Success Story: Lifestyle Specialist Kenny Burns Shares Secrets to Entrepreneurship
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PUMA teamed up with Kenny Burns in December 2021 for the release of the limited-edition Work Harder GV Special sneaker. PHOTO BY JHALIN KNOWLES
Multihyphenate maven Kenny Burns (@kennyburns) has spent over 20 years in the entertainment, fashion and lifestyle spaces doing what he does best: connecting. Forming connections and building opportunities is an art form that Burns has developed since he was a young child. From selling lemonade-sweet tea at a stand to promoting candy at a marked-up price in high school, Burns has long had the chops of an entrepreneur.
“I’ve always walked in the light of my purpose, but I understand my purpose now to help the voiceless, to spread information that doesn’t go over people’s heads,” he says, “to recognize superpowers in people when people wouldn’t dare tell me what my superpower was growing up because they want to control the narrative and control mine as well. I don’t hold information. I want everybody to eat.” This selfless, go-getter attitude has aided in Burns’ success.
Burns had a cousin who attended Morehouse and invited him to the 1992 Freaknik in Atlanta. This event was pivotal in his entrepreneurial pursuits and led him to host parties. He fast became the biggest party promoter in the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC). In addition, he secured The B.I.G. Mack Tour with late rappers Notorious B.I.G. and Craig Mack, brought JAY-Z to Atlanta ahead of his 1996 Reasonable Doubt album and helped set up street teams.
Burns adds, “I started lending my friends, basically my services of connecting people, and was quickly becoming the lifestyle specialist, and I took that opportunity to go into the music business.” Early on, he had a hand in the careers of R&B singer Monica, rapper Wale, female pop group Dream and crooner Akon, just to name a few. Then, in 2003, Burns became the VP of the iconic Roc-A-Fella Records.
“Being at Roc-A-Fella, we had an immense success. This was probably the height of Roc-A-Fella, and JAY-Z was making a record called Change Clothes, and he ended up wearing a button-up that I designed with my partners Ryan Glover and Derek Dudley with Ryan Kenny. And that started my vision like, ‘Wait, I really move culture. I don’t just participate.’” Serendipitously, a friend of Burns had an account with Axe Body Spray and asked if he could help with its North American launch. That connection led to Burns’ Axe Body Spray placement landing in Ciara’s “Goodies” music video. In meetings, he began being introduced as a lifestyle expert: “I’m not a lifestyle expert. I’m a specialist. Specialists have a unique return on your ROI.”
Burns invested in LS Cream Liqueur, inspired by the traditional Haitian drink cremas, in late 2021. PHOTO COURTESY OF RIOUS PHOTOGRAPHY
Burns’ blow-out birthday party at the Versace mansion with Hennessy as a sponsor later solidified him as the dot-connector in the realm of entertainment and the world of luxury spirits. From locking in Grey Goose Vodka sponsorships for touring artists to becoming head of Diddy’s Combs Wine & Spirits to most recently becoming an investor of both Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey and LS Cream, Burns continues his conquest in the luxury spirits space.
His next venture involves Africa-based Spearhead Spirits, founded by Chris Frederick and Damola Timeyin. “These are some young Black superheroes. To be able to fortify your thoughts and make it actually come true,” he states, “get to a Kenny Burns or Fawn Weaver [CEO and founder of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey]. You deserve to be in business.” Burns will also tap back into the music world in 2022 and continue The Kenny Burns Show on Atlanta’s V-103.3 FM. “I found an artist [N9N23] who reminds me of me in the streets. He could be my son, and he’s a good human. So, I’ll do my Kenny Burns thing with the presentation of it all, but it’ll be in the way we’ve always received music in the Black community: with open arms. I’m going to help him grow into one of the best artists of this generation.”