Mathew Knowles on Fatherhood and Beyonce

Music mogul Mathew Knowles, also known as Beyonce's dad, talks with Tony Cox about the challenges of fatherhood, managing his daughters' music careers, and how he really feels about Beyonce dating rapper Jay-Z.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

(Soundbite of song “Crazy in Love”)

Failure is not an option for Mathew Knowles, the president of Music World Entertainment record label. More widely known as the father and manager of singer Beyonce, Knowles has worked with some of the top artists in the business. He made a big name for himself as the brains behind the trio Destiny's Child. But Knowles tells NPR's Tony Cox that his life wasn't always glitter and gold.

(Soundbite of song “Crazy In Love”)

Ms. BEYONCE KNOWLES: (Singer) Got me looking so crazy right now. Your love's got me looking so crazy right now, your love…

Mr. MATHEW KNOWLES (President, Music World Entertainment): It's interesting because I didn't realize when I was a kid how poor we were. My father was a truck driver, made $50 a week. And the reason why I know that so vividly is my Mom used to just constantly give him a hard time for that. But he was a very strong man, and our house looked like a Sanford and Son. We had old cars, lumber, copper, refrigerators, batteries.

And I used to be really saying that - know that we had all of that on the side of our home, not realizing that my father - being the strong entrepreneur he was - took that truck and made an additional income with it. My mother was as -in those days, growing up in Gaston, Alabama, you know, her day job was to be a maid for a white family. And on the weekends and in the evenings, she would get her best friends over and they would make these beautiful quilts.

COX: Can you sing, Mathew?

Mr. KNOWLES: You know, as when you growing up in high school, we had these - I had these three friends and, you know, we had this boy band. And then in a choir, when I was going to school - I went to a Catholic school early on, and I was in the choir so, you know, I enjoy singing. Like the girls, Beyonce and Solange, they tell me not to sing. Don't sing Daddy. Please, don't you sing.

COX: Let me ask you: were you and your wife - were you stage parents from the beginning, or were you just regular parents who at some point realized that your children, Beyonce and Solange, really had something special and you began to nurture them? Or did it start from the beginning that, you know, these kids are going to be big?

Mr. KNOWLES: Tony, I thought we're going to be friends. You used that word stage parents.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KNOWLES: Man, you don't know my background. See, my philosophy is had Beyonce or Solange came to me and said Dad, I want to be a doctor. My personality is how do I buy a hospital? And that has nothing to do with stage. That has to do with the entrepreneurial inside of me.

And when my kids came to me and said one day, Dad, I want to sing. Then my responsibility was first, initially, as a father to take her to rehearsals and to surround her with all the tools that could help her be successful. But that one day in Orlando, Florida when these little girls lost on Star Search and cried their hearts out, became the day that I had to step up and see if I could in any way assist my daughter and her dream.

But what most people don't know when they used that word stage daddy - see, I'm stay with you all day about that. By the time this interview - you're going to regret you ever said that.

What people don't know is that the first act that I ever signed to a major record deal was not my daughter's group or her. Actually, the artist name was Loa(ph) on MCA Records.

COX: You have managed a number of groups successfully through your music management career to this point.

Mr. KNOWLES: I was a stage dad. When I was with Earth, Wind and Fire, I was their stage dad - the O'Jays, I was the stage dad. Michelle Williams, Mario…

COX: Point taken.

Mr. KNOWLES: Let's see. Who else was I the stage dad? I could go on and on.

COX: But here's my question: as you look back now with what you know now about the business and about the difficulties that are involved with managing anyone, let alone, you know, your baby girl. Would you do it or would you tell Beyonce, you know, honey, maybe you'd be better off getting someone other than me.

Mr. KNOWLES: I have no regrets. I would absolutely love to have that opportunity again.

COX: Really, why do you say that?

Mr. KNOWLES: I'm having the fun of my life. I wake up everyday with challenges. I wake up everyday extremely happy. I wake up everyday knowing that my day's going to change, and it's not set. And that's exciting.

COX: Which is more difficult: to be Beyonce's father or to be Beyonce's manager?

Mr. KNOWLES: I would say both. Sometimes I have to make very difficult decisions as a manager that's not always best for my child. When she was in Destiny's Child, I didn't make decisions based on what was best for Beyonce.

I had to make decisions that were best for the group, and sometimes that affected her personally. Those are tough decisions. There are some times when I have to take off the manager hat and be a father. And sometimes I have to take the father hat off and be a manager. And just to balance of that - and I'm not perfect so I make mistakes with that.

COX: Well, you know, Beyonce was quoted as saying that you were in shock when she went out and recorded this last album, you know, sort of without telling Dad what was going on. Oh, no, actually, let me back up on that. She said you were in shock when she turned 18 and began to make some of her own decisions. And as a parent of two daughters myself, I know that can be a tough time.

Mr. KNOWLES: Oh, when they go through that stage of…

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: You know what I'm talking about.

Mr. KNOWLES: …18 to 23.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: That's right, when they become adults.

Mr. KNOWLES: But I think the beauty of that is as a manager and as a father -and they're both the same - is that you have to step back, take a deep breath and pray and hope that they can make those decisions, because it is a transition.

COX: How do you feel about being left out of the loop - if you were, in fact, left out of the loop on this last CD?

Mr. KNOWLES: I'll just say this.

COX: All right.

Mr. KNOWLES: Her A&R, Max Gousse, is employed by me. Now I'll let you being the smart man that I know you are figure out the rest.

COX: All right, so you were in - so you were in the loop on that.

