Is Brooklyn In The House? We Chopped It Up With BK’s Own JenBKLYN | Behind The Curtain

Brooklyn has given the culture so many great things. Roc4Life is all about that Brooklyn vibe so it’s only right we celebrate its accomplishments. We recently caught up with JenBKLYN who’s been buzzing for quite some time. You hear her voice on Sundays on Hot 97 and see her here, there, and just about everywhere. She is one of the dopest women in the game and it is exciting to watch her grow. She recently sat with Roc4Life to discuss some some of her movements, her Brooklyn roots, and her plans to make her mark on the world. You can follow her on Instagram or catch her speaking her mind on Twitter but for now, take the time to read below and see what JenBKLYN’s got goin’ on.

R4L: Where does the name JenBKLYN come from?

JenBKLYN: It originally came from Cipha Sounds & Rosenberg. I started working for them in 2008 and they would always give nicknames to the people who worked on the show. So for me, at the time (when I was a little more of a rebel), you know…outspoken, loud, not giving a F, that Brooklyn mentality (Brooklynites know what I’m talking about) they dubbed me “Jen from Brooklyn” and I just stuck with it lol.

Now though, the name has a deeper meaning to me. Brooklyn is what made me. It’s where I was born and raised. It’s a culture, it’s a way of living, and it has this indescribable sense of camaraderie. It’s like it’s own country in a way, so I just wanted to keep my roots with me no matter where I go.

R4L: Where do you get your inspiration from?

JenBKLYN: My inspiration comes from a few things. One is knowing that nothing is ever promised and everything can be taken away from you at any given moment. I always look back at how far I’ve come to where I am now and that always keeps me inspired. I really am trying to put a stamp in any industry I’m in.  The second is the Asian community. Not too many of us make it in the entertainment industry at a high level. I’d like to achieve that level and prove to the next generation of Asian kids that you don’t have to stick to your parent’s plans and live the life they want you to live, you can have your own goals and you can absolutely make it happen. Also, being that my parents came to America with not a dime in their pockets and were able to provide for the family is a huge inspiration for me. Their sacrifices aren’t lost on me. I’m the first generation, so it’s very high on my list of priorities to exceed expectations and do what I can so that my children and their children and their children and so on don’t have to struggle and believe they can accomplish anything no matter what their ethnicity is.

And lastly, the naysayers and the fakes. You’ll meet a lot of people in the industry who say they have your best interest at heart or who are rooting for you but deep down they don’t really want to see you grow, or surpass them in some situations. There are also those who don’t believe you can go far…that’s all fuel for me. Fortunately, I have a great radar for bullshit artists so when I sense that I keep my distance.

“Women are viewed as lesser than men in society. We’ve been programmed to believe this and the time is now to change the damn channel and show female dominance. We’re starting to and I love every bit of it.” – JenBKLYN

R4L: What drew you to this industry and how old were you when you started?

JenBKLYN: Hip hop was something we all listened to in my neighborhood where I grew up so loving the culture was just inevitable. I also have to give props to my  two older sisters who were big hip hop and r&b listeners so I was exposed to it really early. I think we all just gravitated to it because these artists were talking about what was really going on in our neighborhoods. The struggle, the violence, the drugs, the hardships, all of that was something we were experiencing or seeing around us.

When it comes to the entertainment industry, I knew I’d be part of it to some capacity. Doing what though? I didn’t know, but I knew I was meant to do some sort of entertaining. I come from a musical background, my father’s side especially. Some of my uncles were singers, my dad played the acoustic guitar and sang too…I’d sit and just watch him all the time. He tried to teach me how to play the guitar but I wasn’t feeling it lol. So entertaining is in my blood. My sisters and I use to act out musicals in our small ass apartment on Church Ave too plus we’d always use my parents’ karaoke machine (typical I know), so we’d plug up the mics and start singing and dancing. I really wanted to be a singer at one point but those dreams are gone now lol.

R4L: What does success mean to you?

JenBKLYN: Success to me is my family never having to worry about money again, changing people’s lives, being an inspiration for the youth, being healthy, be remembered as one of the best to come out of Brooklyn and the first Asian woman to really create change. 

R4L: You are a very busy woman. You have your hands in a lot of projects. What are you working on now?

JenBKLYN: I know, sometimes I say to myself am I doing TOO much? Lol. But I don’t mind it, it’s better to be busy than not busy. At least when you’re busy you know things are working out for you but I’m big on having alone time to gather yourself, regroup. I actually enjoy being alone a lot since I’m around people all the time. It’s a form of meditation.

