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When listing the most accomplished and esteemed music executives of the hip hop generation, Sylvia Rhone is one name that is sure to be brought up sooner than later. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in Harlem, New York; the Wharton School, University Pennsylvania graduate initially planned to pursue a career in finance. However, the allure of the music industry prompted Rhone to change course, as the firebrand parlayed a gig as a secretary for Buddah Records into a wildly successful tenure in the music industry.
Spending the better part of the past four decades making her bones, in 2019, Rhone is recognized as one of the greatest music minds of her time. Recently named Chairman/CEO of Epic Records, Rhone continues to be a trailblazer for African-American women in executive positions, while adding to her legacy.
With news of her recent promotion garnering headlines, REVOLT looks back at Rhone’s career and highlight seven reasons she’s considered not only the “Godmother of Hip Hop,” but a music legend.
1. She Helped Spearhead EastWest Records
In 1990, Rhone made her first big splash when she was tapped to head Atlantic Records subsidiary EastWest Records, one of the more pivotal imprints in hip hop of its era. Home to the likes of MC Lyte, Das EFX, Yo-Yo, and The D.O.C., EastWest’s success put Rhone on the rap radar and continued her upward trajectory through the ranks of the music business.
2. She’s The First African-American Woman To Lead A Major Record Company
After climbing up the music industry ladder for the better part of two decades, Rhone broke a major barrier in 1994 by becoming the first African-American woman in history to lead a major record label. Appointed Chairman/CEO of Elektra Entertainment Group, Rhone oversaw a roster loaded with a list of rap stars including Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Fabolous. This helped entrench her as one of the biggest power brokers in the music industry.
3. She Has Co-Signs From Rap’s Elite
No genre of music spotlights the players pulling strings behind the scenes like rap music, with the game’s biggest artists name-dropping various executives in their lyrics and turning them into household names. One of the more popular movers and shakers to be referenced in a rap song on multiple occasions is Rhone; whose name has been mentioned by Drake, Nicki Minaj, Yo Gotti, Busta Rhymes, Fabolous, and more throughout the years.
4. Her Portfolio Is Diverse
Rhone’s reputation may have largely been built through her contributions to hip hop. However, the industry maven has refused to be boxed in as a one-tricky pony. Over the course of her career, her ability to produce star talent has stretched to the world of R&B (En Vogue, Brandy, Levert, Miki Howard, Chuckii Booker, Miki Howard), as well as Rock (AC/DC, Simply Red). This is a testament to her versatility.
5. She Has Longevity
In a field where success can be brief, Rhone has managed to stand the test of time, adapting to each new era and the changes that come with them, in effortless fashion. Having played an instrumental role in hip hop since the mid-80s, she’s endured plenty of peaks and valleys during this time in the biz. And with her new position as the head of Epic Records secure, her reign as one of the most important suits in music appears to be far from over.
6. She Transformed Epic Records Into A Rap Powerhouse
Following high-ranking posts at Universal Motown Records and Universal Records, in 2014, Rhone began yet another chapter to her illustrious career with her arrival at Epic Records. Handpicked as the label’s new president by then-chairman L.A. Reid, she helped breath new life into Epic by ushering acts like Future, Travis Scott, and DJ Khaled into mainstream stardom before her promotion, while also acquiring new talent like 21 Savage and Flipp Dinero.
7. She Received An Honorary Doctorate of Music Degree From Berklee College of Music
In 2019, Rhone reached yet another milestone when it was announced that the esteemed executive would be receiving an honorary Doctorate of Music Degree from the Berklee College of Music. Previously received by music icons like Aretha Franklin and David Bowie, the honorary degree was given to Rhone in light of her historic contributions to the music industry. This is further evidence of his stature within the realm of entertainment.
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