‘Hip-hop professor’ Jasmine Young forges new legacy at Howard University — Andscape
When Jasmine “Jazz” Young escorted up-and-coming rapper Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace to the main YardFest stage at Howard University’s 1993 homecoming, it gave the then-senior marketing major a preview of her future career with Def Jam Recordings, a career that ultimately led the native New Yorker back to her alma mater.
In the 30 years since that homecoming, the woman known as the “Hip-hop professor” has had many more firsthand encounters with hip-hop icons, experiences Young now shares with students as director of Howard’s Warner Music|Blavatnik Center for Music Business. On Oct. 10, Billboard named the center one of the top music business schools in the world.
Howard is where she first found her voice, Young told Andscape.
“I always say in every interview that I got bits and pieces of myself, I learned who I was,” she said. “Nobody wants to hear this, this brown-skinned, overweight, loud girl from South Jamaica, Queens. Howard gave me my voice and taught me how to refine it. And who am I not to give back to our Black and brown babies?”
As an undergraduate at Howard in the early 1990s, Young was part of a group of students who wanted to be in the music business. They took advantage of every opportunity, and when any of them saw a job posting on or off campus offering a chance to gain a foothold within the industry, they made sure to inquire.
In 1992, when Young was a sophomore, she met Kevin Mitchell, then Def Jam’s national director for alternative promotions, during an interest meeting for internship opportunities with the record label.
“Any kid that showed promise and really some enthusiasm to learn, I was willing to help,” Mitchell said.
When Young came home for the summer, Mitchell arranged an internship for her in Def Jam’s New York office.
“Because she lived in Queens, we got her an internship in the office,” Mitchell said. “She became an intern there and started to elevate and build relationships and things like that with [former Def Jam music executive] Julie Greenwald and all the key stakeholders, so it was something that kind of progressed.”
Those connections set the course for Young’s future career.
As a Def Jam intern, her responsibilities included going to nightclubs and promoting artists’ singles and albums, as well as occasionally taking pictures of crowds near or with promotional posters. Young sometimes worked until 2 a.m. but still made it to her early-morning classes.
“I’m upset because I’ve never seen any of those posters [since],” Young said. “But now those posters are worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars.”
Howard’s homecoming in 1993 had several notable hip-hop artists on the lineup, from Grand Puba and Fat Joe to Ice Cube, Redman and Biz Markie. Young used her contacts at Def Jam, asking the record label to make T-shirts for homecoming.
“Imagine all the other record labels at the time coming on campus and seeing that Def Jam supplied the shirts,” she said.
When she got the position of head volunteer coordinator for homecoming that year instead of music coordinator, she was determined to find a way to eventually work with those artists – and she did.
Def Jam offered her a job as marketing director and project manager shortly after she graduated from Howard in 1994.
“It was my first great experience in marketing. That’s how I eventually found my niche, as a marketing strategist and a product manager at Def Jam,” Young said.
In her role, Young marketed artists such as Jay-Z, Foxy Brown and DMX. Despite her title, she did a lot more than marketing.
While working with rapper DMX, for example, her responsibilities varied widely.
“[I was] getting him on a flight, making sure his clothes are on point,” she said. “If any artist does an album cover, you have to make sure that all the elements are there, hiring the photographer, making sure that the photographer sees the vision, making sure that you know the pictures are back at a certain time.”
Her hard work didn’t go unnoticed. In 2001, when DMX posed for the hip-hop magazine XXL, Elliott Wilson, editor-in-chief at the time, asked Young to pose with the rapper.
“DMX wouldn’t do a lot of things without me,” Young said. “He wouldn’t get on camera, he wouldn’t start to take the pictures if I didn’t get in the pictures with him. And so Elliott surprised me and put me on the back cover.”
The relationships Young created at Howard and throughout her career helped bring her back to the university in her current role.
Julian Petty was a sophomore at Howard’s School of Business seeking an internship when he met Young in 1996. Young found him an opportunity to follow in her footsteps as an intern at Def Jam, and Petty is now the head of business and legal affairs at Warner Records. In an interview with NPR in 2015, he credited Young for leading him to a career in the music industry.
In 2020, Petty called Young with an idea to create a pipeline to the music industry for Howard students, then went to his connections at Warner Music Group to pitch the concept.
In 2022, with a $4.9 million donation from the Warner Music Group / Blavatnik Family Foundation Social Justice Fund, the Warner Music | Blavatnik Center for Music Business was established. Young was appointed as director.
“We have a budget and office … to give back to the Howard community, because it’s our heart and it’s our love and it’s our desire,” Young said.
Young stressed the importance of her connections, many of which are now driving the success of the center. Last year, its executive in residence was Howard alumnus Tarik Brooks (Class of 1997), president of Combs Global.
This year, Lenny Santiago, a senior vice president at Roc Nation, will be the center’s executive in residence. Young said she and Santiago met while she was a project manager at Def Jam handling marketing for rapper Jay-Z’s first five chart-topping albums. She served as a liaison between Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella Records, and everyone involved, including Santiago, would hang out in her office, brainstorming ideas and discussing projects.
“He is a trendsetter,” Young said. “He’s just everything, and he is a dear friend of mine.”
Before each homecoming, Howard holds auditions for students to perform during the annual Yardfest. Last year, two out of the four students chosen were members of the music business center. Junior marketing major and singer Tayler Towles, who performs as “Tayler Lee,” was one of them.
“Professor Young is my favorite person at Howard, and the Warner Music center was actually the main reason for me applying to Howard,” Towles said.
When Towles first heard about the homecoming auditions, she wanted to perform, especially since she had just released her first EP. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, she had not gotten a chance to hone her performance skills.
Nervous about the prospect of auditioning, she went to the music center to introduce herself to Young.
“She had me sing both of my song options for her. She dedicated so much of her time just to sit down, listen to me, hear my story, hear what my songs are about,” Towles said. “And she gave me some of the best advice that I’ve ever received, [to] go home and practice my song full-out in the mirror, kind of like I was choreographing my movements.”
Towles, who is currently working on her next EP and hopes to release it in November, was left humbled by the experience of performing at Howard’s homecoming.
“It was surreal, just knowing the history behind homecoming, and knowing that I was able to hit the stage, the same stage where some of the biggest artists like Jay-Z and Biggie and DMX had the opportunity to perform,” she said.
New performers will take the stage during this year’s homecoming YardFest on Friday, joining the long list of artists who came before them, and Young will witness them all.
“Did you watch Forrest Gump? You know how he has all these memories of history?” she said. “I have a bunch of history, but at the time you don’t know that it’s going to be historic. You just know that it’s happening.”