Throughout her acceptance speech at Billboard’s Girls in Music occasion, rapper Latto shouted out an important girls in her life who helped push the platinum promoting artist to the place she is at the moment, together with her lawyer, Bernie Lawrence-Watkins: “My lawyer is a Black lady — Bernie. Hey Bernie!”
“It’s not too usually you hear shoppers shouting out their legal professionals. So for that to occur in a public discussion board, exhibits that she is appreciative of the providers that our agency gives,” Lawrence-Watkins says. “It was a really touching second for me.” (Jon Platt, chairman and CEO of Sony Music Publishing, even gave her a congratulatory name after the shoutout.)
Lawrence-Watkins started working with the “Large Power” singer when she was a 17-year-old aspiring Atlanta rapper, recent off of Lifetime’s actuality TV competitors, The Rap Recreation, which she received. After receiving a name from her father, the three met and have been working collectively ever since — with Lawrence-Watkins securing rights for all of Latto’s initiatives, model rights, trademark, performances, tour offers and endorsement offers, together with Sprite, WingStop, Burger King and Spotify. “I all the time be certain the deal isn’t achieved till she’s happy,” says Lawrence-Watkins.
With over 24 years of expertise underneath her belt, Lawrence-Watkins’ roster of shoppers additionally contains 21 Savage, Child Tate and Younger Nudy, all of whom she negotiated report offers for. She picked up 21 Savage in 2015, in the course of the making of his wildly profitable EP, Savage Mode, launched the next 12 months. After the venture’s launch, Lawrence-Watkins describes the following label response as a “bidding conflict,” with Epic Data popping out on prime. Lawrence-Watkins negotiated fairly the deal for 21, together with possession of all his masters, which she owes to the rapper’s leverage.
“[He] created a reputation and a model that was very dominant in hip-hop,” Lawrence-Watkins explains. “When it was time to barter a deal, we may make sure requests. It was nearly understanding the place your shopper is at a specific time of their profession.”
However it was a failed deal that led Lawrence-Watkins to turning into a lawyer within the first place. Raised in East Elmhurst, Queens, by the use of Dominica, she grew up with an itch to carry out — even attending LaGuardia Excessive College of Music & Artwork and Performing Arts, which boasts alumni together with Nicki Minaj, Kelis and Eartha Kitt. Whereas attending Howard College, her brother Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence received signed to a Columbia imprint as an artist, however struggled to generate income by way of his music, ultimately shedding the deal.
“My brother was a ravenous artist,” she explains. “I watched him go on a variety of promo excursions, not being paid. [He was] attempting to get movies on MTV at the moment and the notion was, ‘Oh, your video is just too Black.’ I mentioned, ‘I have to be a part of this trade to assist make a change. How do I do issues in a approach that’s going to be useful to my shopper, and [causes] individuals take discover and begin doing issues in another way?’”
Her brother’s expertise within the trade led Bernie into legislation, with Ron himself ultimately transferring into manufacturing as a member of P. Diddy’s unique studio workforce, The Hitmen. The transition proved profitable, with Ron occurring to co-produce “Hypnotize” by The Infamous B.I.G, “Been Across the World” by Diddy, “Cash, Energy, Respect” by The Lox and “Love Like This” by Religion Evans.
Representing Ron and fellow hitmaking producer Bangladesh, Bernie — who now operates underneath the slogan “Bernie will get you paid” — started her personal apply and ultimately started representing small companies and artists, along with her typical roster of producers. “I needed to be somebody who was a part of the change, somebody who was going to actually combat for my shoppers’ rights and never shut offers till they had been achieved appropriately,” she says.
In line with the American Bar Affiliation, solely 5% of legal professionals are African-American. Bernie attributes this quantity partially to a scarcity of visibility of Black legal professionals, and low effort by corporations to rent them. She hopes that her presence as a Black lady within the house will assist encourage a brand new era of legal professionals of colour.
“While you take a look at expertise within the hip hop, and r&b neighborhood, a variety of them are African-American. You don’t see a variety of us which might be representing them. There are such a lot of of us which might be gifted that may do the work, however for some purpose, we’re not being represented,” she explains. “When individuals say, ‘We did a search and we didn’t discover anybody that’s certified,’ that’s BS.”
Every so often, Bernie says she’ll obtain calls from different girls legal professionals searching for her recommendation on easy methods to begin their very own corporations. “Working in a white male-dominated trade, I decided to not go the normal route and construct a agency,” she explains. “It wasn’t straightforward, [but] I perceive that I’m not simply doing this for me. I’m doing this for different girls who wish to comply with in my footsteps.”