H.E.R.’s Grammy win actually arrived after three straight years of earning nominations in the Grammys’ Big Four categories — song, record and album of the year and best new artist — all of which she’s achieved without actually releasing a proper full-length LP. (Her previous nominations for album of the year were for compilations of EPs.) And with a Super Bowl “America the Beautiful” performance also under her belt already this year, 2021 is shaping up to be one of the best of her already eye-popping career to date.
Here, Robinson discusses H.E.R.’s big milestones, the weight of promoting songs with such a strong message and the way the management business has changed since he first began managing Alicia Keys in the 1990s.
H.E.R. just won song of the year at the Grammys and was nominated for best original song at the Oscars in the same year (really, the same 24 hours) for different songs for the first time in 35 years, and just the third time ever. What key decision did you make to help her achieve that goal?
For both songs, I had long, deep conversations with her about the past and being that necessary voice of the current times. I pulled up soundtracks, speeches and film clips from the era of the Civil Rights movement and she absorbed it all and created these masterpieces alongside Tiara Thomas and D’Mile.
“I Can’t Breathe” and “Fight For You” are both songs that take a strong social stance given the subject matter from which they stem. Is it different promoting songs like that as opposed to others that maybe don’t have a social justice message in some way?
Yes it is. However, we look at it as being the sounds of the revolution. They may sound a little different than what many would expect from her, but they must be heard and digested by the people living it daily. It’s our duty.
This is the third straight year H.E.R. has been nominated in at least one of the Grammys’ Big Four categories, all without having released a full-length album. She clearly doesn’t need to do so, given her success so far, but is that something you are considering?
It’s been such a whirlwind of activity these past three years and she has so much energy that I try my best to keep up. [Laughs] Every time we start to complete the album, other incredible opportunities pop up that we always dreamed of doing and the album gets put on pause. However, we are 99% done with it, so you will get to hear it shortly, I promise.
MBK has film, publishing and marketing divisions in addition to management. How have you been able to leverage the different parts of the company to help H.E.R.’s career?
They are all fingers of one hand and when they come together it forms a black fist that smashes through all opposition. You have to have a strong team and I wouldn’t be able to do any of these things without Jeanine [McLean-Williams, MBK’s president], Misha [Mayes, MBK’s general manager] and Jason [Hobdy, MBK’s associate manager].
With Grammys and Oscar nominations, as well as H.E.R.’s performance at the Super Bowl, it’s already been a huge year and March isn’t even over yet. How do you keep the momentum going?
We have so many things that we still hope to accomplish in music as she continues to be inspired by all genres and wants to try her hand at so many. Both she and I love music in all its forms and can’t wait for the world to hear some of the side projects she’s been creating with some insanely talented folks in various genres. She also has a love of film scoring, acting and television show development that we’re exploring.
You’ve been a manager for many years, during which time the music business has changed drastically. How has management changed over the years?
I think management is a thankless job, to be honest. [Laughs] Whatever great stuff that happens is never because of you, and when things go wrong it’s always your fault. Sounds funny but it’s absolutely true, it comes with the job and that is the one constant that never changes. However, a big change I’ve seen in managers lately is a lot of them are becoming partners with the artists in their careers, and I love that.