A One-on-One with Multi-Platinum Music Producer Kevin “Khao” Cates
Following the successful Money Matters Music Mogul contest and release of 16-year-old Syretha Shirley’s music video “Time Is Money,” I was lucky enough to get a little time with Grammy-Award-nominated music producer and founder of the Bridge DA Gap Movement Kevin “Khao” Cates and talk about what motivates him to help teens. I was particularly interested in hearing how he came to team up with Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) and Charles Schwab Foundation on the contest. Not only did Khao serve as the final judge, selecting the winning song from the top five finalists, but he also turned it into a cool music video featuring Syretha.
Q: How did you connect with Charles Schwab Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of America?
I had already visited several of the local Boys & Girls Clubs in Atlanta and performed songs from Bridge DA Gap. Bridge DA Gap and BGCA have very similar goals of helping today’s youth get a strong start. On the surface, it may appear strange for a rapper and hip-hop producer to collaborate with an organization like Charles Schwab Foundation. But our missions of helping the underserved are actually very compatible.
I was introduced to Charles Schwab Foundation President Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz when I was in San Francisco last year to support my friend, Ronnie Lott, and his nonprofit, All Stars Helping Kids. Ronnie knew Carrie and thought that my work through Bridge DA Gap might be of interest to her. We scheduled a meeting, and she and I immediately connected; she was impressed by Bridge DA Gap’s practice of using hip-hop music as a way to make character-building lessons more relevant and meaningful to teens. When Carrie’s team approached me about participating in the M4 contest as a way to motivate more Boys & Girls Club teens to sign up for Money Matters: Make it Count, I was saying “yes” before they even finished asking.
Q: Why are you focused on financial literacy?
Many factors can cause teens to get off track, including the lack of financial knowledge. I thought I could make a significant difference by helping teens understand how to make good choices about money, including how to budget, stretch it and save it.
When money management is taught to teens, it’s often not presented in ways they can’t relate to, and too often it doesn’t change their behavior. The Money Matters program is different, but we realized we could make it even more engaging. Tapping into the kids’ innate creativity through a hip-hop music-oriented contest seemed like a great idea.
Q: How did you get involved with music?
Music has always been an important part of my life – ever since I was young, growing up in Montgomery, Alabama. Rather than staging battles with my plastic GI Joes, I was using them to put on concerts. Music was my passion, and I wanted to make it my career, so I learned everything I possibly could about it. I became a producer when I wasn’t able to create music that matched my musical vision. I needed different beats, so I created my own.
To chase my dream of being a performer, I moved to Atlanta where I hoped to gain a following and make the right connections, but times were tough. I got a temporary job as a computer technician to help pay the bills, but I struggled, and for a time I became homeless and lived out of my truck. This was the darkest time of my life, but it was also a turning point. I was confident in my abilities, and I knew that I had the power to push through the haze that was keeping me from reaching my potential.
I realize now that that was the beginning of my story. I got a few breaks, made a few good contacts and started making some money. Once I did, I went back to my roots, opened a studio in Alabama and met T.I., an up-and-coming rapper at the time. After producing his record, I reached out to the contacts I’d made over the years, and now, 20 million albums and a Grammy nomination later, I understand what it can mean to be successful.
Q: Why are you so focused on striking the right chord with kids?
Dr. Charles Steele, a civil rights leader, once spoke at a Dead Serious hip-hop awards ceremony that I attended, and he argued that we’re too busy chasing money instead of lending a hand to the younger generations. What impressed me most was his apology on behalf of his generation for not passing the torch to people of my age. That planted the seed in my mind for the creation of Bridge DA Gap. I wanted to be more than successful; I wanted to be significant, and so I set my sights on passing the torch.
I believe that everything anyone needs to succeed is already inside of them, but young people need to hear that message from someone who’s been there, who’s overcome the same challenges that many of them are going through.
But kids need more than motivation to learn how to make good choices. They needed a blueprint to follow so that when they veer off track, they have a way to get back. I wanted to teach them about patience, anger management, drug awareness and not making excuses in life. I built the Bridge DA Gap curriculum around these issues so that kids can have that blueprint. I wrote songs about these topics, too, to relate to the kids on another level.
Q: What made you choose Syretha’s song as the winner?
There were a few songs that I really loved, but Syretha’s song resonated with me right away. I could tell from her lyrics that she knew the Money Matters curriculum and that she’d internalized it. I thought her passion, voice and message would really connect with other teens both inside and outside of BGCA.
For more information about Money Matters, visit www.moneymattersmakeitcount.com.
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