The Woman Behind Nas: Leslie Rosales talks running Iconic Hip-Hop brand, Ventures, and Advice [Interview]
If you are one of the millions that follow the legendary rapper Nas on Instagram, then you probably have seen a woman, whom he has deemed “Sis”. She has been seen in photos with the Queens rapper celebrating victories together over a few cigars and bottles of Hennessy. But who is she? What is her role? How is she standing next to some of the best in the music industry respectfully?
Her name is Leslie Rosales, born and raised in Los Angeles to Filipino parents and is the woman behind the powerhouse artist management group, Emagen Entertainment Group. Emagen’s roster includes Alina Baraz, DJ BAD, Future, and most notably Nas. The management firm is collectively made up of 6 managers, with Leslie being the only woman on her team and one of Nas’ trusted and go-to managers.
ThatsEnuff’s Jas is Like and Unee caught up with the businesswoman while she was in New York on June 22 to find out her story, from her start in the music business, to working with Nas, to her advice on how to be successful in a cutthroat industry.
Here’s a little Monday Motivation for y’all, Check it out…
On the music industry:
Jas: How did you get your start in the music business?
Leslie: My very first dip of a toe into the music industry was an internship 11 years ago at Warner Brothers Music. I interned for the Urban Marketing Department and their artists were Lil Jon, Lil Scrappy, and Trillville… This was while the Crunk Movement was coming out.
Jas: Why did you take interest to the music industry?
Leslie: My interest back then was more so in marketing. So it was a marketing internship that just so happened to be in the music industry. As far as me and my career in the music business… I don’t want to say I stumbled upon it, but it just happened. One of my best friends/brother, Anthony, moved out here to New York to be a talent agent and he ended up working with Nas. Their chemistry ended up being amazing and Nas put him on to be his manager. So Anthony had Nas and an artist named J Myers, and I was managing DJs back at home in LA, so the team was like “Hey we’re going to start a management company” and I was like, “alright cool”.
Jas: So that’s how Emagen started?
Leslie: Yeah that’s how we started, in like 2007.
Jas: So from what I’ve seen through social media, Nas puts you on his Instagram and you’re like the only female in his crew. How do you maintain an equal level of respect as the men?
Leslie: Luckily Nas and all the men on the team are respectful of women, and me, so that helps. Even before me physically coming into the team, I was playing the background for 2 years already. I was the backup for the guys to call on when they needed something. I had everybody’s back, so when I physically got on, it was just easy, all love.
Jas: So I’m aware that you paint, are there any other talents that you have besides painting?
Leslie: In high school I performed in plays and musicals. I was also on the dance and drill team, tossing sabers and rifles… I was full blown in performing arts; I was singing, acting, and dancing.
Jas: Since you, yourself are an artist, how do you apply your artistic skill to the artistry of management?
Leslie: I think being a performer before, even though it wasn’t as high caliber as Nas… but being a performer, I understand the pressures of being an artist. Having to be on point, having to please a crowd, knowing a performers needs as far as rest your voice before the show, taking care of your body, and making sure certain needs are met so an artist can perform well… Knowing stuff like that helps me in management because I feel for him… I feel for all artists when they need something.
Jas: What would you say you sacrificed the most choosing the career you’ve chosen?
Leslie: A personal life… Like I’m in NY now and I was supposed to leave last Thursday. I’m still here and actually don’t know when I’m going to get to go back home. So I sacrifice my personal life back in LA. I miss friends birthdays parties, I miss family gatherings, dating is hard… Yeah, that’s the sacrifice of it all. But this is fun though, I’m able to travel the world, meet a lot of people and I’m having fun while doing it. This doesn’t even feel like work.
Jas: Yeah because I was going to ask, how do you maintain a balance between work and your personal life?
Leslie: Work has become like 70% of my life, but what helps is that its fun. Its not like I’m spending 70% of my day in the office in front of a computer.
On Working with Nas:
Jas: How did you start working with Nas?
Leslie: In the very beginning I did the background work for Nas. Anthony or Gabe would travel with him everywhere and I would work from home putting his schedules together, getting show logistics together, and doing all that. I’d say I did that for about 2 and half years before I actually met him. I met him in 2010, and he was cool, he always seemed cool. My communication with him for the first 2 years was either via email or BBM, because everyone had a blackberry back then. So he would ask me to do something, like reservations somewhere or a question about a show or something, and I’d be quick to answer like “boom”, here’s the answer. He was like ok cool, he liked that I was just on top of what I was doing so when we finally met, he was like “Ohhh Les! Family!” So yeah, that was in 2010. In 2011, Gabe, his road manager, couldn’t travel with him to a show; I think it was here in New York. So they sent me out with Nas, and after that trip we’ve been cool. I’ve been part of his A-Team since and it’s been about 5 years now.
