Music executive and entrepreneur, John Kwatakye-Atiko (JKA), celebrates 20 years as a music executive this year. From interning at Def Jam at age 16 to running his own label and entertainment company, Popular Demand, this 36-year-old has a unique, impressive journey.
This Far Rockaway native from Queens, New York, worked in the marketing department of the Mix-Show Radio Team under Shawn “Pecas” Costner at Island Def Jam. Some of the notable artists he promoted include but are not limited to LL Cool J, Mariah Carey, Kanye West, Young Leek, Juelz Santana, Ne-Yo, Rihanna, JZ, Teairra Mari, Memphis Bleek, Ludacris and many others.
“Some of my favorite projects with Island Def Jam were Mariah Carey’s album, The Emancipation of Mimi, Kanye West’s College Dropout, Ne-Yo’s In My Own Words, Ludacris’ Red Light District, and Lionel Richie’s Coming Home.”
John credits his perseverance, passion, openness to learning, and the unwavering belief in the potential of raw talent for his accomplishments. John’s cousin from Harlem, DJ Enigma, first invited him to pick up vinyl from record labels. This early exposure to record labels like Sony Music, Warner Records, TVT, J Records, and Def Jam sparked an interest in the business of music. He started by offering to organize the office at Def Jam in exchange for the opportunity to learn the business from the ground up.
Through his apprenticeship, under Steve “Steve-O” Carless and Kendell “Young Sav” Freeman, John soaked up as much knowledge as he could about the music industry. Little did he know that this invaluable foundation would lead him to establish his own record label in the future. Today, Carless is the President of A&R for Warner Music Group, and Freeman is VP/Co-Head of Urban Music at Arista.
After his tenure at Def Jam, John later worked with Mike Millz at MBK Entertainment (former home of R&B Superstar, Alicia Keys). The following year, he worked on marketing and promoting projects, featuring Styles P, Jadakiss, Sheek Louch, DMX, Billy Ray Cyrus, Swizz Beatz, Dame Grease (producer for Biggie Smalls) and Church Boi (producer for Akon’s label, Konvict Music).
In 2009, John helped market and promote, King Phaze’s “Yonkers Anthem,” featuring Styles P, Sheek Louch, and the late DMX. Phaze also appeared on the Brother Clyde single, “Lately,” featuring country music legend, Billy Ray Cyrus, released by Walt Disney Records.
Before this time, John faced personal trials and hardships. However, he found solace and guidance in Mike Sikkas, a long-time A&R executive at Arista, Mercury, and Dick James Music Publishing, who he met through King Phaze. Sikkas opened his home and couch to John, allowing him to live there for about half a year while teaching him further nuances of the industry and cementing his understanding of music and business.
Another one of his mentors, Terry Wiliford, known by his music name, Daddy Rose, introduced him to First Priority Music, where he met CEO/President, Nat Robinson, known for the success of MC Lyte, Eamon, and Audio Two.
Today, John serves as the Chief Marketing Officer at Autrumn Records. His latest artist, Ariie West’s music video, Dangerous, recently soared to 1.7 million views on YouTube in its first two weeks. This helped them to secure collaborations with liquor company, Camus, and industry giants, like Reebok and Drink Arizona.
John also runs his own entertainment company, Popular Demand. His biggest desire is to fill a gap in the industry, where only major labels were allowed to touch the market, serving as one of the only bridges for independent artists and film companies to market and promote their projects to its fullest potential. Since its first launch, Popular Demand specializes in Music, Film, TV, Soundtracks and Music Licensing.
John’s story reveals the importance of humility, teamwork, and seizing opportunities, no matter how unconventional they may seem.
“Growing up, my teachers would tell me things like, ‘You’re not going to make it out of the hood alive. You’ll most likely end up in jail or dead.’ I like to say that your reality is what you make it. You can choose to embrace the negative aspects of life or the positive. I choose positive.”
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