefits from releasing music on Soundcloud in 2022?
It’s always a person’s starting point. I feel like even for major artists. When an artist that's on a major, whenever they wanna put out some type of music and stuff and they can’t get it cleared, where do they put it? They usually run it through YouTube and whitelist it or they put it through Soundcloud. Soundcloud is always a relevant part of the digital culture because I feel like it started a wave that made – before we get to the Distro Kids and all that.
I was doing management in the early 2000s. Before we were just worried about just monetizing the music, we were like, ‘Yo, we wanna get it heard,’ and Soundcloud was the easiest avenue. So, it’s really dope what they doing, Quality Control. It’s in very early stages, but they’re partnering with Solid Foundation which is a different division of the company than directly Quality Control but when I saw it I was like, ‘wow.’ It’s really dope. I think that it’s the starting point and I believe that they’re trying to figure out how to make it more than just a starting point.
As an A&R and your ability to just identify talent early, how do you feel Soundcloud’s been reclaiming that position as a gold mine for A&Rs?
Man, I think it goes back to what I said prior about it being a starting point because it’s like, Soundcloud before Spotify was showing the metrics, right? I think that the metrics conversation has grown ever since 50 Cent made it a thing with Soundscan. When Soundcloud first was becoming a thing, it was like, ‘Yo I got a million on Soundcloud’ and then you could actually see the people, as the song is playing, who are commenting. So, I feel like Soundcloud, for me being an A&R, it’s always a discovery tool, right? Because while I might go on the DSPs and figure out all of the records that are being put out commercially from an artist, even if they’re not signed, I could go to Soundcloud and I could hear the raw freestyle that they did before any of that. I haven’t gone on Soundcloud and looked, but I used to go there to listen to Lil Uzi’s shit that didn’t even meet the DSPs. So, I feel like it’s like a treasure box.
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How do you feel about the lines that are being blurred between mixtapes and albums? Obviously, that isn’t anything new in 2022 but we’re still seeing artists being like, ‘Yo, I’m just dropping a mixtape,’ and sometimes their mixtape seems like a debut album.
So, I’m happy you asked that because for myself, I’m old enough – I know a lot of people think I may not look it – to remember when a mixtape was actually a cassette tape. It was a DJ putting mixes through the tape. The same thing as freestyle. The whole term freestyle was originally going off the dome but freestyles had written lyrics, even when I was a kid. The LOX was doing freestyles. Those weren’t off the dome. So, the difference between the mixtape and album conversation, it’s a very tricky situation.
For myself, I feel like when you sign an artist now and you’re putting music out – yeah, it’s the same terms. You go through some of the same terms. It’s not the same exact terms but the term mixtape had become a kind of like a buffer to experiment. It’s like, ‘Okay, we just signed this new act. They’re really dope. Let’s put something out that while we gotta spend money on, we could monetize so that we could make some of the money back, but also give people a raw body of work as they get to know the artist better.’ I think the mixtape has become such an open conversation but it’s really about just giving out products where the audience can really discover who the artist is while the artist is basically figuring themselves out. Because a lot of people say, ‘Oh well, they putting these people in these deals and they making them do all these mixtapes before they get to an album,’ but artists don’t record the same way they used to. Think about Biggie’s debut album. Think about Snoop’s debut album. A lot of mixtapes, and shit – look at, I say, Kush & Orange Juice. Kush & Orange Juice wasn’t a debut but it was such a strong body of work. It was experimental but Wiz was still figuring out who he was before he did Rolling Papers. It took Kush & Orange Juice to get him to a point to make a “Black and Yellow.”So I feel like they’re just experimental, too. The thing I say is to make sure that your terms are right ‘cause you can’t get them to count. They do actually count but that’s all depending upon your deal terms. I’m not against a mixtape. I wish that artists would take more time and put it into their craft so that we could better debut albums instead of mixtapes but that’s just what it is right now.
Do you think we’ll ever get back to a point in Hip-Hop where rappers are bodying commercial instrumentals?
Nah, I think that’s why platforms like LA Leakers, Funk Master Flex, Fire in the Booth with Charlie Sloth. I think that’s why those platforms – because everybody’s trying to make money off of it. I think money was always being made. Early in my career, I wasn’t making no money [laughs] but I think that everybody had to sit back from a business standpoint and look and say, ‘Damn, we giving out all of this free shit and we’re not making anything off it.’
"I feel like when Wayne did Dedication, he just really wanted to get some shit out that people could really understand how good he was getting. Now, it might have been some money made in between that, but I feel like it was really for people to hear and feel his skillset. I wish it could get back to that point, but it’s so much money being made that nobody’s gonna let anything come out without a coin being behind it or a dollar sign being behind it."
