Emmy-winning writer, producer, and actress Lena Waithe is expanding her inspiring resumé to include the title of Record Label Executive. Waithe – along with the iconic label Def Jam Records – is launching Hillman Grad Records, with the goal of developing the next generation of underrepresented artists.
Waithe, who was named Hollywood Reporter’s 2020 “TV Producer of the Year,” also serves as the co-founder and CEO of Hillman Grad Productions, a development and production company that offers a platform to marginalized storytellers and seeks to create projects that disrupt the status quo. Among their productions is the 2019 film Queen & Slim, BET series Boomerang and Twenties, and 2020’s The Forty-Year-Old Version, which tells the story of a floundering playwright and teacher who reinvents herself as a rapper at the age of 40.
“Music and storytelling have always gone hand in hand. And I think that’s because musicians are the storytellers we love the most,” said Waithe of her latest venture. “They can take complex emotions and simplify it in four minutes, the same artist can sing about the revolution and falling in love. Music is a part of us. It’s so often connected to our fondest and sometimes our darkest memories. Musicians tell our story.”
Jeff Harleston, Interim CEO of Def Jam Records also offered a statement: “Lena Waithe has established herself as one of the most artistically and commercially successful creators and storytellers at work today…After making her mark on television as an actor and writer, then smoothly shifting gears into her role as a film producer and CEO, it follows that she would now spread her wings at the helm of this exciting new record label. Def Jam is the perfect partner for Lena Waithe’s new Hillman Grad venture, and we look forward to bringing her musical vision to life.”
Joining the team at Hillman Grad Records will be seasoned music executives Tebs Maqubela and Albert Cooke. Maqubela, formerly of Columbia Records, will serve as Head of A&R, while Cooke, named General Manager, returns to Island Def Jam after a tenure at Soundcloud.
Waithe added, “At Hillman Grad Productions we believe in identifying and amplifying new talent, and we want to continue to do that in the music industry. Jeff Harleston and his phenomenal team at Def Jam have given us their trust and their resources to help develop artists that not only have potential, but staying power. We look forward to the journey ahead.”