Kei Henderson achieved success once she broke all the rules and decided to do things her own way. Today, she’s the President of Sincethe80s, founded with artist managers Barry Johnson and Zekiel Nicholson, a joint venture with Motown/Capitol Records. The boutique record label, music management, and publishing company boast an impressive artist roster, including Atlanta superstar, 21 Savage.
Beginning as a hip-hop enthusiast with a passion for journalism, Henderson has gone to immeasurable lengths to galvanize an untapped area of the music industry with her all-encompassing record label and management team.
KeiSaundra ‘Kei Opens Doors’ Henderson moved to Alpharetta, Georgia at the age of 5 from Ohio. Her proximity to Atlanta ignited her fascination with hip-hop, leading Kei to scour over the pages of XXL and The Source magazine. “As a teenager, I used to collect every music magazine that existed,” Kei mused. “I would obsess over hip-hop moguls studying their moves and how they built their empires.”
It was in these glossy pages that she’d discovered her heroes. Music moguls like P.Diddy, Sylvia Rhone and Steve Stoute all spoke to her deep desire to be an iconoclastic force in the beguiling music industry. Kei had chosen her destiny, and with that decided to do everything required to make her dreams come true.
Man Plans, and God Laughs:
Not immune to life’s curveballs, Kei’s plans for a career in journalism took an unexpected turn. In 2008, an artist asked me to manage them,” she told Beats. That artist was the late, Old Fourth Ward Legend, Grip Playz, whose career took Kei on a path she may have never discovered without him. The young, mogul-minded budding entrepreneur was a natural and quickly became a reputable name in talent management.
With stints at media giant Complex and fashion-house 10, Kei developed brand strategies that were effective, and uncompromising; two skills she brought to each level of her work.
Kei Meets 21 Savage:
In 2014, when she met 21 Savage during the annual Atlanta hip-hop festival, A3C, she knew he was bound for great things. “I instantly recognized that he was real street, not internet street, which naturally made him intriguing,” she reminisced. “When we took him on a short 10-day tour, and every time he performed he captured the audience’s attention, which was unmatched for someone that had never performed on that kind of stage before. I knew that he had something special.”
Despite her accolades, Kei is a firm believer in hard work paying off. “I didn’t make money in management for the first seven years,” she recounts when asked about the process of getting where she is today. “Timing and preparation work hand-in-hand,” Kei continues, “by the time I started managing 21 Savage, I knew exactly what to do with him. I knew all the contacts, and I knew how to work him through the system because of the seven years I worked not making any money.”
Kei’s ingenuity and hard-working attitude have made her one of the most sought after industry experts.
More Than A Manager:
Recent events, in which the Grammy-nominated artist, 21 Savage was arrested and reportedly imprisoned in a detention center by ICE, has seen Kei take a stance to support the rapper, not just as his manager, but as a friend.
We reached out to several artists to perform Savage’s verse and/or stand in solidarity on stage on his behalf.
— Kei (@keiopensdoors) February 11, 2019
Someone from Epic sent me the photo of Post wearing the Savage tee before he performed. I appreciate the notion. Lord knows me, Meezy and our team attempted to solidify recognition for Savage during the performance of “Rockstar,” it just didn’t work out that way.
— Kei (@keiopensdoors) February 11, 2019
As details unfold, Kei continued to work against a system, unfairly keeping 21 Savage away from his family, friends and children, while he’s threatened with deportation.
Since his release, Kei continues to be his all-encompassing rock; a role that far exceeds her position as a manager, yet brings her closer to her mogul dreams, that started all the way back in Alpharetta, Georgia.
In the new era of streaming, Kei has tweaked her techniques and helped artist management and label conglomerates gain traction. In an article for Billboard, that explores the trend of merging these two, usually, separate entities, Kei is praised for her work with 21. “Kei has a superstar in 21 Savage,” tells Since The 80s’ Zekiel Nicholson. “Maintaining that energy and being able to put some time and some thought into something else [is hard].”
The Future of Artist Management
Kei’s latest signee is LA-based Asiahn whose been called “the future” by Dr. Dre. The song-writing phenom whose resume boasts writing credits for Jennifer Lopez and Miley Cyrus now aims to create a name for herself, a task that Kei intends to take head-on. Her new record, Love Train 2, the follow-up to her debut EP Love Train is a raw and beautiful exploration of Asiahn’s innermost thoughts and feelings. Her management of Asiahn, already spanning a year and a half, is notarized by a post on Kei’s Instagram, acknowledging a hand-written ‘thank you’ card from the artist the day they began working together. The latest move for SinceThe80s marks another success for the tenacious entrepreneur. A sure reminder to never doubt what she’s capable of achieving.
A self-made mogul, Kei has a few words for those wanting to follow in her footsteps: “Strategic moves are really important, but most kids want to skip the process and jump straight to being the CEO. If you don’t want to work a regular job, at least do a job that is going to help push you towards what you want to do.”
Read Next: Moguls, Money, and Impact