I remember one time I had a conversation with Drama about like, ‘yo, why don’t you do mixtapes no more?’ And it’s like the conversation of the skill level isn’t there anymore. I feel like when Wayne did Dedication, he just really wanted to get some shit out that people could really understand how good he was getting. Now, it might have been some money made in between that, but I feel like it was really for people to hear and feel his skillset. I wish it could get back to that point, but it’s so much money being made that nobody’s gonna let anything come out without a coin being behind it or a dollar sign being behind it. Does that kind of rip the fabric of the culture? Sometimes but at the same time, man, we are still very new. I feel like hip-hop culture is still something very new, especially on the business side. On the business side, a lot of us are infants. As long as we’ve been in this, a lot of us are in our toddler stages of understanding business. As long as we’re willing to figure out the business, then we’ll be in better positions to where we could probably monetize those things and give an opportunity for that type of content to be heard in that space.
What were those initial conversations Coach & P? And I wanted to know, what was the best piece of advice they gave you?
I met Coach a few times when I used to manage Dave East. The first time I ever met Coach face to face was at the infamous 2016 XXL Freshman Cover shoot. That was the first time I had met Yachty, and it was really brief. I didn’t talk to Coach much at that time, but then we had a mutual friend who was an attorney that linked us up. Every time I saw Coach – ‘cause me and Dave, and at that time, Yachty was running around, we were doing a lot of the same shows. So, I would always see Coach and he just would always like just show me love and shout me out.
With P, we started talking through social media. Then when I was on Everyday Struggle and we interviewed Lil Baby, we had a conversation later on that day, and he just was telling me about just plans and thoughts he had about some things that were coming in the future. This is two years ago. This is around when My Turn dropped, and he was just telling me, like ‘yo, I got some plans to do some things for QC, and in the future, if our paths could cross again and our ideas align, I would love to have you on the team.’ And at the time, I was at Asylum and we were figuring a lot of things out, then the pandemic hit. And our initial conversations were that, and they progressed.
I grew genuine relationships with P and Coach until I got here, and once I even got here, my relationships strengthened even more. But some of the best advice that I get from P and Coach is – P is like a general. He’s a general, and he’s like, ‘Yo, let’s go out, let’s do it.’ He’s a strategist, as well, but Coach is a little bit more reserved, like, ‘Yeah, we gon’ do it but like we gon’ go about it this way.’ I think that’s why they work so well because they’re kind of like two different sides of the coin but they share the same hunger and goal to win. The advice that I get from them every day is like – I’ll thank them still. I’ve been here for eight months and then I’ll thank them. I really, I still can’t believe it. I be like, ‘I appreciate the opportunity.’ And P will be like, ‘Man, we just gotta get this work done.’ It’s so simple. He’s like, ‘Man, we just gotta get this work done. Man, don’t even trip.’ And we’ve been getting it done with the signings that we’ve been doing, with some of the albums we’ve been working on. So, it’s been special. I ain’t gonna lie. It’s been special.
How do you advise new artists going into interviews, especially when they don’t have the accolades but have all the potential in the world?
Man, that’s a good one. That’s a really good one. I don’t know if you know, Brandon Jinx. Jinx actually hit me up recently and told me that what he liked about me is that I’m in a very unique situation because I’m probably the only executive that’s a media personality. And the thing about me being a media personality is it’s not something I really – I swear, it never was on my vision board. It’s not anything that I intended for and I don’t try to minimize it. I don’t call myself a journalist out of respect for other journalists who really went to school for this and it was their dream and their passion. I’m still in my infancy of being a journalist. I’ve only been doing media for four years, and while I might have leaped over a lot of shit, it has been a big learning experience.
The reason why I said that there needs to be a little more transparency between the interviewer and the artist is that at end of the day, man, I always look at hip-hop culture as Black culture. Not discounting nothing from nobody, but everybody has their thing. Like, one thing I know about Irish people – I don’t know the backstory to St. Patrick’s Day, but I know that’s they shit. I know how prideful Mexican people are about Cinco De Mayo as opposed to it just being a day to get drunk. I grew up on the East Side of Harlem and I grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood, I know what it meant for the parade to come around, and the festival, and how it was a big thing for them culturally. So with hip-hop culture, I feel like we just need to have more transparency so as to not try to make each other look crazy.
You contextualized that whole scene with Kanye from Jeen-Yuhs storming the Roc-A-Fella buildings in a way that many weren’t considering. What’s the best way for an artist to get their music exposed to label executives these days?