Jas: Were you a fan of Nas before working with him?
Leslie: I was! I was, I laugh at this now. Like, with the whole beef… I was team Nas [laughs]. Yeah, senior year of high school.
Jas: Does he know that?
Leslie: Nah he doesn’t [laughs]. He doesn’t know that at all…
Jas: So, how do you know when to wear the fan hat and when to wear the manager hat?
Leslie: Well I grew up in LA and went to a performing arts school, a good one at that. We would always have celebs come by like Angela Basset, Courtney B. Vance and several others to watch us perform. So I was trained not to fan out. I also used to club promote, so I’ve always been around notable people. So when I started to come around Nas, I just knew like ok this is business, you’re not a fan. I’m chill. I’ve been able to be a fan a few times when I get to be in the audience during a show. It’s his energy… the crowd loves him…I know the lyrics… that’s when I become a fan. I think the last time I got to do that was at Coachella last year.
Jas: Nas’ career has remained relevant between the music and most recently endorsements with Hennessy and Sprite, what would you say your contribution is to keeping such a legendary artist fresh to the generation of kids who weren’t even born during the Illmatic era?
Leslie: Keeping him fresh has been a group effort between all of us; Me, Gabe, Anthony, and Nas. I feel like we kind of keep him young because we all are 10+ years younger than him. However, by himself, he’s young at heart but is still mature and grown. When I’m with him and his daughter, I feel like I’m the happy medium because they’re aged 20 years apart and I’m right in the middle. That’s where I think I me, Gabe, and Anthony kind of help bridge the gap between the 40 something’s and the 20 something’s.
Jas: Nas is a smart dude, I think everyone can agree he is wise man, what are some jewels Nas has dropped on you?
Leslie: “No chaos is worth your sanity”. He said that in an interview and that always just stuck with me. No chaos is worth your sanity.
Jas: What does that mean to you?
Leslie: That means like… All this craziness in the world… There’s absolutely, well I wouldn’t say there’s absolutely nothing someone can do… But there are a lot of things that just go by my head that just don’t bother me, because its not important. Like it takes a lot to destroy my peace. That’s what I take out of it, to not let the little things and even sometimes the big things mess up my peace.
On personal ventures:
Unee: So who taught you how to paint?
Unee: So you just picked up a brush and just started?
Leslie: January of last year, Nas had a ton of art supplies at his house and I asked him “can I paint something?” And he was like “yeah knock yourself out”. I painted a beach, and it was dope. He saw it and was like “keep painting”, so every time I’d come over his house I’d paint something. I liked painting so much, I bought my own supplies and I started painting at home.
Jas: Wow, so he kind of like helped you discover that?
Leslie: Yeah! He did!
Jas: So does he paint?
Leslie: Yeah! He’s a good painter and a good drawer.
Jas: Now I know you had an art show not to long ago, do you plan on doing another art show?
Leslie: Yeah, I was actually planning [laughs] it was supposed to be this Friday but since I’m here… its not anymore. I’ll plan it for this summer. I’ll have my big one in LA, I’ll have a small one here in New York and one in Atlanta and then the end of this year in December at Art Basel Miami.
Jas: Are you selling these paintings at your shows?
Leslie: I am selling my pieces. At my last show, I really just invited 100 of my closest friends and family not really thinking I was going to sell anything and all of a sudden they started buying. Art money is pretty good [laughs] can’t complain about that. So after the show, I would post up new paintings on IG and people would hit me up like “I want to buy it”, so I’d sell paintings that way. Also I’ve done a couple custom pieces for a few people. I did one piece for charity, for the LA Mayor’s office and um yeah since then I’ve just been painting. I haven’t painted that much this year because I’ve been traveling so much, so hopefully I can get back into it when I get back to LA.
Jas: So the painting is kind of like your “you” time?
Leslie: Yeah! It’s so therapeutic to paint.
Jas: You’ve partnered with the charity #HashtagLunchbag, what inspired you to get involved with that organization?
Leslie: So one of my friends who started it in LA, Ajay, invited me to an event. I came out and I just thought we were making lunches for the homeless and passing them out, alright cool… whatever, I’ll come through… But it felt more than that like [paused] just the feeling of being able to give to someone who I know can’t give much back to me. Doing something for someone else was a good feeling and it was more than just making lunches and feeding people it was, you know, we were giving people hope, we were giving people a meal, we were showing people love, we were giving hugs, we were making them feel like… we see you! You’re not forgotten. We still care. So I was just super inspired by that and the next month I flew down to Atlanta and I started down there.
