Shari Bryant once lived in the same apartment building as Damon Dash. That proximity marked her entry into the music business, but it was her love of music and desire to serve that kept her there.
Bryant had loved music for years. When other kids on the East Side of Harlem were playing in the streets, she was two-stepping to classics with her mother. “All I did was watch music videos as a young girl, I wasn’t into cartoons,” she tells ESSENCE. “My mom played R&B Hip-Hop soul throughout the house and I was a music head.”
When a teenage Bryant saw her neighbor on television with Jay Z she didn’t understand exactly what they were doing, but she knew she wanted to be a part of it. Dash was a family friend so she approached him for a chance to aid in the making of a dynasty.
“I asked him if I could come down to the office and he was like, sure, come down tomorrow.” At the time, the business of hip-hop was still in its infancy so the office was more startup than conglomerate. “I went down and my first day no one knew that I was coming. He didn’t prep anybody. He wasn’t there.” Instead, Bryant was welcomed by Dash’s then-assistant Carline Balan who had two words of advice for the newcomer: “dive in.”
Seeing Balan and other Black women in the office was affirming for Bryant. “It felt like home when I walked into Roc-A-Fella records on 825 8th Avenue,” she recalls. “Seeing Black woman that I felt looked like my aunties and my mom, it was my confirmation and it made me already feel like I could do this.”
Black women were vital to the success of the fledgling organization and Bryant seized every opportunity to shine among the skeletal staff. “A boutique company is very different. I just had to pick up and go with what was needed at that particular time.”
She pitched in across departments and balanced her studies at John Jay College with the demands of her internship. “I just always wanted to overachieve,” she explains. “I didn’t want it to feel like, ‘Okay, cause she’s at school, take it easy on her.’ I just wanted to always show that I had the ability to do whatever was needed of me at the time, even if it meant staying late, you know, whatever the job called for.”
Maintaining that sense of commitment helped Bryant work her way through the industry’s ranks. She became Co-President of Roc Nation in 2019, using the same hands-on approach that kick-started her career while at the helm of the entertainment company.
“I always say the same rules still apply: working hard, letting your work speak for you, you know, not being too big for a job. I don’t think that that changes. And I think those are the type of values that continue to get you in the door and keep you there,” says Bryant. “I always say you can have the gift of gab, you can network and meet a bunch of people and those things get you through the door, but those things don’t keep you there.”
Another insider tip from Bryant is “seeking out who needs help” and finding a way to demonstrate your value to them. “This is a very competitive business and you’re not going to just get in the door without any experience just by sending in a resume so have to find ways to get to that experience,” she explains.“The assistants and coordinators that I’ve hired that have gone on to become product managers and A&Rs are all people that started as interns and volunteered first. That’s the best way to grow in the business. I’m a big advocate of just working your way to the top and taking the stairs and not the elevator.”
Bryant established a growing virtual community called Pinkest Luv to share some of what she’s learned over the years with young women and girls. She uses the community’s blog and Instagram page to give some of the same advice she gives in the boardroom to tomorrow’s industry leaders. She recommends today’s interns identify who they are and what they want before seeking out a position the same way artists should before signing a record contract. “I think that that lesson is especially important because being able to choose what you want and how you want it and us being that vehicle to amplify it for you gives you that much more confidence.”
As for Bryant’s own journey, there are three things she credits with her longevity in the music business. “I believe in leading with empathy, leading with passion, and leading with purpose. I attribute everything to empathy, passion, and purpose because I apply all of that into my work.”
For Bryant, someone’s potential can’t be measured by data. She moves based on what she feels is right. “I don’t want to do anything that I’m not passionate about. I don’t care what dollar is attached to it. I don’t chase money, I chase purpose and opportunity. I’m very intentional about that. You have to be because if you’re not intentional, you could be living somebody else’s life.”