Yap Mennen: How Blogging and Social Media Queen Karen Civil Built An Empire
Every blogger wants to be Karen Civil. Why wouldn’t they want to be her? She is an influential new media princess and the head honcho of her own digital media marketing agency, Always Civil Enterprise, and the creator of Living Civil bracelets. And her empire doesn’t stop there. She launched her own clothing company Civil Clothing, already touted as one of the best urban wear brands on the market; and she founded a lifestyle property, Living Civil. Oh, and Karen Civil TV, in which she shares exclusive video interviews—with such rappers as Big Sean, Tyga, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, Wiz Khalifa—should also be mentioned. No wonder so many look up to her. They may want her success, but it’s doubtful that they want to put in all the hard work that catapulted her to the highly coveted station where she holds court. Hard work…now that’s something that is in embedded in Ms. Civil—the way hemoglobin lines up blood.
Her hectic work days days consist of one meeting after another, trips to industry events, planning photo shoots, fielding phone calls and emails from industry folks and rappers vying for her attention. She also manages the editorial staff at KarenCivil.com. Based in Los Angeles, the civil-living entrepreneur can minimize the existence and importance of a rapper by ignoring him (or her) on her website Karencivil.com, or make him (or her) an overnight sensation by merely mentioning him or her on the website. Indeed, Karen Civil is that powerful.
In the late 2000s, most of the popular urban blogs had already been established. It seemed unlikely that there was place for new blood. But either Karen Civil was not dissuaded by this, or thought she could bring something different to the blogging game. Where there’s will, there’s a civil way. She had interned with some of the biggest radio and music brands in New York, and had made more than a handful of connections with talent and shot-callers in the music world. When rapper Lil Wayne went to serve a jail term, Civil teamed up with web designer Karla Moy to create a website to help the star keep in touch with fans.
Civil had assisted Wayne in keeping his brand intact. Now, the Brooklyn-born, Elizabeth, New Jersey-raised gal wanted very much to bring her own venture to life. She knew one of the primary principles of starting a business: start with what you already know and have a passion for. She knew she loved music, especially hip-hop…and she had some contacts. She didn’t want to be a digital sharecropper, as Nicholas Carr would call it…you know one of those types who help big brands build content, but don’t benefit in the long run. No, Karen Civil wanted to build her own brand. There were several highly-trafficked hip-hop blogs, but none were helmed by a female. She turned on the ignition on KarenCivil.com and has been driving on the success highway ever since, landing on Black Enterprise’s Top Blogger list, and being whisked by Dr. Dre to head the social media of his headphone brand. When big conferences want an expert on their panels, Karen Civil is one of the first names that pop into their heads.
Kreyolicious: What are your memories of growing up Haitian?
I guess it would start in Brooklyn when I’d go to family parties and get-togethers. I have a very big family and getting the chance to spend time with them and see my cousins are some of the best memories I have. We had traditional foods and Haitian music playing when we would all come together.
Kreyolicious: Musical memories…?
At family parties, my cousins and uncles were always playing T-Vice’s music.
Kreyolicious: An internship was instrumental in getting you to where you are. When one gets an internship, what is the best way to stand out?
You basically let your grind speak for itself. You have to put in that extra work to show how dedicated up are… You have to stay longer and don’t become a crop watcher, so to speak. Let your grind and ambition show.
Kreyolicious: In the mid-2000s, you gave props to artists like Drake, Nicki Minaj, long before the mainstream knew them. Or rather acknowledged them. Why did you try that approach, when maybe other bloggers weren’t really trying to touch anyone that hadn’t already gotten mainstream validation?
That’s what I built my site—for the purpose to showcase music that I like—not what necessarily has a large following yet.
Kreyolicious: You breathe music. Heck, it’s dripping from your nostrils. But who are your favorite artists. And no girl, this isn’t a trap question.
I mean it’s a variation of music that I listen to…everything and everyone. It’s hard to pick just a few, but I do love Andy Suzuki, Pink, some old school artists, and many many more.
Kreyolicious: What do your parents think about your career in the music world? Are they like, “Se sa Karen, se sa!”