I mean, it’s really tough because, along with Kanye, there’s a slew, there’s a ton of artists who used to stand in front of 825 8th Avenue and try to get their music played ‘cause that was their only opportunity. We didn’t have social media. I got into music around ‘99, like 2000. The year 2000. Phones ain’t even have color on them. Cell phones, they ain’t had cameras or colors so, your best bet was reading. You had to read a magazine. You had to read the back of your C.D. and see, oh, 825 8th Avenue and say, ‘You know what I’m gonna do? I’m going to sit out there every day and wait for Jay-Z to come outside or Ja Rule or DMX or Ludacris and whomever and I’ma shoot my shot.’ I think in today’s space, it’s social media but it’s not just social media. It’s the approach. Sometimes, I have artists who just have them and all of their friends tag me, ‘yo tag Wayno, tag Wayno, tag Wayno, tag Wayno,’ and I actually have gone to a lot of those pages and then the presentation isn’t right.
"We gotta look at the things that we grew up on if we want longevity in this shit and I feel like, at the conception of wanting to be an artist, you gotta come correctly. Coming correctly don’t mean that you just gotta bow down to me. Your presentation gotta be right."
I feel like the thing about music, and this is why I said, again, I’m just learning the business. My favorite sport is NBA, and my favorite film company is Marvel Studios. I’m a nerd. Drake called me a nerd on social media one time but I am a nerd when it comes to loving that type of shit because that’s the type of stuff that makes me happy, and I’m going to pay attention to rollouts. If we look at what they just did with this Batman movie. They’ve been promoting, like Matt Reeves released teaser footage, test footage of Batman, two years ago, and it was just him in a suit in a red room, and that set the internet on fire. We gotta start paying more attention to rollouts. We gotta look at the things that we grew up on if we want longevity in this shit and I feel like, at the conception of wanting to be an artist, you gotta come correctly. Coming correctly don’t mean that you just gotta bow down to me. Your presentation gotta be right.
What your feelings were about Kanye’s Jeen-Yuhs documentary? And why do you think it’s an important story to tell right now?
So, I actually haven’t watched it. I’ve just seen a lot of clips. I haven’t gotten a chance to watch it because I don’t necessarily watch everything when everybody else does if that makes sense. I was the kid who, when everybody got the Jordans I was the one who put them in the closet and wore them later. Because I didn’t want to wear black and red when everybody else had black and red on. So when the clip came out and a bunch of people hit me like, ‘is this you?’ I’m like, yeah that’s me. I think it’s important to tell his story the way that they’re doing it because, for one, nostalgia is such a big thing. Even for people who have seen me in that clip, because they have access to me, it makes them feel a little bit closer to the situation. So even if you want to disrespect me, they’re like, ‘oh man, fuck you because you were there and you didn’t see –’ So, it’s like the nostalgia fact of it is very important but I think that there are tons of kids, men, and women, from all walks of life, not just in America, in the Hood, even in the Burbs, that feel misunderstood and feel that people don’t see for them what they see for themselves. I feel like that’s for everybody. That’s not like a one-person thing. But I feel like Kanye’s story is so important because support is such an important thing. When you see the love of his mother who – I had the privilege of meeting his mom a few times, and she always was in the office, she was at every show. She was at the release party. She was at everything he ever did. There are so many young people out here having children and getting discouraged because they feel like what do I have to offer? Or even if their parent didn’t offer something to them, I think it’s so many layers to his story. The parenting side. The music side. The determination and belief. The belief in oneself is such an important factor in succeeding. That’s the part that we should all pay attention to. Not just a little tidbits of somebody not liking this or paying attention, it’s about belief in oneself and drive. Of course, it’s perfect timing, ‘cause Kanye got a lot of shit going on. But the biggest takeaway from it is if you feel discouraged – ‘cause even myself, even with Roc-A-Fella, starting my own shit, Everyday Struggle, Amazon, Dave East, QC. I still have my days where I might doubt myself a little bit. I still have my days. Every day ain’t sunny. So it’s important for these stories to be told and for us to share as people our journeys so that we could help one another.
Was there ever an instance where you tried to sign an artist, but it didn’t pull through and you saw them blow up at another label?
