When she was 5-years old, KeiSaundra ‘Kei Opens Doors’ Henderson moved from her birthplace of Cleveland, Ohio to Alpharetta, Georgia―a suburb 27 miles north of downtown Atlanta. Kei was naturally drawn to, and enamored by hip-hop as an art form and culture. Collecting copies of XXL and The Source magazine is how she fed a growing enthusiasm for hip-hop and journalism. More than just the artists, music, and culture, Kei was fascinated by the music moguls on the rise―P. Diddy, Sylvia Rhone, and Steve Stoute. They were the heroes she looked up to, watching as they made the paths through the music industry that she hope to one day follow.
Upon graduating from Colin Hills High School, Kei departed from Georgia to attend Elon University in North Carolina. She graduated in 2006, leaving the university with a dual degree in journalism and mass communications. Kei’s dream was to depart from North Carolina straight for New York City, but money was too tight to make the transition right after graduation. She chose home instead and returned back to Atlanta, Georgia. Determined to turn the city into the central hub for her passions, Kei began event promotions, indie showcases, and freelance lifestyle blogging as 1/3rd of Lavish Life Social Club, a company she started.
The Royal―a former club in downtown Atlanta―is where Kei met the late, Old Fourth Ward legend, Grip Playz. Their paths continued to cross throughout 2007, the familiarity and friendship lead Grip to ask if Kei would manage his rap career. Grip was Kei’s gateway artist, bringing the young, mogul-minded entrepreneur into the world of talent management. He was the first artist to ever make the request; being a manager wasn’t the path Kei sought, but was chosen, and Grip wouldn’t be the last to choose her. The two became thick as thieves, navigating through Atlanta’s underground as their names became more notarized.
Kei started Governed By Loyalty (d.b.a. King Me Collective) soon after the members of Lavish Life Social Club separated. The vision for the newly created brand was to umbrella passions such as talent management, brand management, digital marketing, influencer activation, and project management. The name was new, but Kei’s overall empire building business mindset did not change. She continued her operation in Atlanta overseeing Grip, along with a few other acts until mid-2010. An offer to work as the advertising sales assistant for Complex Media required relocating to New York City, four years later than she originally planned. Kei’s tenure lasted three years, a period in which she became the first Complex employee to access and operate as head of their social media channels. Before leaving the pop culture behemoth to work in marketing for the streetwear clothing brand, 10. Deep, Kei successfully increased Complex’s social channel by 400%.
Governed By Loyalty and Kei’s focus on managing talent wasn’t hindered as she entered different offices wearing various hats. She recalls this phase in her life as interning all over the country, but not for free. Working in each field and hustling across the states as a freelance manager and special project specialist is how she built up contacts in every industry from music and fashion to tech and publishing. Initially, during the beginning of her time working at Complex, Kei was asked by Curtis Williams and Key! of the Atlanta rap collective Two-9 to assist with their management. By early 2011, when Key! decided to leave the group to pursue his ambitions as a solo artist, Kei remained on board managing. It was through Key! that she met Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, better known as 21 Savage in October of 2014 during the annual Atlanta hip-hop festival, A3C.
Under Kei’s expert tutelage and strategic guidance, 21 Savage transformed from local champion to global phenomenon in under three years. The East Atlanta rap star has been on the cover of XXL as a 2016 Freshmen, achieved a platinum plaque for the 2016 Metro Boomin-produced EP, Savage Mode, and a platinum hit single with the Future-assisted, “X” and reached No. 2 on the US Billboard 200 chart for his certified gold debut album, Issa Album. Look no further than the progress of 21’s career to see how Kei’s forward-thinking ingenuity and long-time industry experience makes her one of the best minds in the music business.
As 21 Savage’s success continues to skyrocket, Kei has begun making her next move to shake up the music business. After knowing him for the last 10 years, Kei has teamed up with Barry “Hefner” Johnson and his protégé Zeke Nicholson to combine their companies―Governed By Loyalty & Fab 5 Management―to create SinceThe80s: a joint venture label management, and publishing company under Motown and Capitol Records. The name is a reference to the 1980s, the year when Kei and Barry were both born, but also when Urban music began to shift. SinceThe80s is the latest creation that will continue opening the doors for Kei on her road to being remembered as the kind of mogul who will leave a lasting imprint on music as we know it.
Barry “Hefner” Johnson knew at the early age of 10 that he wanted to make music. Growing up around a grandfather who was a disc jockey inspired the passion. Being apart of street teams kept the aspiring rapper in the mix of events and shows where he built his network. By 23, due to a growing contempt for the industry’s politics, he started considering alternatives to be within music without being an artist.
In 2005, Barry moved from his home state of Atlanta, Georgia to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Barry’s first step away from music was the company Fab 5 Entertainment and Fab 5 Management founded by a collective of close friends and creatives. Barry as the CEO Fab 5 Entertainment brought the biggest social affairs and college parties to Pittsburgh’s nightlife. Through grassroots marketing, event promotion, and the incorporation of corporate brands the company was a staple in the community and took over the college marketplace.
