Jennifer Justice, you are an entertainment and live experience executive known for your experience in building artist careers and business portfolios by marrying art with commerce. You’ve been named a Game Changer by Goop, by InStyle as one of the 50 bad-ass women changing the world, and you have landed on Billboard’s Women in Power list three times. You’ve been featured on The Today Show, and you are a regular contributor on NBC News. You’ve got quite an amazing background in terms of serving as Jay-Z and Beyonce’s personal attorney at Roc Nation, founding The Justice Department that works with female entrepreneurs, executives, and talents. How did you first get started?
Well, that is a very loaded question there. We could focus on just that for a very long time. I wanted to be a music attorney. I came from a family that didn’t have higher education. I was the first to go to college. I was like, “What can I do?” I went to the University of Washington, and I graduated. The career center sent me on interviews with insurance sales and wine distribution. And I was like, “Okay, well, that’s not going to work.” Well, I just watched TV and said, “Okay, I could be a doctor, lawyer, or a banker.” I decided on lawyer. It was that rudimentary.
I was hanging out in Seattle during the grunge years. During those years, I went to college, and I applied to law school and got into Cornell, thankfully, on a scholarship. They asked, “Where are you going?” I was like, “Law school.” They’re like, “Oh, you know what? Our lawyers are women.” I said, “Done, sign me up.” I went to law school to become a music attorney. I got a job in that field right after graduating. I worked in a Wall Street law firm for a while, got into that. My first client was a then-unknown Jay-Z. That’s how I got into the entertainment law space.
We know Jay-Z, now, right? Hindsight’s 20/20. Music agents have a limited role. They do mostly the live experience. They rely primarily on managers, agents, lawyers, et cetera for their business. Daisy did source and vet many of the deals Jay-Z wanted to do, especially those outside his main career as a musician.
I was representing a lot of artists, all different kinds of artists. I was a partner at this firm that I got hired at, right after the Wall Street gig, about six months after law school. Jay-Z was a very young client at the time. Hard Knock Life hadn’t come out yet. I then started representing many different hip-hop artists, in particular, Method Man, Redman, Outkast. I would do a deal for a male doing director level of a big publishing company. He was offered $130,000. And then I did one for a female, and she was offered $90,000, and she was his boss. That kind of got me into this female equality space. So, I’m representing Jay-Z, who was building his hobbies into businesses—marrying art and commerce, helping him build up his enterprise. And then I was representing all these women. And so, it kind of married the two with The Justice Department, which I’m sure we’ll get into a little more.
So, when you first started working with Jay-Z, he was not the powerhouse that he would become, right? I mean, he was kind of a young guy trying to break out? I just read yesterday, I think, that he made this massive investment in a champagne company just recently, right? It’s taking off. I mean, anything he touches turns to gold. That’s now, though, right? But how long did it take for him to develop that sort of entrepreneurial skill? And were you still in his life as that power came together for Jay-Z?
So, I started with him at the end of the nineties, right before Hard Knock Life came out. At one point, about three years later, he retired, and then later, he decided to come out of retirement. He retired from being an artist and then came back, and that’s when he really started building his brand more and more. So, we would do partnerships, et cetera. Jay-Z is very interesting because he is never afraid to say no to things, especially if those things don’t resonate with him. He also wanted to build enterprise value for himself, not just be the middleman. Why build somebody else’s brand? You must be able to build your own at the same time, or just your own.
We did a lot of joint ventures and a lot of investment-type things. That grew over time.
All told, I was with him for 17 years. So, I helped do the deal for them to start Roc Nation. I then went in-house to Roc Nation. I was the EVP (executive vice president) doing all strategic marketing and business development. And then I left a little over five years ago. So, while he started the champagne company, while I was still a part of his life, I’ve not done any work with him or Beyonce in the last five years.
What inspired you to start The Justice Department?
Well, I noticed that I’ve been in business rooms and business situations and conference rooms for a long time, and I was trained very well. But most of the time, the people sitting in those rooms were men. I had great mentors and relationships and knew how to conduct business very well with them. Still, women are 50% of the population, and I had represented a lot of women.