Meek Mill. I’ve known Meek since he was 16 years old before he caught his case. When I met Meek, I think I was around 21-22ish. I’m only a few years older than him, but I remember Oschino. Oschino from State Property. I used to live with Oschino for a couple of months. And he would play me Meek, and he was like, ‘Yo, he gon’ be the hottest kid coming out of Philly.’ And I used to tell people. Meek, he was a young kid, but he was in the streets, and I wouldn’t say he didn’t have a lot of connections but I was somebody from New York, essentially. So, I will always tell people, ‘Yo, Meek Mill. He gon’ be fire.’ And I remember telling this one dude that I was working with at the time. I had tried to start a clothing line and he was doing all my graphics and he used to shoot videos and shit, and I had told him, ‘yo, you should shoot some videos for Meek. He gon’ be outta here.’ And he’s like, ‘Man, he trash.’ He told me, ‘man, he ain’t that good. He be yellin’ and,’ this that the third. I just believed in him. He was another one that I wouldn’t say was necessarily just like Kanye, but if you met Meek when he was 16, you could just see it in his eyes that he wanted it more than anybody else I had met at that time. And I met a lot of artists being in Philly, man. And Meek, just he wanted it. Every pinnacle he’s hit in his career, I always laugh, like, ‘See, I knew it was gon’ happen.’ But Meek is one of them.
"He was another one that I wouldn’t say was necessarily just like Kanye, but if you met Meek [Mill] when he was 16, you could just see it in his eyes that he wanted it more than anybody else I had met at that time."
Pop Smoke happened really fast but Rico Beats, who was Pop Smoke's manager, had told me about Pop. And I only met Pop Smoke one time. It was before he got signed, I was walking into Def Jam for some business I was handling and he was walking out the building and Rico introduced me to him, and he told me, ‘Yo, big bro, I watch you like every day. You be talking for the young n***as, you be talking for us.’ And once Rico sent me all his styles I was like, ‘Yo, this kid is out of here.’ And we all seen that happen. It was really unfortunate but he’s another one that I believe would be something, instantly from the moment meeting him. ‘Cause he had his voice and his demeanor. Some people be too proud to say that they fuck with you. He was like, ‘yo, I fuck with you.’ And he gave me that energy so I say Pop Smoke, as well.
What’s one factor that’s motivated you throughout your career?
I wanted to be something that my mother could be proud of. For real. I didn’t have the roughest life growing up as a kid, but I didn’t have it easy. I might be one of the most, if not the most successful person in my immediate family. I was born and raised in the Bronx. I was born in 1982, and I grew up in the late ’80s, and early ’90s. I grew up in the ’90s as a child. Your vision and what you want for yourself are only going to go for a lot of people as far as what they can see. For me, I use my imagination. I was able to always think outside of where I was from because my mother would tell me things. I would look at pictures in my house and see my grandmother in Hawaii with the flowers. And I would say, what’s that? And they’re like, Hawaii. And I look at a map, and I’m like how she get over there? For me, my biggest motivation is just being something that my family could be proud of more than anything. My dad, he passed away a few years ago. But me and my dad had a very close relationship. My dad was a hustler and one of the things he always told me he admired about me was my hustle and my determination to get it done. Honestly, it’s not money. It’s not any cars. No women. No fancy shit. I’m a parent. It’s just wanting a better life for my children than I had growing up, and wanting a better life for my family than me and my wife had growing up so, it’s that more than anything. That’s my motivation.
Akademiks, he was talking about you on Twitch where he said that you’re a great figure in the industry because you’re seasoned but you’re always willing to learn. Do you think the industry could benefit from more people like yourself who embrace the future rather than sticking to the status quo?
Well, first, I wanna just say shout out to Akademiks. I didn’t expect that. Ak has never asked me for anything and I’ve never asked him for anything. His Twitch, while it might be entertainment, it’s a big deal. That’s how he makes his bread, so I was really appreciative that he took like 15 minutes just to talk about me. While me and Ak do have a relationship, I’m always gon’ be a fan of him. I enjoyed his commentary before I got to know him and I think he’s really misunderstood but aside from that, do I think that we could benefit from it? Absolutely. But at the same time, my mindset comes from my upbringing. Out of 7 grandkids, I was the only boy. I always was in the position of my peers. I grew up around women. I was raised by women. So when you a little boy and everybody knows you can’t call no big brother, they’re gon’ try you.
My mindset is a little bit different in the space that – yeah, do I think that people could benefit from that? Yes. Are they gonna adapt that? No. Because everybody has their own journey, but at the same time, the whole thing about ‘each one, teach one’ is… I seen a quote one time that says “An eye for an eye leaves the world blind.” And that really stuck out to me. I really believe that in order for us to have a sustainable way of life, we just gotta be nicer people. I grew up around a lot of negative. I swear and I’m not tryna be cliché, bro, I just be positive ‘cause I grew up around a lot of negativity. So I always look on the bright side. I look to influence my peers based on me motivating them and building them because I want the best for them. I’m a Muslim. I want for my brothers and my sisters what I want for myself. So, that’s why I’m always pushing my mindset.