Mr. KNOWLES: He was my employee.

COX: Okay.

Mr. KNOWLES: I'll just reinforce that.

COX: All right. Now, let me just pursue this a little bit more, just because it's - I think it's an interesting point. But did you find out from her or did you find out from the guy working for you?

Mr. KNOWLES: Next question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Are you in a situation where as Beyonce's - and we're not going to continue to talk only about her, but this one more thing. As her career just explodes - it's already exploded, but as it continues to explode - are you in a situation where you will find yourself having to sort of cut out a new space for you in relation to her career both as her father and as a manager?

Mr. KNOWLES: Let me speak first as a father. Our relationship gets stronger as a father and daughter as she gets older. And I think every child goes through that independence stage. And I think she's gone through that, and I think she did a great job in her growth through that.

And as her manager, it's not - that's not a Beyonce issue. That's just being a good manager, because the way that I managed Destiny's Child when they were 15, I made all the decisions. And anybody that thinks that a 15 year old is going to make multimillion decisions, that doesn't happen in the music industry.

COX: All right, let's talk about the Spirit Rising. Why'd you do this?

Mr. KNOWLES: You know, I got into gospel because of - speaking of Destiny's Child - because of Michelle Williams, actually. She was in a choir. She loved gospel music. It's her roots. And she said I want to make a gospel album. And again, it goes back to - if Beyonce had said she wanted to be a doctor, I would buy a hospital. Michelle says she wanted to be a gospel artist, I started a gospel label.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MICHELLE WILLIAMS (Singer): (Singing) Know that God is grateful. He'll guide you through your storm.

COX: One of the things that I have noticed about Gospel music today, generally, is that it tends to be a little more contemporary as opposed to traditional. Now is that being driven by the market?

Mr. KNOWLES: I can only speak for us. As with R&B or hip-hop or any other genre in music, I had to ask who is my client base? Who is our core that's buying our records? I always wanted this to be 14-year-olds to 30-year-olds, that younger set. I wanted this to be for the same kid that bought a Destiny's Child record. In their collection, they have Spirit Rising and a gospel record.

I'm not trying to sell no records to no 40, 50, 60 year olds. Ain't trying to do that. I'm happy with you all. I support your music, but that ain't the kind of music I like. It ain't the kind of music we're trying to sell.

COX: Now, you also have a new CD - either it's out or it's coming out. It's sort of the cleaned-up version of the same beats and sounds of the more parental advisory versions of rap.

Mr. KNOWLES: It's called Kids Rap Radio.

COX: Right.

Mr. KNOWLES: My young 2-year-old loves - Jewels - loves hip-hop. I mean, when he hears a song, his head starts bopping. His body starts moving. And I, as a grandfather, didn't want Jewels to be listening to that kind of music. And so I said let's keep the tracks good, but let's clean up the lyrics.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Rapping) All I need for dessert is a little bit. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. (unintelligible) in school when you hear my head. (unintelligible) on you shirt, all I need for dessert is a little bit. A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

COX: Speaking of big track, let's talk about “Dreamgirls.” That's coming out too. That ought to be - that ought to be a monster for you. Are you expecting it to be?

Mr. KNOWLES: This is going to be a very big movie, the cast that it has - Eddie Murphy, Jaime, Jennifer Hudson. The music is part of the thread of the movie. This could be the breakout movie I'm predicting for Eddie Murphy - who did an incredible job - and Beyonce.

(Soundbite of song, “Listen”)

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) I am alone at a crossroads. I'm not at home in my own home. And I've tried and tried to say what's on my mind. You should have known. Now I'm done believing…

COX: Really, do you like Beyonce's acting?

Mr. KNOWLES: It's hard for me still seeing her on the big screen.

COX: Yeah. Why?

Mr. KNOWLES: I don't know. I just don't know.

COX: Does it have anything to do with what she's wearing or how she's carrying herself?

Mr. KNOWLES: No. It's just that I'm so used to her singing that to see her on the big screen is just - is different for me. I'm so focused in the music side of it.

COX: I'm going to bring this to an end because our time is running out.

Mr. KNOWLES: Hey, we're having too much fun for the time…

COX: I do have to ask you. This is a Daddy question, all right? Tell us what you really thought about Jay-Z as the guy for your daughter.

Mr. KNOWLES: Next question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: I can look in your face to tell that something went through your mind.

Mr. KNOWLES: Yeah. What went through my mind was next question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Did you get that - next?

COX: Can I say it one more time?

Mr. KNOWLES: Certainly, it's your show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Did you at least have a conversation?

Mr. KNOWLES: No, actually - actually, I admire Jay-Z. I think he's a real gentleman, and I think he's a very smart man. And I really admire him.

COX: You want to stop there? I think he does.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Mathew Knowles, I want to thank you very much.

Mr. KNOWLES: Go out and get - go out and get Jay Xavier on December 5th, Kids Rap Radio on December 5th. And also on the same day, pick up the “Dreamgirls” soundtrack. Thank you for your support.

COX: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, “Listen”)

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) It's only beginning to find release.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox with Mathew Knowles, president of Music World Entertainment.

(Soundbite of song, “Listen”)

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) They will not be pushed aside and turned into your own, all ‘cause you won't listen. Listen, I am alone…

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today, and thanks for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio consortium.

(Soundbite of song, “Listen”)

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) …have known now. Now I'm done believing you. You don't know what I'm feeling. I'm more than what you've made of me. I followed the voice you gave to me. But now I've gotta find my own…

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS AND NOTES.

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