This story is part two of Boardroom’s Black History Month “Playmakers” series highlighting figures across sports, business, culture, and entertainment who are working to effect socially conscious change.
Part I: Patrick Mahomes | Part III: Nicole Lynn | Part IV: Chris Paul
Part V: Issa Rae | Part VI: Quinta Brunson | Part VII: Broccoli City
“I want people to know me for seamless disruption and fearlessness… for advocating across industries, and showing people you can be more than one thing.”
This is how Karl Fowlkes defines his why — and one day, hopefully, his legacy — when asked what he most wants to be known for as we observe Black History Month 2023.
More specifically, he said, “I want to be known for access to education and particularly increasing literacy in the Black community.”
Fowlkes is an entertainment attorney and entrepreneur, a managing partner at The Fowlkes Firm, and the co-founder and COO of EVGLE. The south New Jersey native got his start by taking a non-traditional route to break into the music business — he decided to study law at Villanova University and enter the brutally competitive industry by providing legal services to budding artists. He told Boardroom that taking the legal route into the music world granted him a valuable vantage point, as entertainment attorneys touch every aspect of the business, from contracts, recording, and touring to publishing and corporate law.
“It’s funny because, in my life, I’ve been really traditional in the sense that I went to school, got a degree, and got a job afterward. That’s all pretty normal stuff,” Fowlkes told Boardroom in an exclusive video interview. “A lot of times in the music industry, in hip-hop particularly, it doesn’t really happen that way. Either you break into the industry through the management route, A&R, or by even being talent yourself.”
To learn more about his unique trajectory, Boardroom chopped it up with Fowlkes about launching his own law firm, building a business with rapper/producer Blxst, and how he juggles all of his ventures as a Black entrepreneur.
Launching EVGLE with Blxst
Karl Fowlkes had a short stint in corporate law at Bloomberg before building out his own legal practice, The Fowlkes Firm. Launching in 2019, the company mainly supports artists, producers, songwriters, and entertainers, as well as certain creative firms.
“The goal is to protect cultural assets and provide legal strategy,” Fowlkes said. “I think a lot of legal strategies are based on the industry that existed previously as opposed to the industry that will exist in the next 20 years that will include new tech and media.”
On that particular note, Fowlkes feels like many traditional law firms haven’t figured out how to “play on the internet,” so he uses that to his advantage. He considers himself an internet baby who leveraged digital tools like social media to launch his career.
LA-raised rapper and singer Matthew “Blxst” Burdette initially connected with Fowlkes when he became one of his legal clients. Alongside Blxst and Victor Burnett, Fowlkes would co-found EVGLE, a multidisciplinary entertainment, media, and venture company. Launched in 2021, EVGLE manages a record label, production house, clothing brand, publishing division, and investment arm, with Fowlkes serving as a managing partner and Chief Operating Officer.
“He’s an incredible artist with an even more creative mind,” he said of working with Blxst. “I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves just yet — which is a part of the storytelling we’re doing this year.”
Much like Blxst himself, Fowlkes is also a multifaceted creator and endlessly curious, so it made perfect sense for the two to work together on an official basis. As they began to build, the team behind EVGLE came to feel that no matter what, they ought to create a business that would be known for more than releasing music.
“When we wanted to build this music company, it was always supposed to be using music as a vehicle to impact,” Fowlkes said. “The music industry is a great way to break through culturally, but we have bigger aspirations to try to make this world a better place.”
The music label side of the business already manages three songwriters and producers, but EVGLE is on a mission to build across various industries, including culinary, tech, and merchandising. Soon, the company expects to roll out new content and launch brand partnerships.
Investing in the Black community
Fowlkes’ favorite thing about running multiple businesses is the ability to tap into his creative and legal expertise across a broad range of scenarios and with a diversified group of objectives. Fowlkes notably didn’t think he’d end up here when he first set out to work as an attorney, however.
“Anything I build, I want it to transcend. I didn’t want to be a 30-year attorney. Law is a combat sport,” Fowlkes said. “I always thought law was just a perfect way for me to break into the business world.”
Right on cue, Fowlkes is engaged in several initiatives that permit him to focus on applying his business acumen for the greater good. Specifically, he wants to ensure the literacy rate improves in the Black community while enhancing food security and access to other essential resources.
That’s far from the full list of priorities for the tireless entrepreneur, however.
“I can name 50 things I want to do,” Fowlkes said. “There are so many different things I want to attack. I do things until I feel fulfilled and excel until it’s time to do the next thing.”
In order to get to the next thing, however, consider the extent to which tech, music, and entrepreneurship are increasingly intertwined — Fowlkes sees collaboration as the key, and that there’s currently an empty space for creative problem-solvers like himself, Blxst, and other fellow travelers to occupy when it comes to building compelling brands.
“A lot of people haven’t learned to package their cultural cachet to get into industries or build a real company,” he said. “You can build an ecosystem around what you’re doing and create community through activations.”
On the subject of cultural cachet, it must be noted that 2023 marks 50 years of hip-hop, but the sad reality is that not enough of the trailblazers who made the genre what it is today own their songs, their masters, or their publishing. This reality is something that Fowlkes often ponders, and another reason why he’s leaning into the entrepreneurial spirit to help the music industry evolve.
“How do we make sure we’re more in control during the next 50 years of Hip-Hop, R&B, and Black music? Those are the messages and tools I’m trying to provide to people,” he said.
We’re admittedly plenty far away from celebrating hip-hop at 100, but for now, Fowlkes sets aside time to invest in the next generation by teaching at Philadelphia’s Drexel University. He shares well-earned insights on music publishing and the evolution of hip-hop as part of a role he earned after reaching out to the university directly and telling them he wanted to help shape the minds of the next generation of music business professionals.
Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.
“These last eight years of my life have really shown me how people try to box you in,” he said. “People should live a full life, and I want to show them how dynamic life could be.”
Through media, narratives are built, perceptions are shaped, and society and culture are animated. All told, Karl Fowlkes hopes young Black professionals will tap into their own sense of curiosity and find new ways not just to lift themselves up, but empower the next wave of change-makers to come.
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