COVER STORY | When we list the urban music moguls of the 90’s like Sean “Puffy” Combs, Jermaine Dupri, Master P, and Russell Simmons, we are often remiss in acknowledging Kedar Massenburg. An overlooked king of the culture, the music executive established a swift and mighty presence that is worthy to be praised. Responsible for the careers of music’s most revolutionary artists, Massenburg trademarked the music we so affectionately call “Neo Soul”, changing the sound of R&B forever.
William “Kedar” Massenburg is a personal hero. A fellow native of Brooklyn, New York, he rose from humble beginnings in Flatbush streets to become master of his own empire and author of his own legacy. After paying his way through college, Kedar began a career in marketing including titles as district manager for PepsiCo and territory manager for SmithKlinke Beecham Clinical Labs Pharmaceuticals; however, his dreams outweighed security. Keeping his eye on entertainment, Massenburg enrolled at The University of North Carolina Law School to learn the legalese and contractual side the industry. Equipped with street smarts, educational principles, and $1,700, he purchased a fax machine, copier, cell phone and desk to launch Kedar Entertainment; a label was born.
In 1995, Kedar Records signed its first artist, Erykah Badu. With hustler’s ambition, Massenburg implemented grassroots marketing techniques which included passing out 1,000 copies of an unknown bluesy single “On & On” to people outside of the 1996 Soul Train Awards. With Badu’s unique blend of jazz/hip-hop/soul, she released her iconic debut album, Baduizm in 1997; a star was born.
Cultivating relationships to rally support around his artists became Massenburg’s signature approach nationally. As manager of then-emerging artist, D’Angelo, he invested heavily in opportunities to have his artist heard ahead of his 1995 debut. All-expenses paid experiences to intimate performances and meet & greets gained major support, solidifying the single, “Brown Sugar:” and LP of the same name, as a critically-acclaimed masterpiece.
When Chico DeBarge’s soulful new music caught Massenburg’s ear, he signed to Kedar Records to release his comeback album. Long Time No See in 1997, chronicling the musician’s five years of incarceration and his hunger for fresh-outta-jail lovin’ with smokey grooves often drawing comparisons to Marvin Gaye. Defining the sound of his musical roster, Massenburg coined the term Neo-Soul. A melting pot of Rhythm, Blues and Soul music, peppered with Jazz, Hip-Hop, Gospel and Funk, fellow 90’s artists Maxwell, Lauryn Hill, and Raphael Saadiq, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Angie Stone took their place within the founder’s circle; a genre was born.
In 1998, Massenburg became the President & CEO of Motown Records at age 35. Balancing the label’s legendary roster, Kedar introduced a new class of artists to regenerate and push the legacy forward. For six years, Massenburg revived Motown Records with releases from Badu (Mama’s Gun), Brian McKnight (Back At One), 702 (“Where My Girls At”), and new signees India.Arie, Akon, Profyle, and Kem. From 1997-2004, Massenburg was also the long-time manager of Joe. Under Massenburg’s stewardship, the singer-songwriter released his most successful albums to date; All That I Am, My Name Is Joe, and Better Days, recordings that established him as one of R&B’s living legends.
After leaving Motown in 2004, Massenburg expanded his empire, founding Kedar Beverages LLC in 2005. Before Puffy partnered with luxury vodka brand, Ciroc, Massenburg owned his own vineyard in Bordeaux, France, producing his own nationally distributed wine called K’orus and becoming a true renaissance man. Kedar is currently the President and CEO of Massenburg Media.
R&B would not be where it is today without Kedar Massenburg’s vision for the evolution of music and his ear for the preservation of soul. We salute his contributions as they paved the way for the new millennium’s mainstream soul stirrers: Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Anthony Hamilton, Ledisi, Bilal, John Legend, Leela James, Alicia Keys, Raheem DeVaughn, and countless others. A legacy continues.
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