We all just did a lot of thinking about why it was that having 50% of the population, everybody seemed to care about diversity and wanted diversity in their companies. What was it that was not happening?
I knew these women who were also in entertainment. Be it that they were talent in music or film or female founders or chefs. Whatever it was. Why aren’t their careers and businesses taking off the same way as they are for men?
I was reading something yesterday, and it had all to do with the crypto space. Not one woman was mentioned in the entire thing. “This person started this, this, this.” And it’s not for lack of interest from women. Still, a lot of the time, I concluded that it’s a lack of understanding from many different angles, not just understanding but also a lack of accessibility. Not the same opportunities are given. Not the same amount of access to business advice and strategy, and from a women’s perspective, right? We’re equal, but we are different. We have different chromosomes. So, by definition, biologically, we’re different. How could I help women, using my experience and everything I’d done, make more money? Because if women have more money, then they have more power. If they have more power, I think we can help make this world a much better place.
That was really the emphasis behind it, and just seeing it firsthand and now really seeing it firsthand, having represented mostly women for the last two years, how they’re constantly underpaid, underfunded, underestimated, and have lack of access and opportunities. And so, I wanted to give all the experience that I had from representing somebody like Jay-Z, who was, I wouldn’t say he was ever a normal guy, because his brain works in very mysterious ways, but he was not the person we know today, this powerhouse, and watching that transition and doing the same thing I was doing and legal strategy, business development, but doing it mostly for women.
When I heard art to commerce, now I understand music, the music industry, the artist, the commerce, but do you do more than music? Are you in other categories?
Yes. Since the start of The Justice Department, I’ve done all different categories. Still, most of the things fall in the category of media entertainment, anything to do with sponsorship, partnerships. You take something, and you have your core business. How do you grow that? And that’s really where our core business is, taking somebody who has a core business and then growing that. It could be a scientist who wants to grow out into media or entertainment or product or whatever and helping them. I don’t know what their process is to do a lot of that. So, it’s just growing their businesses, doing their deals in a way that they can actually have a real enterprise value and grow their business.
Do you bring deals together as part of your duties when working with artists to create joint ventures? Or do they have enough flow that you’re just helping them deal with the flow they get or do you also create some of the activities for that?
That’s a great question. It’s all of the above. So, at first, just to go out and try to create deals, you would need a team of 50 people just to do that for one person and all the different segments you could partner with. It’s figuring out first who’s coming to you, and then of those deals, how many can you really do? Getting the best deal, somebody could come and say, “Hey, I want you to do a post for $5,000.” I’m like, “You know what, why don’t we create something much bigger? Let’s create a bigger thing around you.” You seem to have this problem. Do you need this? And then how can we do that, and how can we build that?
What is the pie in the sky things that you want to do? What is authentic to you? What could you own? Who can we partner with to see how to do it and then grow it into your own business? So, ultimately, it’s to be able to have businesses where you make money while you sleep. To do that, you have to test the market and test the waters. And so, it’s about finding those pockets where you end up doing really well and you resonate with. I’m sure you both know that feeling very well.
Your passion is obvious. What do you like best about what you’re doing?
Well, I love the fact that I have seven-year-old twins. I’m a single mom to boy and girl twins. I know what I’m doing is only helping. I know that I am putting good energy out into the world, and I’m helping women have the ability to say “eff off” in situations they don’t want to be in. Because money doesn’t make you happy, but it gives you confidence and gives you choices. When you don’t have choices, that’s unhappiness. And so, I love helping them understand what their worth is. And I love helping them understand that you don’t have to know everything.
Men have known this forever. You guys grow up in team sport, and you’re like, “Oh, I’m a really good forward. I’m really good at defense. I’m really good on the bench. I’m a really good manager.” Okay?
But women don’t grow up in those team sports as much, and we don’t have those opportunities.
