Lena Jenkins-Smith & Young Millennium Records
Lena is known to light up a room when she walks into it but she is also just as captivating, inspiring, and fun to speak with. To say I thoroughly enjoyed getting to talk with her is an understatement. This powerful woman holds, knowledge, experience, and pure hustle near and dear to her, something that we absolutely love!
As someone who radiates passion and positivity, what she has accomplished in her life is nothing short of amazing starting with her three different degrees, CEO of her own record label, working in production as a producer and executive producer, as well as assisting some of Hollywood’s elite, her story is one that will uplift many and leave you with a smile.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED WORKING IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?
I started working with studios and I worked with a company that built the sets for the studios it’s called The Kitchen Store and one of my first jobs was the Jamie Fox show. I already knew I was going to be in entertainment in some sort of way because my uncle worked for Berry Gordy and he was in music since I was like 3 years old. I was so fascinated with production and I would always come back to work late because I would be watching them build the sets. I did that job for probably 9 years. During this time I was in school studying to be a teacher, I did teaching for awhile and then I got laid off and started my own homeschooling and actually made more money doing that. While I was homeschooling I went to the Laugh Factory and I met Katt Williams and fortunately for me I didn’t know who he was. I met him and he asked what I did and I said I was a school teacher and he was like, “oh wow, that’s commendable” because he could see that I was multitasking at the table. Later, I saw some girls were going through his phone and so I snitched on the girls and told him that while he was in the bathroom these girls were going through his phone. He was like, “I’ve never had someone be so honest with me like that, like you don’t even know these girls and you were willing to say something in order to protect me, like you gotta come work for me.” So for a year I would teach school during the day and go work for him at night. He was doing the Tracy Morgan show at the time and so we were at NBC all the time and he would go out to the club after and I would be there because I was his assistant. Now when I say I was dog tired every single day I was because I was working two full time jobs and I had kids. And he was like, “I’ll never tell you to quit your job especially since it so important to the kids but when you’re ready to work for me full time you come let me know.” I promised I would see the kids through graduation because I was in charge of the graduation and once that was done I was like alright see you later. And I’ve been with Katt ever since then, for 16 years. I started off as his personal assistant then when the tour came around I became his tour manager and when we did specials he let me executive produce because he was like you got an eye for stuff so just make sure I like it.
YOU’VE HAD SO MANY DIFFERENT CAREERS. HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO TAKE BIG CAREER JUMPS AND RISKS?
I don’t really believe in doing jobs that you’re not passionate about, I mean people have to do what they have to do, but for me I believe that you don’t do well unless you’re passionate about what you do. Whether you’re an accountant, a barista, as a CEO, as a banker, or whatever it is you have to be passionate about it because you have to love what you do everyday in order to get up and do that job well and make other people around you feel good.
I love trying new things and I always encourage people to go after what they’ve always wanted to try. And if it doesn’t work then you know you kind of have to go back to the drawing board. I encourage people to not be afraid to try something they’ve always wanted to try. I mean I left a job that was paying three times what I was making to go teach school. I always had this dream as a little girl that I wanted to be a school teacher. I have such a profound respect for teachers now, cause I was like, “wow, teachers don’t make…like the garbage man makes more than teachers.” And that is so hard for me to accept because these are the people that are responsible for our feature generations and we are paying them like they are meaningless jobs. But the one thing that meant a lot to me in teaching was the impact I was able to make on a lot of people lives, that’s a big deal to me. In the end I just say if you’re able to do it and time allows then do it, and on top of that go back to school. You can always broaden your experiences and your skills, and never think that you’ve learned enough.
SINCE YOU WERE WORKING WITH KATT, HOW DID YOUNG MILLENNIUM RECORDS COME TO BE?
I decided about a year and half ago that I wanted to start my own record label, Young Millennium Records. I was on the road with Katt and while I was gone my son was sneaking in the studio recording songs. I didn’t even know he was trying to be an artist. Because I would never, just seeing how shady and dirty the business is I would never really want my kids to be in the industry. My son also knows how I am about music, I have an impeccable ear for music, I’m so into music. So I asked him “Why were you sneaking into the studio?” Because they were like giving him free studio time, these producers were working with him giving him all this free time.
What’s funny is how I found out about this was that one day I got a $34 bill from Patch Work and I was like “$34? I haven’t been to Patch Work in forever.” And I see it’s a food bill so I call and tell them that they must have sent it to the wrong email and they were like, “No your son was here and ordered a cheese burger…” and it was his normal order so I knew she was right. So I called him and asked what he was doing at Patch Work and he was like, “Mom don’t be mad, I’ve been recording some songs and I want you to hear it.” Meanwhile, I’m getting mad at the people helping him record like why didn’t you think to tell me? So I heard the music and I was like this kid…like I never knew. I never heard him sing before, I never heard him rap before and I’m listening to these songs like, “Wow there is something to this here.” And I’m like you know what if you’re gonna do it than I’m going to be behind your 1,000% and I’m going to manage you because I don’t want nobody else out here tryin to trick you, you’re gonna learn the game from me. And now as it all sits in my lap I’m back with Kat doing some stuff, I’m doing stuff for my son, I’m doing stuff for the label, I’m doing stuff for production so I’m kind of being pulled in four different directions right now but I would much rather that then me twiddling my thumbs wondering what I’m going to do.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO WORK WITH YOUNG UP AND COMING ARTIST?