At the moment I’m getting ready for the launch of an all girls Charter school in Brooklyn called the BELA Charter School where I’ll be one of the leads for their Digital Media Literacy Program. I never had these opportunities to learn about the field when I was young. I worked from the ground up, no one taught me anything, I didn’t have any plugs, literally started from scratch. So I feel extremely blessed to be able to give back what I learned thus far in my 9 year career to these aspiring young media girls. Not to mention doing it for the girls in my hometown just makes it that much more special to me because I see me in them. I want to provide any insight I can about the industry and give them the tools they need so when they’re ready to enter the field, they’re armed and fully prepared. The world better be ready for the next Oprahs, Ellens, Jay Zs, J.Los, Queen Latifahs, Angie Martinezs, and Jimmy Iovines because I’m going to make sure they come by the thousands LOL.  The school will officially open on August 28th and I’ll be hosting the opening ceremonies. So excited! The end goal for me and this school is for young girls who have dreams of entering the media/entertainment world to think of the BELA Charter School as their first choice.

I’m also in the middle of launching another company “Next Jeneration”,  working on my sunglasses lines, working moving my show to TV, hosting some shows, some endorsements are on the way and I will be appearing in a major motion picture. Very exciting and nerve-racking stuff!

R4L: Where did the concept for “Ladies First” come from?

JenBKLYN: I was sitting at my desk and where I sit in the office, you can see everything happening on the studio side of the radio station — who’s coming in for interviews, what’s being edited etc, so I just noticed a lot of male artists being featured barely any females and that struck me because I knew of a ton of amazing women. Then it just dawned me on me that I should do something to change this and I did.  I wanted to create a platform where I could invite all these talented women from all walks of life and give THEM a platform to showcase what they can do.  It’s kind of hard when the company’s demo is predominately male but I talked my boss into letting me try out Ladies First — he finally agreed and the rest is history.

I’m very proud of the show. Ladies First was named after one of the most empowering female anthems out there, Ladies First by Queen Latifah and Monie Love. Last year my show was chosen as the NYC representative for YouTube’s Global Campaign for Women’s History Month.  I’m happy I was able to bring women empowerment back to the forefront because since Ladies First launched, I saw an upswing of websites, social media accounts, movements  for women by women so it’s all really cool. 

R4L: Congrats on being honored at Brooklyn Borough Hall last month. Being a Brooklyn native, how did that make you feel?

JenBKLYN: Thank you! It still feels surreal. No one knows this but I look at the proclamation every day and think about it every day. I hope to get a few more in my career haha. No, but it’s an incredible feeling. I’m truly humbled. Sometimes when you work so hard for so long, you don’t think anyone is really paying attention but in actuality, someone always is watching. For me, it just solidifies I’m on the right path and doing it the way I want to, while being true to who I am. I’m so big on that. I don’t want to be fake in any way shape or form. I used to feel like I had to front to fit in because I was so insecure with who I was. Now I look back and I’m like “WTF was I thinking?!”. Why try to fit in when you can stand out, those are the ones that shine and can make a difference. I’m so glad I’ve grown from that and I feel so free now. It’s great because now, I know whoever supports me is really supporting who I am.

And again, to be recognized by my hometown, this young Asian girl with hopes and dreams, means the world to me. I’m so proud to be from Brooklyn, I mean it’s in my name, so you can just imagine how I feel. It’s a great honor but I don’t let it get to my head. I don’t ever let anything gas me up. My mom was really proud and was shocked that I got it. She’s pretty blunt and upfront, so when I told her I got the award the first thing she said was, “Well how do they know you?” then congratulated me LOL. I don’t mind it, she keeps me grounded by doing that haha.

R4L: Empowering women is at the forefront of almost everything you do. Given the tone of the world today, how important is that to your movements?

JenBKLYN: It’s always an important topic. Even before Hilary Clinton’s run for Presidency, it’s something that should be on any person’s mind. We need to do more and come together more and support each other and stop feeling like we can’t. The more women separate one another the more hard it will be for us to be heard. Women need to support one another without feeling like it’s competition. We are all in this together, we all need to start working together and be a force. The division is ruining that sense of sisterhood. We need to stop that NOW.

R4L: What keeps you driven in such a male-dominated industry?

JenBKLYN: Let’s be honest, some men (not all), feel insecure in the presence of a confident strong woman. They don’t know how to handle it and they’re intimated when they meet one. I’ve been in many situations where I had men rolling their eyes as I was talking in a meeting,  some who’ve tried to make passes, and some who just didn’t respect me. That’s all because of the sexism that still exists. It’s like, they believe women shouldn’t be allowed to express their opinions, women are just a piece of meat, and women can’t handle high pressure situations. My motivation are those cavemen like views and I’m working to erase that completely. Women are viewed as lesser than men in society. We’ve been programmed to believe this and the time is now to change the damn channel and elevate female dominance. Now, we’re starting to and I love every bit of it.