To understand that it’s like, okay, just because I’m a female founder doesn’t mean I should know everything. I used to be in PR before, so that’s what I should focus on. I need to hire the right people around me for the business side, and how do I hire those right people?
Is it just the people that everybody says I should hire? Are they really the type of person that resonates with me? So, I like putting those pieces together for them and helping them understand that what they’re doing is totally right. They’re not doing anything wrong, and they shouldn’t know everything. Another thing is psyching out a lot of women, and that is this feeling that we need to be 130% prepared to do anything at a hundred percent.
I was reading about Scooter Braun and the singer who had a big battle about her recordings’ rights.
Jennifer Justice: Taylor Swift.
Taylor Swift. So, Taylor’s complaining that Scooter is wrong by telling her that he owns the assets. What was your take on that whole thing? And it was hard for me, even, as an industry person, to think who’s right and who’s wrong here.
Right. I mean, there’s a little bit of business and a little bit of emotion there. So, when you’re dealing with songwriters, Taylor Swift writes songs. She’s emotionally invested in those songs and what happens to them. But ultimately, Scooter did a deal where he bought the master recordings from the original owner, Scott Borchetta. And so, I don’t really know the ins and outs and the details of it. And I’m sure there are sides of the story we’re not hearing, but you do have those rerecord restrictions.
When you’re an artist, you sell the rights to your master recordings in exchange for money. She had done that before. She was not getting the response that she wanted. I even read that she had offered to buy them back. To me, it’s like, it’s a little half won, you know what I mean? You’re told not to be passionate in business and not get emotional about it. But at the same time, how do you not when the product is literally your psyche? Do you know what I mean? It’s emotional to you.
I wish it could have worked out better. I wish Taylor could have gotten those master recordings, especially as a woman. And now she has power, and she has money. It would have been great if they could have worked something out. But it seems to be mostly about money. That’s why it’s really hard in the music industry. Many people I know have been in the hedge fund, private equity industry, are always scratching their heads at the music industry. They’re like, “I do not understand it. I do not understand it at all.” Because it’s a product, it’s not a shampoo or a bottle of water that you can sell or a pop chip or whatever. It’s where a human being is actually, quote-unquote, “the product.” And so, that’s why it becomes so hard.
You’ve achieved so much success. What’s your biggest challenge now?
I mean, taking the advice I give other women. It’s like, how do I scale? I’m one person. I should be interviewing you guys about that. You know what I mean? And it’s just, that’s part of it. Isn’t it always? It’s like the cobbler who has no shoes and the manicurist with bad nails, all of that kind of stuff.
It’s like I’m the person who’s giving all this advice, and then it’s just, “Oh, sure. I can do that for free.”
Or yeah, why am I growing my own? So, it’s a constant inner struggle I have with myself. It feels good to say it out loud. It’s like a little bit of therapy here. Thank you.
You talked about following your own advice. You give advice professionally every single day. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
I just want to preface this by saying that lifting women up does not mean putting men down. I love working with men, but the best advice I’ve ever gotten is, whenever you doubt yourself, think what a straight white man would do, and then do that. Put yourself in a position that you’ve not been in before, but as someone who sets themselves up to succeed, which is advice that I do like.
What has been the most unique deal that you’ve brought to fruition for one of your clients? And you don’t have to name them if it’s confidential, but what was the most unique deal that you were like, “I can’t believe we’re doing X”?
I think a lot of them have to do with bringing music and technology together in a way that no one had ever thought of. To the point that when it happened, the people involved didn’t know if they should have been excited about it or think it’s the worst deal ever. Those kinds of deals were always really, really amazing for me. And I know that’s super nebulous. Because being an attorney, I can’t give any confidential information, but I just made a deal for a woman who had been at a company, who had been “making it” for a really long time. I knew that she was underestimated. I knew she was underpaid and then we were able to transform her situation. We got her deal at another agency where she’s running the entire thing. And she was just like, “I didn’t even know it was possible.” And so, that gives me great joy, because it’s life-changing money. And it was something that people did not think could be done. So, I love doing that too.
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