New York: Atlantic Records

My first two years in New York I temped at Warner Music Group (Atlantic, Elektra and Warner). I was poorly paid, but after three months of unemployment, I could finally pay my rent and feed myself.

My first assignment was assembling press kits in the A&R Department at Atlantic. The department’s assistant was in the cube next to mine, so we chatted a bit while we worked.

Me: How do you like working at a music label?
Assistant: I love it!
Me: Cool! Is this what you always wanted to do? Do you want to move up?
Assistant: Yes, I do. Listen, don’t ever speak to the artists or ask for their autographs.
Me: Umm.. Ok. I hadn’t even thought of that.
Assistant: Cool, just don’t do it.
Me: Ok

In my head, I thought, Wait, did she just call me a groupie? I stopped asking her questions and focused on easier topics like lunch and the weather. On my last day of the assignment, the assistant asked me to cover for her next week. I gladly accepted, because cash.

The week was pretty uneventful until Wednesday, when I was walking back to my desk from the bathroom. I heard someone yell from one of the offices “Yo, yo, yo come here. Miss, Miss, Miss come here.” I looked around and realized I was “Miss.” I looped back, to find Fat Joe and his entourage packed into a tiny office. I was overwhelmed. That was a lot of manhood in a very small space whose attention was solely focused on me.  I smiled a tense smile. I was nervous.

Fat Joe: What’s your name?
Me: Cara
Fat Joe: Nice to meet you.
Me: Nice to meet you too.

I feared this wouldn’t end well. I was talking to an artist. Something I had been warned about.

Fat Joe: So Cara….

Then like an Angel proclaiming Jesus’ birth I heard my boss calling out for me. My boss didn’t know my name, so he was just screaming “Hey.” I waved “Goodbye” to Fat Joe in the middle of the conversation and took off running back to my desk. I could hear Fat Joe yelling “Come on!  Cara come back!” I went on with my work without acknowledging Fat Joe screaming my name from a few offices down. It was a perfect strategy since no one in that office knew my name. The noise of Fat Joe screaming, blended into the regular noise of the office, kind of like the noise the subway makes. A couple of minutes later Fat Joe’s record exec returned to his office and they began their meeting. I disappeared for lunch, so I wouldn’t see him on his way out.

A month later, I was back in that same department and I heard a woman’s voice in the distance say “Hi, how are you.” She repeated it over and over again. Her voice was getting closer with each “Hi, how are you?” Finally, she appeared from around the corner.  It was Lil’ Kim! Lil Kim was at her peak back then. There was a half-naked, life-size stand up of her in the elevator bank. The elevator doors opened and there she was day in and day out, staring at me. When the real life Kim passed, she looked me dead in the eye and said “Hi, how are you?” Then kept moving down the aisle greeting everyone as she passed.   It was a little surreal to go from stand-up Lil Kim, to the live version without any warning.

The star sightings were exciting, but they were my least important experiences at the record labels.  They were my initiation into New York life. It’s where I learned to be tough.