Will.i.am made a surprise appearance presenting choreographer and director Fatima Robinson with an award for her long-running career in dance/art, working with the likes of Michael Jackson, Aaliyah, Black Eyed Peas and more. He told the story of being 18, hanging out in a club in Hollywood and going up to Robinson to let her know that he would work with her one day. He commended her for being receptive to his spontaneous greeting and prophetic words, noting how it significantly impacted and motivated him as an artist himself.
Other notable honorees included Roc Nation's Jana Fleishman, EVP of media & strategic development, who told the story of how many years ago her boss, JAY-Z, stopped her after a meeting to ask her why she didn't argue with him, inviting her to always think critically and question why she's being asked to do something in order to understand the purpose behind her work. Honoree Tunji Balogun, EVP of A&R for RCA Records and founder/CEO of Keep Cool Records, reminisced about the days his father would bring back tapes of MTV shows for him to watch when he was a kid living in Nigeria and how it inspired him to get into music. Honoree Shawn Gee, president of Live Nation Urban, spoke about how determined he was in getting hip-hop group the Roots to resonate with the greater music community.
Grammy nominated R&B singer-songwriter Tank made an appearance to talk about his experience working with the Icon Award honoree and president of Epic Records, Sylvia Rhone. Producer DJ Khaled also made a surprise appearance to commend Rhone and how much she's been a key advocate for him in the ascension of his career over the past few years. He noted how she was a "powerful queen" and "someone who is very important to the culture." After accepting the award, Rhone sat down for a brief interview in which she discussed how she got into the industry and what she's learned over the years about the industry. Regarding the change in what's valued, she declared, "We are no longer in the music business, we are in the content business." Furthermore, she noted how working in corporate meant "earning" and not "demanding" respect.
Other poignant parts of the awards presentation included Beats by Dre Defiance Award honoree Jemele Hill extending an olive branch to fellow black women in the audience to not have to feel void of a space to be vulnerable and honoree Rashaun Williams, general partner of the MPV All-Star Fund, speaking on the importance of investing early and giving the example of how an initial investment of $25,000 to Airbnb would be worth $75 million today.
The central theme to the brunch spoke to the black community protecting itself from culture vultures and individuals who are participating in a "feeding frenzy" to profit but not to pour into the next crop of young black creatives and executives. Rhone herself expounded on this warning, noting that "people are just picking up anything that's hip-hop but not digging in to see if the quality is there, and are we setting up artists to succeed." She spoke at length how Epic operates opposite in that vein, saying, "We care about the artists we have and nurture the artists we have."
A full list of honorees are below:
President, Epic Records
The Defiance Award
Chief correspondent & sr. columnist, The Undefeated ESPN
Lauren Wesley Wilson
President ColorComm, Inc.
Choreographer & director
Owner & fashion designer, STINSON HAUS
Co-Founder, JSN Studio
Film & Television
Charles D. King
Founder & CEO, MACRO
Writer & producer, creator of Black-ish
General partner, MVP All-Star Fund
President, Live Nation Urban
Co-founder, Keep Cool/EVP, A&R RCA Records
EVP, media & strategic development, Roc Nation
Partner & head of sports talent marketing, WME
CEO & co-founder, LISNR