Before moving to Pittsburgh Barry worked at Johnny Carino’s, a former Italian restaurant in Atlanta. His former boss was secretly an XXL music writer, and she gave him the advice to find a studio once moving to Pennsylvania if he was interested in talent management. Her advice led him to ID Labs Recording Studio, where he would briefly intern and the hub for the artist he would later work with. During this time he studied the lives and careers of P. Diddy, Berry Gordy, and Troy Carter by watching their interviews like playbooks to learn from. Their stories exemplified the importance of building networks, self-investment, and unrelenting hustle. Following in their footsteps is what lead to investing the money from Fab 5 events into the company’s management side.
The meeting of business partner Zeke Nicholson, an ambitious go-getter coming out of high-school who started as a Fab 5 intern, brought Barry and Fab 5 Management a Detroit rapper named Scolla, their first artist to co-manage together. Social settings like their extravagant parties and local studio ID Labs Recording lead to the discovery and doing the early groundwork for the careers of Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller while in Pittsburgh, and Travis Scott during a brief period of living in Los Angeles. Barry’s discovery and groom tutelage were substantial for their early growth from behind the scenes. Not only was he instrumental in pushing their music through the city, his influence had music trickling back down south to Atlanta.
Managing talent and assisting in the background is where Barry learned to be the coach who develops artist into champions. He approached his role with the keen understanding that great talent requires great guidance. After a series of promising prospects, uncoachable clients, and unavoidable pitfalls,10 years of perseverance paid off after returning back to Atlanta and discovering native rappers J.I.D and EarthGang in 2014. Under Barry and Zeke’s co-management and development, their three artists signed their first record deal under J. Cole’s Dreamville and Interscope Records. Since their signing, the hip-hop newcomers have successfully old out two headlining tours in North America.
As their artists began to soar, Barry and Zeke found a partner and kindred spirit in entrepreneur and talent manager KeiSaundra ‘Kei Opens Doors’ Henderson. The three agreed to merge their management companies―Governed By Loyalty & Fab 5 Management―to create SinceThe80s: a joint venture label management, and publishing company under Motown and Capitol Records. With SinceThe80s Barry sees the opportunity to be a record label that elevates the hip-hop culture that stole his heart as a child by introducing a generation of new legends and movement makers.
Zekiel “Zeke” Nicholson was attending his sophomore year at Central Catholic High School when the initial interest in talent management was sparked. The North Carolina transplant who moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during his 8th grade year found himself surrounded by a circle of dreamers working in, or around the music industry. The likes of Quentin Cuff―the future manager and business partner of Mac Miller, and Will Dzombak―who went on to become the manager of Wiz Khalifa―were active students in Pittsburgh budding music community, and encouraging peers who inspired Zeke to pursue the passion.
High school is where Zekiel became notarized for event coordination. The parties thrown at different people’s home around the city during his 10th and 11th grade year at Central Catholic became a massive spectacle, and by 2008, his senior year, there was a dedicated following built amongst the high school students. Being an ambitious forward-thinker motivated Zeke’s decision to contact Fab 5 Entertainment, an event promotion company that dominated the college market. Knowing he would be attending the University of Pittsburgh in the Fall, he saw with them an ample opportunity to continue his movement and join an established company. Barry “Hefner” Johnson, Fab 5 Entertainment’s CEO, saw promise in Zeke’s entrepreneurial passion and brought him on as an intern, and was later promoted to Director Of Business Development.
In 2010, Zeke’s internship with Atlantic Records brought him into the major label’s Urban Marketing and A&R departments. The year-long position further solidified Zeke’s desire to work in talent management, and searching for artist to work with lead him to his first discover, a Detroit, Michigan rapper named Young Scolla. Scolla would become the first artist to be co-management by both Barry and Zeke underneath the Fab 5 Management umbrella. Knowing he had found his career path, Zeke left the University of Pittsburgh during his Junior year to focus on talent management and business development full time. Leaving the University bubble and understanding that the beginning wouldn’t be easy was pivotal to the process of his maturation.
Underneath Barry’s wing, Zeke began assisting with the marketing and promotion for Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, getting their early music integrated into the city’s nightlife. Barry saw in Zeke someone who was always about the music, and his ability to see the bigger vision. The two have continued for the last decade co-managing over 6 artist together as partners. Their biggest discovery to date is three rappers from Barry’s home-state of Atlanta Georgia, J.I.D and the duo EarthGang. Barry and Zeke began grooming and developing the three in 2014. After three years of patience and persistence, their hard work paid off when J.I.D. and EarthGang signed their first record deal under J. Cole’s Dreamville and Interscope Records. Since their signing the hip-hop newcomers have successfully old out two headlining tours in North America.
With every intention to continue introducing incredible artist to the world, the next phase of Barry and Zeke’s partnership includes a third addition, KeiSaundra ‘Kei Opens Doors’ Henderson. The three decided to combine Fab 5 Management with Kei’s brand marketing & talent management collective, Governed By Loyalty to create SinceThe80s: a joint venture label management, and publishing company under Motown and Capitol Records.
Zeke believes SinceThe80s can restore the trust that has soared over the years between artist and record labels. For him, it’s not just about doing good business, but grooming artist and teaching them the business. SinceThe80s isn’t here to follow the standard, but to be the new standard.