R4L: Name 3 women that inspire you and why…

JenBKLYN: My moms a given and this is so hard to choose just three but here are some:

Beyoncé — I mean everyone says Beyoncé but she really is an inspiration. Bey has set so many trends across all categories. She’s really the driver behind women empowerment on a large scale and made being in a marriage, being in love yet still be an independent woman acceptable. She’s really mastered the threshold of being sexy and classy at the same time. From my past Ladies First interview with people who’ve worked for her, they all say she’s a sweet and loving person and a perfectionist. I love that because there’s a way to get the work done and still be kind at the same time.

Oprah — she’s the epitome of staying true to who you are and hard work. Her career didn’t really break until her 40s and look at what she’s done! She’s a humanitarian, an actress, a producer, director, a network OWNer (you like that?), she’s everything and does everything. She’s proof to those out there that giving up on your dreams isn’t an option. If you work your ass off it will pay off. For some it happens instantly, others, it takes 10 years or 20 years like hers but the point is to keep going AFTER IT.

 J.Lo  & Queen Latifah & Ellen (yes I’m cheating and combining 3) — JLo is the queen of reinvention. I don’t care how many husbands she’s had, that’s irrelevant to her career. Jennifer Lopez is another person who’s career popped later on in life but she kept on fighting for it. She’s been around for so long and people still care to see her! I mean, she went from dancing, to movies, TV, music, tours, a fashion line, directing, producing, the list is endless. She is one of the few women I hope to model my career after in regards to what you’re capable of doing. Someone who worked for her told me she was “bossy and a bitch”, a guy told me this actually (surprise surprise). I asked him why? He replied “she was always telling people how exactly she wanted it and if wasn’t what she wanted she’d want it done again.It was annoying” So I asked him, “Well you were employed under her right? She was paying you right? You had a job to do right?” Like, let that have been Jay Z or something and there wouldn’t have been any complaints SMH. In this world, a woman being confidant and bossy translate to yo being a “bitch”. Anyway,  Queen Latifah is in that same boat as far as inspirations. She went from having a hip hop background through her music then getting into movies, TV, starting her own company Flava Unit where she hired the people who were with her since day 1, she’s directed, acted, produced, won SAG Awards, Golden Globes, Grammys and became the face of Cover Girl, which at the time was huge because Cover Girl had not made a woman of color the face of their brand before (I believe). And Ellen, she’s one of my heroes. She really is. Her show is so good, she’s got that being relatable thing down to a science. She was able to flip her career into one that teaches, makes people laugh and giving back to people. I hope to have the same when my time comes. Between these three, there are no ceilings. (R4L: this is the one time we will accept cheating. LOL)

R4L: How important is community and the idea of “Giving Back”?

JenBKLYN: Giving back is the best thing anyone with any type of platform can do. When you finally realize not everything should be about you is when you truly succeed. The universe works this way any way. The more you give with the right intention, the more you will receive. A lot of people think giving back requires having to come out of your pocket, in some instances it does but not always. You can give back by simply just giving advice, sharing your story, giving others opportunities, showing up to community events. You have no idea that type of impact you can have on someone’s life. In my case, many don’t know what else is out there, what is possible because they don’t see it, they can’t feel it, it’s not tangible. By going back to these neighborhoods or by doing community events, it now turns those possibilities into reality. Like, “wow, she did it which means I can do it too.” And YES YOU CAN.

R4L: Which is more important…Popularity or Longevity? Why?

JenBKLYN: Longevity without question. I could give two sh–ts about being popular or doing what others are doing to be relevant.  I’m not doing this for the fame or interested in how many followers/likes I can get, if it comes it comes. I’m here to have a career that spans decades and to leave a mark in the industry. Having longevity is so important if you want to make this a career and not just a job. People think being popular will last forever but let me tell you something, once you get older and something newer, younger and hotter comes along, the calls and emails will stop coming and then what? What do you have then? Popularity may feel nice for the time but long term, it won’t even be an option.

R4L: In five years…where will we see JenBKLYN?

JenBKLYN: The Next Jeneration company will flourish.  I want to own and create my own projects (movies, TV, music, fashion, philanthropy) and employ the best on my team. Everyone and everything will be the best in the business. Also winning a few Emmys, Gracies, maybe a Golden Globe, who knows! Lol. But, this could all happen for me and I still won’t feel like I’ve achieved the upper echelon level I want to get to. That’s a gift and a curse in itself — a curse because I’ll never be satisfied, a gift because I’ll never stop working and never stop trying to create something great.

Famous last words…

JenBKLYN: Never ever give up on your dream. The cliche is true: hard work pays off! It may take a while, you may be broke for years, the tears may never stop, you might experience a million dead ends but you have to soldier on. It will all work out in the end if you put in the effort. Everything you go through is a learning experience and tools for you to use when the time does come for you to take over. So when that time comes, you’ll be unstoppable because you now have everything you need to win. When you starting looking at it that way, your entire perspective on the process changes.  Listen, not everyone makes it in the business because not everyone is supposed to. The ones who do make it, are the ones who are willing to weather the storm and continue on. That’s how you weed out who’s really meant for this and who isn’t.

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