You don’t spend twenty years in the entertainment industry like multi-hyphened executive Shanti “Shoestring” Das, aka “The Hip Hop Professional,” without collecting some memorabilia. One of her favorites? “A VHS tape of New Edition performing on the Soul Train Awards,” says the Atlanta native CEO of Press Reset Entertainment. “Bobby Brown, Michael Jackson… All of my favorite artists were either on the award show or the weekly show!”
A number of top-selling major artists you may consider a favorite—including Outkast, Akon, Erykah Badu, Usher, TLC, Toni Braxton, Jermaine Dupri, and Prince—have gotten an assist from Shanti’s relentless effort and award-winning marketing genius. Beginning her industry career as a promotions assistant for Capital Records, she would grow to become LaFace Records’ National Director of Promotions, Senior Director of Urban Marketing for Arista Records, Vice President of Urban Marketing for Columbia, and Senior Vice President of Urban Marketing for Sony Urban Music. She details her professional and personal ascension in her acclaimed book, The Hip Hop Professional 2.0: A Women’s Guide to Climbing the Ladder of Success in the Entertainment Business.
Shanti Das records a new chapter in this exclusive interview with SoulTrain.com.
SoulTrain.com: In chapter 16 of your book The Hip Hop Professional 2.0, you mention you “savored every moment” of Soul Train, and I got the feeling this included the award shows.
Shanti Das: It’s funny, because I remember when the BET Awards started. I thought, ‘How are they going to compete with or do better than the Soul Train Awards?’ The Soul Train Awards just meant so much to me and my friends, and music fans. It was the Grammys for urban American! It didn’t get any bigger than the Soul Train Awards.
SoulTrain.com: Did you enjoy attending the awards as much as you did watching them?
Shanti Das: That brings up a story. It was 1994, and I’d just started working at LaFace Records the year before that. L.A. Reid walks into my office and says, “Several of us are going out to Los Angeles for the Soul Train Awards. Is that something you’d like to do?” I was like “What?,” but then I had to remain composed, calm, cool, and collected! I said, “Yes, that would be really cool.” When L.A. walked out of my office I started doing the “Happy” dance like Pharrell! It was crazy! I was so excited.
SoulTrain.com: This has to be one of your favorite Soul Train memories.
Shanti Das: I’ll never forget it! We stayed at the Four Seasons, I rented a Benz… I had to pinch myself and ask, “Is this really happening?” That was the first time I got to attend the award show. I can’t remember who was on the show that year, but it was just a dream come true for me. All my childhood, I grew up watching Soul Train. To be able to actually be there, and in a working capacity, words can’t even explain the excitement I had.
SoulTrain.com: Another thing you mention in your book was how you became a shopaholic. Did you splurge on your outfit for the awards?
Shanti Das: I did, I did, I did. The first year I went I was a little conservative, so I wore a really nice suite. I hadn’t gotten into the dresses. I didn’t get into a real shopping craze until probably 1995 or ‘96. Early on I wore a lot of baggy clothes in the industry, trying to establish myself as a true worker and divert attention from anything else. All the designer stuff came later in my career.
SoulTrain.com: Give us your opinion of the Soul Train Awards from its beginning to what it is today.
Shanti Das: You know, I do think it died down over the years, but I’m glad to see it back now. I think these past two were the best it’s been in the last five years. I think the talent was great, it flowed from a production standpoint, and I think more of the industry supported it. Once it started dying off a lot of the larger celebrities, for whatever reason, weren’t supporting it. And I’m not sure all the record companies supported it like they used to because the BET Awards gained a lot of popularity. But I think the Soul Train Awards are on the come-up again.
SoulTrain.com: Okay, Shanti, I’m going to put you on the spot. Do you own The Best of Soul Train DVD box set?
Shanti Das: No, I don’t. But want to!
SoulTrain.com: If you translated your book into video documentary series, how many volumes would be in your DVD box set?
Shanti Das: Interesting question. I guess maybe a four box set series. If you did webisodes there could probably be one for each chapter. You could break it down talking about determination, hard work, perseverance, how you position yourself when you’re looking to succeed and grow, and work/life balance. That’s a big part of the 2.0 version of my book. I talk about understanding the importance of creating a balance in your life, knowing what you truly love and what you’re passionate about.
SoulTrain.com: Writing about your life and career is one thing, but watching it play out on film would truly be a different experience. If that happened, which chapters would be the most emotionally challenging for you to watch?
Shanti Das: Probably the chapter where I talked about starting from the bottom, knowing the presence God has in my life, and understanding I didn’t get there by myself. The other chapter would be the one where I talk about being stressed out. My father committed suicide, and I still suffer from depression. I can say I’ve come a long way, and I don’t get as emotional about it. I look to my faith to guide me, to direct my path in what I do in life now.
SoulTrain.com: How long was it before you felt like you could speak the language of the recording industry?
Shanti Das: I would probably say it took me well-after being in the industry over ten years to really start understanding the industry and the language of the business, and being able to speak intelligently on it. I started doing panels, whether at various music industry conventions, in the early 2000s.
SoulTrain.com: When did you become most comfortable speaking it?
Shanti Das: I was probably the most comfortable around 2004-2005. Once I became a senior vice president, I already had the experience of a worker bee from my first years in the business. I learned to handle the politics within the industry and the record company, learning what it takes to be a real executive, navigate through the system, and climb the ladder of success. As a woman, knowing my worth as an executive, knowing what it meant to negotiate a fair salary for me, as well as being able to promote staff members underneath me. It took me earning my stripes to speak objectively, as well as intelligently, on the business.
SoulTrain.com: Shanti, what have you learned from your time in the entertainment industry that writing this book helped you to better realize?
Shanti Das: What I’ve learned is people in the entertainment industry in these high-profile positions, they don’t like talking about their problems. Everybody always wants to talk about what’s good. It’s not that they should to go around making people depressed, but I think transparency is a beautiful thing. If we learned how to be more transparent about what’s going on in our lives, I think we could help one another. Our stories, our experiences, those are our testimonies. And I think we were put on this Earth to share our testimonies, that way we could inspire and help other people.
—Mr. Joe Walker
Known as “The Word Heavyweight Champion”, Mr. Joe Walker is a biographer, author, and columnist, currently a senior writer for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and writer for Concrete Magazine. Also co-creator of TheGrooveSpot.com, Walker’s acclaimed, award-winning work has been published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit his blog ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.