Jas: Yeah cause I know its branched out…
Leslie: Yeah it’s like in over 100 cities around the world and it spread out and caught on through social media, just a hashtag.
Jas: And you took it to the Philippines, correct?
Leslie: Yeah I took it to the Philippines while I was out there last November. The elementary school in my families’ town, they have a list of malnourished students. A list of kids who don’t bring money from home to buy lunch, or who don’t bring a lunch so they don’t eat. There were about 100 of them so my family and I made lunches for them.
Unee: What was one of the most moving moments you’ve experienced since volunteering with #HashtagLunchbag?
Leslie: I think the 2nd or 3rd month I started #HashtagLunchbag in Atlanta, there were 7 kids, beautiful kids, I think they were like mixed, the mother was white and the fathers black. There was this beautiful little girl who had brown kind of matted hair, and green eyes[Photographed below].She was playing in the parking lot, dirty and barefoot with 6 other kids. They looked like they were picking up food off the ground or something, and we saw them and gave them a lunch. I gave them like 4 of them each! She was just so cute, they were all beautiful and its just sad that they don’t even know…. That’s their life…. And they should know that it should be so much better than that. That’s when I was like I need to do this! I need to do this like everyday. I want to help as many kids as I can, as many people, but kids especially. I haven’t seen her since, which is kind of sad. Well maybe it’s a good thing; maybe they’re in a shelter now, or in a better situation. Maybe it is a good thing that I haven’t seen her again.
Jas: Would you consider organizing your own charity?
Leslie: Yeah, I have! Two years ago a couple of my friends and I started something called Phresh Start LA. We collect donations and clothes, both new and lightly used from our friends and our clothing brand connects. We gather up everything and we set up a store… Display all the clothes on racks, make everything look cute, and we invite group homes of high school students to come in and “shop”. But everything they pick out, they get for free. So yeah we’ve done that… this year was our second year and that’s something we’re interested in taking it further.
Advice on making it in the music industry:
Jas: You kind of have to be hustler in this industry, what keeps you driven?
Leslie: What keeps me driven is the team that I’m on. We all have the same goal; and we’re all family, which helps. So we all keep each other motivated. Personally, I’ve never wanted to fail at anything. I always wanted to be… I don’t want to say I always wanted to be the best, but I always wanted to do my best. So not wanting to fail keeps me driven. Actually wanting a career and being in the music industry for the long run keeps me focused. 5 or 10 years from now, I don’t want people to say “oh you remember that one group that worked with Nas but they don’t work with him anymore” or “what’s her name again?” I don’t want to be that.
Jas: What advice would you give young girls who want to work in the entertainment industry, especially hip-hop?
Leslie: Honestly, I weave through it by not talking to anybody, as far as not engaging outside of business relationships with these men in the industry. Yeah, that’s what it is… dressing appropriately, carrying myself appropriately. One thing that I have gotten good at is being able to maneuver with the guys. Learn how to roll with them… I drink Hennessey with the guys, I smoke cigars with the guys. I learned how to move like them, and that has made it easier for me.
Unee: Back to “No Chaos is Worth your Sanity”, Do you find yourself applying that in business related things?
Leslie: Yeah, because there’s so much drama in entertainment. People talking about you behind your back, people doing bad business, people not keeping their word, like you just got to brush those people off. Especially the snakes and the bad weeds, cut them off and keep pushing. I think everyone can succeed as long as they keep a good heart and do what they’re supposed to do.
Unee: How do you battle people taking advantage of a good heart?
Leslie: You know what, I think its a gift, knowing and seeing the signs of a snake… I’ve gotten pretty good at that. I wish I could tell you how I got to this point, but I cant. It definitely takes years of trial and error. But yeah, vibes are important and sometimes you can tell when someone just wants something from you, or they want to know who you know, or they just want to take something from you. Some people you just gotta step back from and say, “Nah! IDFWU!”
Jas: What is one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned working in the music business?
Leslie: Staying humble and hungry. Being H&H outside of work is important too. At any moment all this can be taken away, people can forget my name and everything that I’ve ever done. So keeping a good heart, doing what I’m supposed to do, being nice and kind to people… That’s all part of being humble. I also stay hungry. I don’t want to starve or suffer, and there’s so much to do to not have to live that way. I’ve been broke before with negative $300 in my account, and that was at a point in my life when I wasn’t humble. Never again! “Either stay full or starve.” – Nas
A lot of shine is often given to women in the industry for all the wrong reasons. We like to give credit to those deserving of it. Leslie Rosales is a good example of how far diligence, integrity, and respect can take you in business and in life. We see you Leslie!
Be sure to check ThatsEnuff.com for more information on Leslie’s upcoming art exhibits and if you want to get involved with the charity #HashtagLunchbag, click here!