It takes a certain type of focus and drive to make it in the music industry. Then, it takes even more determination to survive. Rhonda Cowan is a seasoned music industry veteran who has mastered the art of survival. Spending the last 18 years successfully climbing the corporate ladder, Cowan has worn many hats throughout her career. Her diverse experience and dedication to the music industry has built her a long-lasting career in an industry known for breeding a short life span for most executives. She has lent her talents to Def Jam, BET, Bad Boy, Motown, Phat Farm, and Rush Communications, working closely with the renowned hip-hop music mogul Russell Simmons.
In late 2016, in pursuance of her new dreams outside of music, Cowan relocated to LA to work in scripted television with her friend and mentor Suzanne dePasse. The journey continues…
We caught up with Rhonda Cowan to learn more about her extensive career and transition into a new one:
AllHipHop: Explain what you’re job entails:
Rhonda Cowan: After a 20-year career in the music industry and 9 more at BET, I decided to follow another dream and transitioned to producing television. Right now my job is to learn all I can about scripted television and film. Currently, I’m working on a TV movie about Michael Jackson with my good friend and mentor the legendary Suzanne dePasse.
AllHipHop: What’s the most enjoyable part of the job and your duties:
Rhonda Cowan: The most enjoyable part of this job is working in an environment where people are respectful to one another, and the craft. Where questions are encouraged and welcomed. Also, working with some of the most respected (brown) faces in TV and film is definitely a plus. My duties include keeping abreast of matters concerning production both creative and administrative. I’m here to absorb everything!
AllHipHop: What is the hardest part:
Rhonda Cowan: The hardest part of the job is the downtime between scenes and staying away from the crafty table.
AllHipHop: What advice do you have to offer people that want to be where you are or aspire to make it in the business.
Rhonda Cowan: Lose your ego and don’t be too proud to accept a lesser position if you learn something while getting paid, and it takes you where you need to be – it’s a win! Remember, no task is too small. While working at BET I attended NYU, interned for a television producer on a reality show and established my own production company, Life’s a Beach Media. Under this banner, I developed and cast a show about entertainment attorneys. In 2015 I sold my first show Money. Power. Respect to WeTV. I never lost sight of my goals, nor did I care what people thought about my choices. Mute the distractors.
AllHipHop: Can you describe a moment of adversity personal and in your career?
Rhonda Cowan: The biggest moment of adversity in my career came after I left BET in 2013 to pursue my career as a TV producer. I began by getting what I thought was an amazing opportunity to produce a reality TV show. Instead, I was met with hostility by my colleagues. It became my greatest lesson of resilience and restraint in the face of adversity.
AllHipHop: What keeps you from giving up working within a male dominated industry
Rhonda Cowan: When I began working at Def Jam in the early 90’s, Carmen Ashurst-Watson was the President and every major position at the label was occupied by a woman. Russell Simmons strategically surrounded himself with strong, intelligent women of integrity who led by example on how to survive in the male-dominated music industry without compromising your femininity or reputation. These indelible lessons are part of my DNA.
AllHipHop: Who inspired you to become a leader or boss
Rhonda Cowan: There’s a real distinction between a leader and a boss; anyone can be a boss, being a leader requires qualities that allow you to put your ego aside and help others grow without fear of being out-shined. The people who inspired me to become a leader is Russell Simmons, Suzanne dePasse and Sean Puffy Combs.
Russell, Suzanne and Puff all hire people who are smarter than them in their respective areas of expertise. They realized early, being the smartest in the room was detrimental to building their brand and businesses. Russell would push his team to the forefront and encourage us to be fearless always telling us to “do what you love and the money will come” – this taught me to follow my dreams and to never put money before my own happiness. Puffy used to say, “I pay for your opinion” which gave me the courage to express myself in any room. Having survived white male dominated Hollywood, Suzanne dePasse is a born leader who is the queen of politics and has mastered the art of the deal. She has an eye for talent and is always dropping gems for me to grasp. Understanding my journey Suzanne once said, “She stoops to conquer.” (Editor’s note: She Stoops to Conquer is an 18th-century stage play by Oliver Goldsmith)
I was fortunate to be raised by leaders instead of by wolves, which is common in entertainment.
AllHipHop: How do you balance work and personal life?
Rhonda Cowan: I make sure to hit a beach as often as possible for my sanity.
AllHipHop: What do you do for fun?
Rhonda Cowan: Hit a beach, read scripts, swim laps, drink Rose, rinse repeat.
AllHipHop: Final words?
Enjoy the journey! Oh and – Life’s a Beach