Number one would be their passion, then it would be the honesty and grind. Kids, especially when they haven’t made it, it’s a different scenario. You don’t have to fight with them to get them to do stuff. When you see them they’re always working on their craft. They want it so bad that they are willing to do what it takes and are willing to go the extra mile. That part is what excites me the most because I love doing grass roots things and watching it blossom into whatever it’s gonna be and kids are the same way. They are young and they don’t know the business and so they are expecting you to teach them, they are open minded and are willing to listen. I always encourage my artists like if you don’t like what I’m saying lets have that conversation because I feel that every artist should have an active input in their career, their craft, and what they are learning to do because then you’re sure that they are being themselves. That’s what excites me about them because they come to me and are like show me the way and I’m like I may not know the exact way but I promise you we are going to figure it out together. And I think they like that because I never profess to know everything and I’m like if you ask me something and I don’t know then we are going to find out together.
WHO ARE THE ARTSTS WE SHOULD BE LOOKING OUT FOR RIGHT NOW?
Cyrus is one, he’s my son and he’s done lots of stuff. He’s opened up for Cardi B, Migos, Jacquees, Ayo & Teo and Silento. He’s getting ready to do a movie and drop another project and he’s getting ready to go on tour. Kallie Rock is my pop artist and she’s doing amazing things she just dropped a single, she has a lot on her plate right now and I feel like she is going to be the next version of Taylor swift. Then I have Camryn Levert, Gerald Levert’s daughter, and she is doing great things right now. And the thing I really love about her is she is so humble to come from a legend you know but she is not following the foot steps of her dad. The genera of her music is just so care free and she is going to be a star, she’s already a star in my eyes and I’m just waiting for the world to see it.
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUNG WOMEN ABOUT HOW TO MAKE IT IN A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY, SUCH AS MUSIC?
Be persistent, any of the nay sayers male or female just don’t listen to them, don’t let that discourage you. Guys can sometimes be intimidated by strong women, by women who just know what they want and who are willing to do what it takes to get it. And I don’t mean sleeping around and taking the cheat way, I mean put in the work, put in the effort to learn the craft and to take time and to network and do things like that. I would say continue to define your brand and there are guys out there that will help you. So go find those guys and be around those guys, don’t be around the ones you are always having to prove something too or think you can’t do it because they’re not going to support you anyways or they’ll come and try to support you after you made it. Stay true to what it is that you believe in and you can do it. Right now is the women’s time and I don’t know if it’s entirely because of the Me Too movement and all of the accusations that what come up but it’s created a lane for those of us that want to come through. And we aren’t trying to compete with you (men) and we aren’t trying to take your jobs we are trying to add to what it is you already have going on.
KNOWING EVERYTHING THAT YOU KNOW NOW, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Wow, that one will make you tear up. I would say to just take better care of yourself, your feelings, your emotions, your well being, and your health. Don’t be so egger to jump into situations without making sure that you’re going to be okay in those situations. My younger self just saw a lot of opportunities and I thought people would look out for me, that they would love me, and take care of me, and they would respect me, and it didn’t happen that way. There were a few that did but for the most part I went through a lot of heartache and pain. If I would have done more self care I would’ve done better, I still probably would’ve done almost everything that I did career wise. I don’t think I would have ever changed that path because that is what made me who I am today but I would’ve done it differently and paced myself more.
DESCRIBE YOUR SLAY.
I just started a non profit called Unbroken and it’s for battered women, women that suffer from domestic violence. Some people are strong and they get out and some aren’t able to. So my Slay has become everything that has happened to me I’m still unbroken. People literally tried to break me, I had situations that were physical, I’ve had situations that were mental, that were spiritual, where people purposely wanted to break my spirit and or break my bones. So in those types of situations I feel like my slay is being able to come out of that. Still being who I am, still loving people and still being forgiving, understanding, and still be connected with my spiritual self. It doesn’t matter how hard they tired, and I went through a lot and lost a lot in life but I’m not broken. I don’t feel like my slay has to do with what I do in production or in music, I feel like it’s me just being able to be a good person, to talk to people on a daily basis and let them know that I’m still good. That everything that happened to me that I’m okay. People tell me that when I walk into a room that I light up the room and I’m smiling and it makes them smile. But to know that my smile brings warmth to other people’s heart and if I walk into a room I’m noticed because of my aura- that’s deep for me. So I feel like that’s my slay, like my energy and my aura is my slay no matter what.