Baby Money’s received some massive praise across the board. Why do you think people are excited about Baby Money right now?
Man, I brought Baby Money in. That was the first thing I did. And me, being from New York moving to a South-centric label, and signing an artist from the Midwest, none of it made sense. Instructions or ingredients-wise. What really drew me into Baby Money was his hustle. He reminded me a lot of Jeezy in a space of motivation. Even if you’re talking about it from the streets, we’re not gon’ sit here and act like just because Jeezy was talking about coke that he ain’t have us walking in our 9-5’s like we ain’t feel like we was conquering the building when we walked in. Jeezy provided that for us.
When I heard Baby Money for the first time, I actually didn’t sign him based on “Money Talk.” I actually signed him off of a record called “Chrome Heart” where he was just being kind of vulnerable. The video he did was dedicated to his mentor, his OG who had passed away untimely. It just showed me that he was a little bit more than just the average rapper. We working and we about to start working on this next project and all that but Baby Money, man, I believe in that kid. I feel like he could put us in a space where we want to get money, like we want to get to it. May that be that you’re 9-5. May that be that your business you just starting. May that be you in school. May that be you’re an athlete and you gotta get up and practice, you need some motivation. I feel like Baby Money’s gonna provide a soundtrack for everyone. And by the time we get this next project out, they gonna see. They gon’ see, for real.
We got a release date on that yet?
Nah, nah nah nah. Easy Money is out right now though. It’s doing very well. I’m very proud of it. I’m just proud of the growth that Baby Money is having. It’s not just because of QC. Because it’s actually no QC artists featured on his project. It’s just him being from Detroit and people genuinely enjoying the music. They’re discovering him, and he got a lot more to say. I feel like coming out of Detroit – of course, I worked with Sada Baby when I was at Asylum. I feel like Sada, he’s like Jimi Hendrix to me if he really put his mind to it on the artist side ‘cause he’s got a lot of layers. But I feel like Baby Money is one of the ones coming out the D. It’s a lot of people coming from there right now but he’s one of the ones.
Final question I have for you. This is a two-part question. One, what’s the 10-year plan? And two, what do you hope your legacy will be when all is said and done?
For the 10-year plan, man, I never really thought about a 10-year plan. Everything is very short-sighted for me because growing up how I grew up, it was really hard for us to think at 20, being 30. It was hard for me to think of – I say this, and I want kids to hear this, I felt when I was 14, I wouldn’t make it to 18 based on what I was growing up around and my environment. But I don’t think like that anymore. As far as a 10-year plan, I’m just really trying to... I’m doing music. I’m here with QC. This is what I’m repping. Anybody who knows me, I’m wearing this as my badge of honor. I plan to grow with this company over the next 10 years if I’m able to and I’m in the music side. I want to learn sports one day. I want to learn about films one day. I feel like this is almost like college for me. I didn’t go to college but Roc-A-Fella was college for me. State Property was my fraternity. My plan is just to grow as a person, and just get better because the better I get as a person, the better I get at everything else. So that’s my plan as far as my 10-year plan ‘cause in 10 years I’ll be 49. I’m 39 right now. I’ll be 49, I’m like, ‘damn, 50.’ That’s.. Woo. So I’ma look forward to my kids [cause they] will really be grown by that time.
Not to get too dark or anything but I lost my pops two years ago, and he was my best friend. And when I lost my pops, it wasn’t a sad day for me when I was at his funeral. Everybody who came up to me told me how good of a man he was, and what he meant to them. How much he meant to his community. For myself, my legacy that I want to leave is that whenever I got to leave this earth, may that be tomorrow, ten years down the line, or next year – whenever it comes – I want people to be able to walk up to my children and my wife and be honest with them and be like ‘I saw him. I saw your dad talk on this.’ Or ‘I seen your dad do this, and he made me go get it. Your dad motivated me to make me feel like I could be something because I dropped out of high school,’ and this is a community of people who have dropped out of high school and feel discouraged and feel like they can’t do anything because we’re told that the only way we’ll be successful is if we have a diploma or a degree or whatever the case may be. And I believed in myself ever since I was 4-years-old. Even though I have my patches where I might dip and I might not always have that confidence, I always saw a bigger picture. So I just want to be able to leave a legacy where young men and women from every walk of life, especially from Harlem and the Bronx ‘cause that’s where I’m from and that’s why I love, to be able to say that was my example.