They are proud that I am pursuing my dreams. I came from a family of hard-workers who all have good yet regular professions, so they are glad that my career in music is actually working for me.
Kreyolicious: Were you ever tempted to go the celebrity bashing direction with your blog?
No, because I have been that kid that was picked on. I never want to be that person.
Kreyolicious: So while you’re heading KarenCivil.com, you get tapped to be Social Media Director for Beats by Dre. How did they ever pull you away, chile?
They didn’t pull me away from anything. I am just doing more than one thing. It lets me be creative and I get the best of both worlds.
Kreyolicious: Studying the history of your brand, it surely grew quite fast. And it grew at a time when most thought that music blogs, urban blogs had hit their apogee. What do you attribute that to?
I’ve been doing it for a few years now. I have tried to be consistent, but I still don’t feel like it is where it needs to be. I try to give you a vision of the artist with interviews and new music exclusives.
Kreyolicious: How important do you think image is to a blogger?
I can’t speak for the next blogger, but for myself I take care of my body and mind. I try to get out more often and love to stay in shape. I can’t just throw on sweats if I want to. I have always cared about my appearance, but now I especially take extra care of my personal image.
Kreyolicious: You tend to emphasize a vision board a lot. Out of all the dreams and goals that you had on your board, that you have since accomplished, which one proved to be the most astounding—even to you, who believed so ardently that you would accomplish it?
I think making the Ebony Power 100 list last year with amazing women like Oprah was incredible to me because I wasn’t expecting it at all. I definitely can’t just pin-point one thing, but every day something new is happening for me and I am being acknowledged by my peers which is accomplishing.
Kreyolicious: You made a statement once about the U.S. music industry: “Everybody got a Haitian on the team. It’s the standard.”
I mean our work ethic is like no other! We are all hard-workers, just think about Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot had Mona Scott. [Rapper] 50 had Sha Money XL and so on.
Kreyolicious: Do you feel some sort of partisanship with others of Haitian descent in the music industry?
Of course, I love Sha Money XL, and have so much respect for Mona Scott. We all have that bond and it feels like we are family.
Kreyolicious: What Haitian artists and bands do you like?
Rap-wise I like Jeezy and [konpa-wise] T-Vice. Usher—whenever he decides to admit his roots.
Kreyolicious: In web world, there is sometimes slander, and it’s spread like nothing else in the world. How do you handle rumors and online slandering?
I mean—I am human and it does affect me, but I have amazing friends who remind me that certain people don’t matter and you can’t take anything personally.
Kreyolicious: Do you have plans to work with Haitian artists in a genre like konpa?
No, not that I know of—yet.
Kreyolicious: The music industry is known for being fast, and for being artificial. Some might even use the word “plastic” to describe it. How do you keep yourself civil and real?
It comes with any business, and you’re going to have to face the phonies. I come from a well-rounded family—which is why I have remained grounded.
Kreyolicious: Speaking of which…Can you spot a user from a mile away? Or is face contact required?
It takes time to spot a user because they tend to blend in.
Kreyolicious: Out of all the honors you’ve gotten, industry-related or not, which one means the most to you?
My mom’s blessing is what means most to me.
I think there comes a point in every business person’s career when you need to create those tangible items that set you apart.
Kreyolicious: Did you have any qualms about having your name as your brand? And putting your face in front of your brand?
Kreyolicious: When was the last time you went to Haiti?
About two-and-a-half years ago, when my aunt graduated from college.
Kreyolicious: It’s no doubt mentally taxing to be at the head of all these brands. How do you make sure you take care of yourself?
I meditate daily. I love to stay in shape and I am into yoga and my daily workouts. Som I make sure I am mentally, spiritually, and physically alive.
Kreyolicious: It would seem to most that the next big step for you would be for you to head a record label division or something along that line.
You never know what the future holds.
Kreyolicious: What’s next for the Civil Brand?
I will continue to look for new ways to grow. I am working on my book that is coming out next year and planning the annual Live Civil Brunch.
Be sure to visit Karen Civil’s flagship site by CLICKING HERE.